Industry Update
Opinion Article21 April 2020

Immediate Operational Changes to Deal with Coronavirus

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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Drowned by panic and pandemic, the global economic engine is rapidly grinding to a halt with the COVID-19 outbreak impacting every hotel on the planet. As such, there are several critical changes you must make to ensure the safety of your guests and staff as well as to stem the hemorrhaging financial losses.

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Stemming from numerous emergency planning meetings as part of my asset management responsibilities, I've developed a rough guideline for what your hotel can do to prepare for this unprecedented recession as well as a surge back towards normalcy as we all so dearly hope will happen in the coming months.

Preparation is essential, not only in terms of what we do hygienically but also in how we build our business. Whatever the actual severity of this virus, the fact remains that it is not our call as hoteliers to make a decision either way. Rather, our responsibility is to our team members and guests to ensure that the environment that we present is as safe and peaceful as possible and that we are appropriately prepared for all erratic revenue fluctuations.

Onsite Work Policies

Having an ill team member come to work because 'they need the money' or 'their work is so vital to the operation' represents a risk that you can longer afford. While the documentation of such 'community spread' cases have yet to be fully synthesized, one inference already clear is that gig economy jobs naturally compel those who are sick to keep working due to a firm lack of support for time off.

While monitoring Uber drivers is beyond your control, the first step is to set strict guidelines for your servers, housekeepers and other associates. All senior team members should meet with their colleagues, insisting that everyone to stay home if they are not well and to err on the side of caution.

To successfully accomplish this, hourly employees need to be reassured that they will not lose their pay. This may require a change in policies regarding pay-for-work that should be discussed with HR and Finance. Consider having every worker sign a code of conduct that reflects this mindset.

Offsite Work Policies

Investigate jobs that can be completed from home or a remote location. Sales leaders should work from home where possible and limit their availability on property to 'as needed'. You should look into remote reservations services. With training, it is possible for them to answer all of your telephone reservations. Moreover, with fewer guests to manage, now is the ideal time to thoroughly investigate technology solutions that enable offsite productivity.

Greeting Guests

Your approach to greeting guests, fellow employees, suppliers and all others should minimize direct contact. While it is hard to break the habit, handshaking should be temporarily eliminated. Think elbow bump! While normal guest service calls for coming out from behind the front desk to greet customers, we should now keep our distance and explicitly explain the rationale for this. Your visitors will appreciate it.

Cleanliness Theatre

Do you remember after 9/11 when they had a row of soldiers standing outside the airports with M16s at the ready? This is a classic example of 'security theatre' whereby this tactic was essentially ineffective at stopping terrorist attacks save for reassuring passengers. The same is now true with 'cleanliness theatre' where it's equally as important to restore guest confidence by fully showing the new measures you are taking as the measures themselves.

This starts in the public spaces. Set reinforced guidelines for staff handwashing practices and additional room cleaning SOPs. Install extra hand sanitizer stations in the front lobby, restaurant, spa and fitness center. Review procedures for all cleaning with priority given to handrails, public washrooms and the front desk area. While hoteliers typically shun visible cleaning crews operating while guests present, in today's panic the opposite is true. And as the final major component of this cleanliness theatre, broadcast your new measures through the website, newsletter and social media so everyone knows you are staying vigilant.

Cancellations

Be flexible in understanding guests' hysteria regarding the virus. Staff training in restaurants should include empathy for guests who might not want to sit close to others and being prepared to anticipate requests to be well-spaced in the dining room. Show added flexibility in terms of cancellations, even for OTA bookings. As a matter of policy, you should discuss full refunds versus credits for future use with individuals and groups.

Staffing Levels

The number of onsite employees must be managed according to occupancy levels and monitored on a daily basis. Although many properties are currently in the slow season, the jury is still out as to how long the threat of this virus will impact business. At this juncture, improvements may not be anticipated until the summer months.

Another scenario to consider is temporarily closing your property altogether with plans to reopen in summer. While this extreme should be handled on a case-by-case basis, you must nevertheless prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised if events turn out otherwise.

Personally, I am anticipating that once some form of 'all clear' is given, there will be a surge in travel bookings as leisure guests will yearn for a last-minute summer vacations and group operators look to get back on pace. In the meantime, stay safe and best of luck!

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