Industry Update
Opinion Article 4 May 2020

Hotels, COVID-19, HIPAA & Technology. What Is Hospitality’s Role In Information Gathering?

By Mark Fancourt, Co-Founder at TRAVHOTECH

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Over the last couple of weeks, the world has started to consider the reopening of commerce as countries gain a level of control over coronavirus transmission. The topic of cleaning and sanitation has been high on the list for the hospitality industry and hotel operations.

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Exposing hospitality to this type of health information may necessitate that the industry becomes a party to healthcare industry regulation and compliance for data handling such as HIPAA in the United States, or other relevant programs around the world.

Industry leaders, operators, pundits, research, surveys, suppliers and a relative level of common sense has suggested that the guest, as well as staff, will have a heightened focus on the environment that they sleep, dine and work in.

In quick time each major brand has come to market with their 'new' cleaning protocols. Some announcing partnerships with consumer cleaning and chemical brands, aligning nicely with the United States Presidents recent gaffe. Kudos to the marketing team. Although by the time everyone is finished there will be limited competitive advantage to be gained in that space. However, it may serve to settle the guests concerns.

Guest, Staff & COVID-19 Status

Of more significant concern is guest and staff wellness and personal health status as it relates to the virus. The cleanest hotel does not protect us from a person carrying the virus.

We have come to understand that COVID-19 will be prevalent in society on a global scale for some time to come. Based upon normal timelines for vaccine production it is likely to be at least another twelve months. That does not take into account that the virus may also mutate in the coming seasons.

Initial plans have been tabled. All guests and staff will have temperature checked. This is useful. Although dependent upon the stage and the severity of the virus load, far from foolproof.

The preferred state is wide ranging testing and registration of persons as virus free or having previously contracted the virus and therefore having antibodies against the virus. Based upon current level of knowledge about the virus, it is also less than certain whether antibodies protect from a recurrence of the virus and for how long. The ability to provide this scale of testing capability is well beyond the hospitality industry and will need to be delivered at a government level.

Woody Wade presented a future vision of a possible world, post coronavirus for global travel last week on Hospitality Net. If you've not read it, it is both entertaining, informative and confronting as it captures a possibility of how our industry may look in the near future.

Woody's article prompted further thought to the broader ramifications. Some that may become applied to industry, based upon existing processes we see today in hospitality around the globe.

Hospitality & COVID-19 data gathering

To date, most developed nations have stated a desire for a national registration program for COVID-19 status. On a broader level some type of international tracking and COVID-19 'free' status has been suggested to allow cross border and international travel. Some countries have commenced the process with the cooperation of big-tech based upon mobile devices. A step in the right direction for those that are willing to be involved in the program.

When guests and staff arrive at hotels COVID-19 information will need to be reviewed and verified by industry workers. We can anticipate that it would apply for in-house guests, diners and general visitors to a hotel, restaurant and the like for the foreseeable future.

This situation raises a number of questions for hospitality industry operations;

  1. Will the industry need to track COVID-19 status information for both guests and staff?
  2. Will the industry need to maintain historical records to facilitate tracing in the case of an outbreak from an unwell member of staff or a guest?
  3. What role does mobile technology play when it is necessary for hoteliers to physically check information and health status of the guest?
  4. Will the industry become liable for the guest and staff COVID-19 status in cases where staff or guests are unknowingly exposed to the virus on property?
  5. How will the industry be expected to understand and comprehend multinational COVID-19 documentation?
  6. Will the industry need to provide a level of reporting to governmental or health bodies?
  7. Will the industry need to track and record room status and cleanliness programs historically?

To some readers the necessity and responsibility of these processes may seem excessive. However, around the world the industry already checks and records many levels of documentation. For example, guest information for Passports, Visa's and expiry dates and provide government level reporting on in house guests as often as daily. Gaming operations check databases for anti money laundering and fraud. Even recording guest internet traffic and surveillance information for submission to national monitoring bodies.

If so, hotels and the technology vendor community will need to take steps to accommodate information entry and storage in the relevant hotel systems. Property Management, Restaurant Management, Human Resource and Time and Attendance systems come to mind.

This is a significant undertaking.

Hotels and Health Data

Should the industry find itself needing to actively manage these processes and information storage, it prompts a bigger question.

Health information is subject to stringent access control and high levels of compliance in most developed countries. What does that mean for hospitality?

Exposing hospitality to this type of health information may necessitate that the industry becomes a party to healthcare industry regulation and compliance for data handling such as HIPAA in the United States, or other relevant programs around the world.

If so, a significant level of burden will be applied to relevant hospitality systems and the industry will need to take considerable steps to align functionality, design and operations with health data compliance. Not to mention another general level of regulation and compliance applied to the industry as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Global Traveler Registration & Tracking

The ideal solution would be an international level data tracking platform. Although even today global standards and international cooperation does not apply to Passport information and sharing of arrival and departure information.

However, even with an international or national program, the long incubation & contagion period of the virus dictates that it is not enough to know that at point of border entry a traveler was virus free. We have seen this phenomenon demonstrated through the process the virus spread around the world.

The reality is that each time a traveler enters a new environment they take one further step toward potential exposure to the virus and to a new group of people.

These challenges are not unique to the hotels and restaurants. In reality they apply right through the value chain of the travel cycle. To date there has not been deep dialogue about information handling requirements and process. As travel demand and volume returns and the second wave of infections take place around the world we anticipate more attention to the subject.

If you would like to discuss COVID-19 processes in relation to your technology solutions and health information standards TRAVHOTECH can assist. You can contact us at [email protected].

Mark Fancourt

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