Industry Update
Opinion Article28 May 2020

Following the Theme Park Model for COVID Safety

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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We all know that the COVID-19 will stipulate a holistic rethink of hospitality cleaning SOPs and how we accommodate new (and possibly permanent) social distancing or contactless regulations.

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When travel restrictions start to relax, though, how can a hotel decide which procedures to implement onsite so as to find a harmony between staying wholeheartedly welcoming like before and not turning a property into a lifeless dystopian hellscape?

This balance will take lots of planning and training, so the time to start discussing it is now, especially given that we have the time to put in the work without distractions.

To draw from a related industry, some of the proposed new precautions for theme parks offers a laundry list for what hotels can potentially enact. As high-touch locations, it's vital that these parks lean on the draconian side of things in order to restore attendee confidence.

The following are some of the post-coronavirus rules that have been suggested for Universal Studios Orlando, with each worth dwelling upon to see if they apply to your own business:

  • Require all attendees and employees to wear face masks
  • Suspend x-ray conveyor belts at security
  • Require all attendees and employees to undergo a rapid Covid test, where only those with negative results can enter the park as guests or to work
  • Require all attendees and employees to have their temperature taken, with those testing high refused admission or not permitted to work until testing fever-free for 24 hours
  • Implement social distancing practices throughout the park, such as a six-foot buffer when queuing, when seated at restaurants and when mobile ordering
  • Limit attendance to 25%, 50% or 75% of park capacity depending on current government recommendations
  • Implement touchless payment for food, merchandise and parking
  • Eliminate self-serve food options, with employees required to refill beverages
  • Require employees to wipe down vehicles and seats between rides
  • Implement a virtual line waiting system for all or most attractions
  • Suspend parades and nighttime shows
  • Close indoor attractions and shows

Some of these have direct relevance for hotels, and I bring them to your attention because you can get to work on them right now so that you aren't scrambling to get up to speed once travel starts to ramp back up. Moreover, technology solutions will help hotels immensely in creating a more social distanced and safer environment for guests.

Translating the above list for hospitality, here are some actions you can take right now:

  • Increase the spacing between tables in your restaurants, lounges and other common spaces while also aligning your POS software so that it separates reservations in acceptable intervals
  • Map out a new front desk queue so that the lineup area leaves the appropriate amount of space between each group as well as others who may only be passing by
  • Develop new cleaning SOPs for your public areas that include a more thorough and sanitized wipe down of seats, tables and anywhere else a guest might touch
  • Secure a PPE supplier who can also brand these items bespoke to your hotel in case they become a standard part of the employee uniform moving forward
  • Look to what systems you can deploy to heighten cashless and contactless payment methods
  • Investigate systems that can move onsite processes online so as to limit human interactions
  • Ask your PMS about features that more effectively adapt to social distancing during the ramp up by ensuring that guests are not assigned adjacent rooms or by not assigning a guest to a room that was occupied the previous night
  • Inquire about the legality of prescreening guests for Covid before entry and not allowing visitors inside who do not have a reservation as well as a new refund policy for those guests who do test positive

Obviously, this crisis is still a moving target, and if all the above theme park precautions are enacted it will likely result in a distasteful atmosphere that will turn attendees off going altogether. We don't want that for our hotels either, but the new normal will nevertheless call for some of these measures to augment safety. The time to start planning is now so that you are ready to focus on marketing and other operational adjustments later in the year when guests start to come back.

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