As COVID-19 continues to spread, hoteliers have instituted new health and safety protocols as part of ever-evolving operating procedures to help their employees and guests.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While many properties are closing due to the drop-off in demand related to COVID-19, those that remain in operation have to take serious steps to mitigate risks to both employees and guests.
Amenities such as room service and upscale spas have been temporarily pushed aside by hand sanitizer, strong cleaning products and entirely new health and safety protocols to prevent any further spread.
“The well-being of our team members, our Hilton family, and all who visit our properties is our highest priority, and we remain diligent in our commitment to provide a safe, hospitable environment for all who enter our doors,” Hilton VP of Corporate Communications Nigel Glennie said. “We have been closely monitoring the guidance of the WHO and CDC, and responding based on the advice of public health authorities.”
In housekeeping, many hotels are implementing additional measures, such as cleaning public areas and “touch points” more frequently, said Andria Ryan, partner and co-chairperson of law firm Fisher Phillips’ Hospitality Industry Team. Touch points are things such as elevator buttons and door handles. Many housekeeping employees are wearing gloves for their work, which is not necessarily common. In food and beverage departments, employers are requiring scheduled and monitored hand-washing, and many have changed their food serving protocols. For instance, employees are serving food instead of allowing patrons to serve themselves, in places where there are normally self-serve options.
“Hotels are also implementing protocols related to guests who arrive for check-in and exhibit symptoms of a virus or inform the property that they have tested positive for the virus and wish to self-quarantine at the hotel,” she said. “Some hotels have made the difficult decision to turn away such guests; others have decided to allow the guests to check in and work with local health officials to handle that situation.”
As unusual a choice as taking in a sick guest might seem, the hotels doing this are basing that decision on the fact that if they do not accept the individual, the guest may go to another local property and possibly not disclose the illness, she said. Those hotels have said that they are doing this to protect their local communities.
All the major chain hotels and many other independent properties are educating their management staff on protocols for dealing with employees who are ill or have tested positive for COVID-19, those with household members who have tested positive, are concerned about becoming ill and who are returning from affected areas overseas. Many are recommending self-isolation for affected employees, Ryan said.
“It will be important for hotel employees to remain educated on up-to-date information on coronavirus and federal and local guidelines and mandates, as this situation is evolving daily. We continue to develop new understanding of the parameters of this virus, including how it is spread and how long it can live on surfaces,” said Jason Perry, president and CEO of Trident Shield, an emergency preparedness and crisis management firm.
To protect employees and guests, hotels should have personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies on hand, including N95 respirator masks, goggles, disposable gloves and disinfectant solutions, he said. All high-touch surfaces should be regularly cleaned and disinfected throughout the day, especially front-desk counters, doors and door handles, elevator buttons and any common use areas within the hotel. Also, have windows and doors open as much as possible to encourage air flow.
In addition, he recommended that hotel employees be permitted to wear masks at work. Maintain as much distance as possible among other employees and guests within the hotel, he said. Hotel employees should also eliminate all unnecessary travel and should report to management if they have traveled in the past two weeks. Employees that have traveled should not come to work for two weeks upon return, he said.
In terms of food service, Perry recommended that bagged meals replace buffet style. Food servers should more thoroughly clean table and chair surfaces between seatings. Remove any unnecessary items from the table, such as candles, flowers vases, and salt and pepper shakers.
Guests should limit time and exposure in high-touch traffic areas within the hotel, such as restaurants, elevators and lobbies. As much as possible, Perry said that it makes sense for guests at this time to use the stairs to navigate floors, rather than the elevator, or at a minimum, avoid crowded elevators. Elevator buttons will be touched frequently, so guests should be sure to practice proper safety measures when in this environment.
Hotels need to put in place a policy on managing sick guests, with protocols on how frequently those rooms should receive housekeeping and ensuring that sick guests do not spend time outside of their rooms, Perry said. Have signage that asks that guests notify management if they are sick, so proper management can be taken with that individual, he said. If the hotel wishes to provide an area for individuals to self-quarantine, have policy and procedures for those individuals to be kept entirely separate from main areas, including a separate entrance and check-in area.
“Travelers visiting hotels certainly want to know that they are as clean as possible, and there will be a very low likelihood of picking up any virus or illness,” said David Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors.