Hotels navigate guest conflicts over mask mandates
 
Hotels navigate guest conflicts over mask mandates
03 SEPTEMBER 2020 9:14 AM

Sources said most hotel guests are willing to comply with mask mandates on property, but in the instances when they aren’t, staff must be trained to communicate with them in a variety of ways.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Over the last few months, the American Hotel & Lodging Association has urged hotels to require face masks for all guests, which sources said so far has been well-received. But for those guests not willing to comply, it requires some extra attention.

In July, the AHLA launched its “Stay Safe Guest Checklist” to create a standardized safety experience across all hotels in the U.S. Top of the list includes required face coverings in all indoor public spaces and social distancing.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA, said the next phase of its Stay Safe training for guest-facing staff will include how to answer guests’ questions around face coverings and get them to be 100% compliant with the requirement. AHLA is also working with the brands to develop a universal set of guidelines to help both small and large hotels navigate these challenges.

“Right now, hotels are (navigating) it on an individual, case-by-case basis, similar to what they would do for smoking in the lobby when that was not allowed or, back in the old days, it was ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ Those types of things, hotels have always dealt with,” he said.

Rogers anticipates as more states, brands and properties adopt mask mandates, the adoption process will be quick. And while there’s a health aspect of this, there’s also a business certainty aspect.

“What I remind people of is that we need to make sure that all of our hotel team members feel safe in their workplace, and they’re telling us they want all their guests to wear face coverings,” he said. “We need to make sure the guests who are already onsite feel comfortable in the hotel, and we get there by all guests wearing face coverings in public spaces.

“What is important for the recovery of our industry, are those folks who are contemplating whether to book a stay in a hotel, and once they know that face coverings in public spaces are mandatory, you’re going to see the confidence level of consumers rise on this … that will ultimately lead to more guests and business activity.”

Marriott Seattle Airport
Bob Schrader, GM of the Marriott Seattle Airport hotel, operated by Spire Hospitality, said the guest perception so far has been a mixed bag.

He said Seattle was an epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. to begin with, so many people were already wearing masks. Washington state’s governor mandated masks early on, allowing them to be ahead of the curve, he said. And because the hotel is near the airport, which also mandates masks, many guests arrive already wearing masks.

“There are still some people who find it objectional from a standpoint of the feel of the mask or just … that they feel it’s within their right not to wear one,” he said. “But we really haven’t had too much … difficulty at all in terms of people complying.”

One of the worst instances Schrader’s hotel has had to deal with was a guest who got on the shuttle to the airport and took his mask off in the vicinity of other guests. Others on the shuttle complained and it became heated, he said.

“The driver had to pull over and say, ‘if you’re not going to put your mask on, I’m just going to have to go back to the hotel,’” he said. “He complied at that point.”

He’s also dealt with instances of people coming on property from other states such as Texas looking to hold meetings, “and they look at our employees like ‘what are you wearing a mask for?’”

There are also conflicts between guests, driven by one guest sees another take a mask off and complains. His team has had to intervene with that as well.

Schrader said it’s important for guest-facing staff to help them understand that the health and safety of all guests and associates comes first. It’s also now a brand standard at Marriott for all staff to wear protective coverings, he said.

“We’re of course trying to slow the spread of COVID-19, but we’re also trying to provide peace of mind for people,” he said. “When they’re traveling, they come to a new destination and they’re a little bit unfamiliar with things. Some people, they are somewhat fearful of what’s going on.”

If a guest is insistent on not complying, Schrader said hoteliers must draw a line but remain empathetic. He said the next thing for staff to say is “we really want you to stay with us, but if you’re very insistent on not wearing a mask we can make alternative arrangements for you.” He said it hasn’t ever come to that point.

Focus Hospitality Management
David Miller, area GM for Focus Hospitality Management, who manages a Marriott International-branded property and Hilton-branded property, said guest response to on-property mask mandates has been “overwhelmingly OK,” but he has experienced a few isolated incidents.

“It has happened, and it does. Where it kind of rears its ugly head, mostly, is in the (guest satisfaction survey). We’ve got a couple of comments,” he said. “We do our darndest to make everybody happy. That’s the nature of what we do … and that creates all kinds of dilemmas.”

He said his team has coached its staff to treat every situation individually and work through it. But that first starts with ensuring the staff itself is 100% compliant with procedures.

When a guest checks in, it’s part of protocol for front-desk staff to communicate that masks are required, he said. Communicating that to one person in a vacant lobby at 10:00 p.m. who doesn’t want to comply, however, requires a different response than to someone in a breakfast area that has 10 other people in it, he said.

“There’s really no magic answer,” he added. “You’re kind of at the mercy of the person. But … I’d say 99.5%, no issue.”

Seagate Hotel and Spa
William Sander, GM of The Seagate Hotel & Spa in Delray Beach, Florida, said 99% of guests that are coming on property appreciate the mask mandate. He said his property required masks for all guests, staff and members before Palm Beach County mandated it.

He said employees have been retrained on how to communicate with guests before they even enter the hotel that masks are required. The hotel also limited entrance and exit points of the property to make sure guests would be in areas where there was more visible management to assist the employees.

“If we do have an issue, we educate that employee to handle it at first and say it’s for the full public safety of guests and the employees, and if that doesn’t work then the management (will) reinforce it,” he said.

A situation has happened twice where management had to get involved, he said.

“We respect the guests’ decision not to wear a mask, it is their right, however while you’re at the Seagate, we require that you wear the mask when you’re in public. If you choose not to wear the mask, this might not be the place for you,” he said.

The hotel has it posted on its website that masks are required, he said. The challenge is with the online travel agencies, as their hotel’s message is not advertised on there.

Sander added that this is the first time that he’s had to train staff to put themselves before the guest.

He said that was done “by telling the employee that by protecting themselves, they are protecting the guest when it comes to the health and safety.”

Hyatt Hotels Corporation
Frank Lavey, SVP of global operations at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, said via email the company requires guests to wear face coverings in all public areas across all its hotels in the Americas region. He said the protocol has been well-received by guests, customers, colleagues and owners.

“We support AHLA’s recently expanded Safe Stay initiative and traveler checklist that help us come together as industry to promote clear guidelines,” he said.

Guests who are not willing to comply with Hyatt’s policy will either need to stay in their guestroom throughout their visit or they will be asked to leave the premises, he said. To prepare and support staff, Hyatt provides resources including talking points, standard operating procedures on implementation and steps to take with guests who do not comply with the enhanced protocols.

To spread the message before guests even step foot on property, he said Hyatt maintains frequent and consistent communication with its guests to ensure they are confident and comfortable with each aspect of their travel journey.

“Specific to guidance around face coverings, we have updated guest-facing Hyatt marketing channels, including Hyatt.com, property websites and transactional emails with details on the new requirement,” he said.

Additionally, as part of its Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment, Hyatt also requires each property to have at least one trained hygiene & wellbeing leader, who will be responsible to their hotel adhering to new operational guidance and protocols, including signage in public areas providing further guidance on mask requirements and social distancing, he said.

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