During a U.S. Travel Administration webinar, travel and tourism industry experts spoke about how they made travelers aware of their new health and safety standards.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As states further reopen for business, hoteliers will need guests to trust they will be safe during their stays.
Hospitality and tourism industry experts shared their experiences and advice on reopening during the U.S. Travel Association’s recent webinar, “Best practices for communicating health and safety guidance at businesses.” Along with developing and putting into action a plan to protect everyone’s health and safety, they said businesses must communicate that clearly with the public.
The Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Oregon, was setting up for a great year for group meetings and leisure business when it had to suddenly close in response to the coronavirus pandemic in March, property Managing Director Tom O’Shea said. During the eight weeks the resort was closed, management held off on hiring the rest of its seasonal staff and furloughed the majority of its roughly 500 employees, keeping a small group on site and another working from home.
While the property was closed, the management team worked out a plan for how it would reopen and then operate, he said. There were certain pillars that needed to be in place, and they had to reorganize the business because they couldn’t operate the same way they had before given the safety and health issues.
“We felt we have to be able to communicate, and how do we communicate this out to the population at large, to our employees, to our guests, to our community?” he said.
Its website is Sunriver Resort’s primary form of communication to guests and the community in general, O’Shea said. On the website is a commitment statement outlining what steps the team has taken to reopen and operate the resort safely, going over topics such as training, safety and sanitation standards, the arrival experiences for its lodging and vacation rental accommodations, housekeeping, food-and-beverage operations, golf courses, and spa.
One of the changes the resort made in its reopening is its check-in process. To allow for social distancing, they created curbside check-in, he said. Guests make their reservation as normal, but they call in advance of their arrival so the staff can prepare and then meet with a sanitized package that includes their key so guests don’t have to get out of their car.
“We have a real significant effort on pre-arrival calls to answer as many questions as possible,” he said. “We normally do that anyway, but this time we know for now we’re just putting an extra effort into that.”
Initially the Sunriver team wasn’t sure if it would require guests to wear a mask if, for example, they were going into the coffee shop, O’Shea said. They decided they would ask guests to wear a mask but require their employees to wear masks. For the most part, guests don’t wear masks, he said. Once it became clear that is what most guests would do, they modified the resort operations by setting limits on how many people would be allowed inside the coffee shop and in their restaurants.
“We were just modifying to what was our reality,” he said.
Six Flags theme parks now have a reservation system for those wanting to enter the park, said Jason Freeman, corporate VP of security, safety, health and environmental, at Six Flags Entertainment Corporation. To visit one of its theme parks, guests have to go online and watch a safety video and agree to its terms, including that they will wear a mask, they will maintain social distancing and not come if they are feeling ill, he said.
“Once you agree to the things that we have on there, then you’ll be able to get your ticket and then come in for the day,” he said.
Freeman believes signage and messaging is important. The parks display signs with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control telling guests and employees to wear their masks, wash their hands, cover their coughs, maintain a distance and sanitize often, adding a sixth item reminding them to have fun and enjoy themselves.
The parks also have public service announcements play throughout the day, he said. The parks also have TVs when guests are waiting in line at a ride that runs commercials that remind guests to maintain social distances and keep their masks on. They also have hand sanitizing stations all around the park in almost every area, such as when getting on a ride and outside of a restaurant.
“We’re asking that you sanitize throughout your visit with us,” he said.
San Francisco International Airport is on the front lines of the public awareness campaign, said Ivar Satero, airport director at SFO. He believes the airport was a little late in making sure everyone arriving knew of the severity of the crisis, and that’s something its team will take into the future. He said airports like SFO must be a point of dissemination of information.
The airport has reinforced its commitment and is handing out masks to all travelers there, he said. About 95% of people there are wearing masks.
“People need to have an expectation of consistency in their airport experience, in their travel experience, and I think that’s what we’re trying to work through, now, is this consistent experience that drives confidence,” he said.
Communication, specifically frequent communication, is critical, as is alignment, he said. The airport is fully engaged with the airlines and is pleased many of them are pushing policies that help support this return of confidence, he said.