COVID-19 Changed the Hospitality Industry for the Long Term

By Francine L. Shaw  

The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. CRBE predicts that 2020 will be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy, due to stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, quarantines, and consumers’ ongoing fear of contracting the highly contagious virus. To put it into perspective, Tourism Economics stated that COVID-19’s impact on the travel industry has been nine times worse than post-9/11.  

This global health pandemic has been scary, overwhelming, disruptive and financially devastating for many. But the hospitality industry is resilient and adaptable. Now, seven-plus months into the crisis, basic COVID-19 protocols—washing hands, frequent disinfecting, practicing social distancing, and wearing face masks—have become standard operating procedures. These changes will be long-term.

In addition to basic protocols, implement the following in your hotel to manage safety, mitigate risks, and reassure guests:

  • Demonstrate your commitment to safety. Many consumers remain wary about traveling and dining out due to COVID-19 concerns. Demonstrate—through words and actions—that your establishment is safe. Guests should see your employees following proper protocols: cleaning regularly, social distancing, wearing PPE, etc. Communicate regularly—through social media, signage and in-person conversations—that you’re taking every safety precaution.
  • Utilize digital tools. Track inspections, self-audits and other safety and quality measures using digital tools for a holistic view across your business—whether you have one hotel or a chain. Tech tools can provide instant, accurate data about safety and quality initiatives, allowing you to easily identify (and fix) problems before they become liabilities. Use digital tools instead of manual systems, as there are major downsides to paper records or spreadsheets; they don’t provide the same broad views, are less accurate and make it difficult (or impossible) to access and analyze information across the enterprise and drilled down by location.
  • Prioritize training. Ongoing safety training should be a top priority. Educate employees about COVID-19 protocols and other safety processes. Make safety rules non-negotiable. Take immediate corrective actions if/when employees aren’t following protocols. Provide reminders via onsite signage, e-mail, messages on employees’ smartphones, pre-shift meetings and “refresher” training sessions.
  • Emphasize cleanliness. Clean your entire facility often, concentrating on high-touch areas, including elevator buttons, doorknobs, restrooms, etc.  Clean and disinfect items—such as pens—after each guest has used them. Provide disinfecting spray in your fitness center so guests can wipe down equipment before and after use. 
  • Clear the air. Change filters frequently in HVAC units and ensure the systems are properly maintained. Open doors and windows to increase airflow whenever and wherever possible. Arrange equipment (and furniture) so it is not blocking any airflow. Keep vents clean. Dirty vents are not just unsightly, but bacteria can easily accumulate in those dust bunnies.
  • Develop safer ways to serve food. Avoid displaying shared bowls of fruit in your lobby, nuts at the bar or snacks in other areas of your hotel. Don’t offer self-serve coffee where multiple people touch (and potentially contaminate) the coffee pot’s handle. Eliminate buffets at corporate events and social events, including weddings (serve pre-plated, individual meals instead).
  • Revisit your crisis plan. Update your crisis plan to identify the crisis team (person in charge, spokesperson, legal representative, etc.) and emergency personnel (e.g., police, fire, ambulance, local health department, etc.) with all contact information compiled. Include how you’d handle a COVID-19 case (or cases) at your hotel (e.g., close temporarily, conduct a deep clean of the facility, test all employees, etc.) While the specific messaging will depend on the incident, most of your plan can (and should) be created in advance of a crisis.

Now, more than seven months into the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 is more than just a short-term inconvenience; it’s a long-term problem. During this frustrating, disruptive time, focus on what you can control. Prioritize safety and follow proper protocols to mitigate risks. Take actionable steps to help protect your employees, guests and business.

Francine L. Shaw is president Savvy Food Safety, Inc., and provides world-class brands with food safety education, COVID-19 response plans, collaboration on the creation of digital food safety and COVID-19 digital platforms, crisis management, consulting, HACCP writing and implementation, curriculum development, public speaking engagements and more.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.

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