The significant impact of COVID-19 on the hotel industry has swept it into uncharted waters. But instead of glistening aqua seas gently lapping on sandy shores, these waters are murky and full of uncertainty.
And they have those in the hospitality industry trying their best to keep their heads above the surface just high enough to call out for help.
Top Questions for Hotels During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- How should we maintain our properties while they’re closed to guests?
- How do we temporarily shut down with efficiency?
- When and how should we reopen?
- What processes do we need to put in place to ensure our guests’ safety and well being?
Across the world, hotel employees and others in the hospitality industry agree they’ve never before seen anything like this global pandemic. In other times of crisis, people still traveled. Options for diversion were available. Even in times of war, hotels remained open.
But the coronavirus outbreak has put a halt to both business and leisure travel, resulting in hoteliers searching anywhere for a life preserver and wondering what's the next step? If you’re interested to hear the answers, listen to ALICE Co-Founder & CTO, Dmitry Koltunov, in his guest interview on the MarketScale Hospitality podcast.
Seasonal hotels hold the lifeline.
Temporarily shutting down a hotel that’s designed to welcome guests 365 days a year, serve them, fulfill their various requests, and make sure their experience is unparalleled is not an open and shut case.
Most year-round hotels, for good reason, don’t know how to begin winding down for a season with the intention of ramping up again for business in a few months. It’s simply not in their handbook.
But seasonal hotels close and reopen all the time. As part of their business model, this niche of hotels follow standard operating procedures and best practices to close and reopen, year in and year out. They are experts in perfecting the workflows and processes that safeguard their properties and equipment and that lead to efficiencies and savings.
What are the new 7 phases of occupancy?
No one knows how long people will be kept from engaging in travel due to the safety risks and economic factors brought on by the novel coronavirus. This unprecedented lack of activity in tourism with no clear end in sight means that hotels around the world now find themselves in one of seven phases of a new-not-normal occupancy lifecycle:
- Remaining open with low occupancy: The hotel is still staffed in all areas, but with much reduced numbers. For instance, there may be one housekeeper, one concierge, and so on.
- Temporarily closed to guests: Keeping only 10-50 staff working, the public areas and floors are taken out of service. The hotel is operational but not guest-centric. Staff may still take reservations, perform maintenance tasks, and use the kitchen.
- Partial shut down: A shutdown period of 2-4 weeks is necessary to close the pool, strip the rooms, and perform financial checks among other tasks with only a skeleton crew available to accomplish everything.
- Full shut down: A hotel may keep only two staff: a security person to survey the facilities and a maintenance tech to periodically check for pests, humidity levels, leaks and other potential problems. The hotel is in a holding pattern.
- Preparing to reopen the property for staff: The process begins by bringing in 5-10 employees to return the property to operational status. More staff is added as the workload increases.
- Fully preparing for guests: Most of the staff has been brought back from furloughs or layoffs to prepare the kitchens, bars, restaurants, laundry, floors, guest rooms and all public areas.
- Reopening celebration for full occupancy: The highly anticipated day when the hotel can once again delight guests, but with new SOPs in place to ensure their safety and comfort.
Of course, most year-round hotels are in the early part of the timeline. Only properties in China are currently transitioning into the latter phases.
Whatever phase you’re in, moving between the different occupancy phases requires coordination and a logically ordered system to ensure critical tasks are completed in the correct order. Also you’ll need to document the work that’s already been done. You don’t want to return to a fully shut down property after four months and not know whether the HVAC system was serviced or not. Repeating tasks is a waste of time and money.
Hotel day to day operations checklists are critical
Checklists of any kind--scribbled on paper or integrated into an aircraft’s instrument panel--provide the detail-focused attention necessary for thorough completion of a job.
After in-depth talks with seasonal hotel operational professionals, ALICE created a new free resource called Checklists. Based on over 190 pages of SOPs, it’s basically a digital tool to guide hoteliers through a proper, safe shutdown all the way through to a systematic, seamless reopen.
Encompassing housekeeping, maintenance, security and other areas of operation, ALICE Checklists include 1400 tasks across the seven phases of occupancy. It alerts staff as to what needs to be done, and when to do it.
Because the tool is digital, there’s accountability and history built in. Instead of physically verifying that a task was completed or searching through paper records, you can see its status in the application, including details such as the name of the employee who took care of it and the time the work was done.
Hotel Operations Post COVID-19
As devastating as the crisis has been to the hospitality industry, there will be a silver lining that’s already emerging. Year-round hoteliers will have benefited from adopting time-tested SOPs from their seasonal counterparts. And many will also have embraced moving to a digital infrastructure that facilitates fulfillment assurance in such a way that guests will want to return.
On the other side of coronavirus, as hotels follow their checklists for reopening, the most successful will be those that aggressively pursue sanitization practices. Not only for the actual safety of their guests and staff, but also for the ability to provide assurance of the highest standards for sanitization.
Post COVID-19 travelers will seek out accommodations that are proven to be safe and allow for social distancing. Digital technology makes that possible. If guests want to see photos with timestamps of sanitization activities, they can see that proof. Crowded check-in lines can be avoided through digital check-in procedures.
And the digital correspondence that most hotels have been forced into using right now will become the catalyst for creating new digital communications strategies to better serve their guests and provide experiences they’ll want to repeat.
The uncharted waters of coronavirus present both new challenges and new opportunities for growth and change. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said,
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”