How Can Hotels Manage Social Distancing?
How Can Hotels Manage Social Distancing?
Businesses in the UK are slowly beginning to open their doors again, and seeking hotel opening advice is a sensible step forward when it comes to how these hotels manage social distancing, increased focus on health and safety, and making sure that their guests are confident in the safety of the services provided.
The Government has issued a multi-stage recovery plan, but it’s going to be a long time before business as normal recommences. As a hotel operator, you have a legal obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of your guests.
Social Distancing is one portion of the recommended guidelines that people adopt to continue their daily activities, and for businesses to safely open.
Hotels may seem to be at a disadvantage under these regulations, as RLH Corporation COO Gary Sims says, “We have spent the last 25 to 30 years designing and concepting hotels to encourage group activities… now it’s 180 degrees from that.”
Until people begin to travel again, hotels are having to strategically guess at what their customers want, and how they can balance this against safety procedures.
When it comes to reopening your hotel safely, it’s essential that you have clear, strategic and adaptable operations in place, and that you effectively inform your customers of not only what you’re doing, but what will be expected of them when they visit your premises.
Steps You Should Take Before Reopening
With the pandemic situation changing from day to day and country to country, it’s important that you and your team keep abreast of the latest news, developments and specific regulations that are suggested or mandatory.
Additional measures you should implement include:
- Creating Social Distancing Markers in Public Areas
There has been much discussion regarding the 1m or 2m distance, Governmental findings discovered that evidence shows that relative risk maybe 2-10 times higher at 1 metre than 2 metre without mitigations, and the potential for higher occupancy at 1 metre distancing will also affect risk. However, mitigations can reduce the risk at 1m, so that it is broadly equivalent to being 2m apart, noting that a precise and quantitative assessment of how much risk is reduced by mitigations is not possible. (UK, 2020)
So where possible, markers should be set at 2m apart although current guidance does allow that the distance be 2m or 1m with risk mitigation (where 2m is not viable).
By setting up markers in areas such as the lobby, and areas where queuing may occur (such as entrances and exits to on-site restaurants, ballrooms and conference facilities), you will be in a better position to control the lines and general crowding. It is important however that when planning out your spacing, that you take careful consideration of emergency exits and spaces which need to be kept clear.
- Rearrange Your Seating Plans for Public Areas
It’s not just people checking in and out or gathering in public areas that you need to address. Anywhere that you have seating, such as the lobby, lounge or your restaurant, needs to be rearranged to ensure there is plenty of distance between the seats. When evaluating your restaurant or high-traffic areas, it’s important to remember that your staff and guests will be going backwards and forwards, and in the case of your restaurant, your wait staff will be carrying dishes – you need to leave enough space for them to safely pass backwards and forwards between the tables and still maintain an appropriate distance.
- Clearly Display Expected Behaviours
Display posters or other signage around the hotel with recommended public health guidance, such as hand washing, sneezing into a tissue, avoiding handshakes, and avoiding facial contact.
Providing hand sanitisers in areas such as meeting rooms, restaurants and other high-traffic areas will also help to encourage guests to maintain appropriate hygiene standards when you reopen.
- Provide Your Staff with Appropriate PPE
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be provided to all staff, and protective shields such as sneeze guards should be installed in areas of guest/staff interaction (such as the front desk, valet stand or concierge). You should also be aware of what regulations are being upheld in your local area (for example, face masks being mandatory) and make sure that not only do you have this information displayed around the hotel but that your staff are also trained in what is required and can clearly inform guests.
Steps Your Hotel Can Take Once It’s Reopened
Once you’ve prepared the groundwork and have reopened your doors there are more activities you can undertake to help manage your social distancing efforts. Some of your guests may be nervous about travelling and feel that coronavirus and the hospitality sector are a dangerous combination.
You must be sensitive towards your customer’s concerns, and the way you market your business will have to change accordingly. For many people the services and amenities you offer aren’t going to be their main consideration, what you’re doing to keep them safe will be.
Be creative with your marketing, showcase pictures of your staff in the hotel, video walkthroughs of your restaurants and larger gathering rooms – reiterate to your potential customers that you are still offering the same high level of service as always and that you’re doing everything you can to make sure their health and safety is a priority to you.
Other methods you can adopt to help manage your social distancing policies when you’re operating again include:
See to Your Hotel Guests with Mobile Check-In and Out
Utilising a mobile check-in system will reduce the contact your staff have with guests upon arrival. Your guests will receive their pre-programmed key card and some check-in apps also allow for automatic notification to be sent to them when their room is ready.
This still allows you to offer a warm welcome and a degree of personalisation, whilst managing the number of people in the lobby at one time, and the number of guests your staff need to come into direct contact with.
Contactless Payments for Hotel Guests
Contactless payments have seen a massive increase in popularity with retail and take-aways during the pandemic as it allows for another removal of human contact and reduces the risk of infection being spread from card or coin to your staff.
From April 1 2020, the contactless limit in the UK was increased from £30 to £45, making this type of payment particularly useful for room service extras, small meals, use of amenities and payment for internet usage in conference rooms, etc.
Where contactless payment is not possible, staff members should be given gloves to wear when dealing with cards and cash. These gloves should be changed regularly, a general rule is every two hours, however, they should be changed immediately if they’re torn, contaminated or the staff are rotating to a different task or handling different food items.
Social Media Concierge
A Social Media Concierge service is designed to provide consistency and keep your audience regularly updated with news, events and important information as well as promotions, engaging activities and responses to comments.
Your Social Media Concierge will be responsible for managing your customer service on those platforms, offering a point of contact, connection and personalisation to your guests. It’s a lot easier for people to engage when they’re dealing with the same person and having their queries answered in a timely manner.
Social Distancing Advice for All Hotel Departments
The new normal being introduced by COVID-19 is still very much a work in development, as situations change and more businesses open, guidelines and restrictions will evolve. It’s important that you are sensitive to the needs of your staff, especially if they have circumstances (such as disabilities) which could put them at risk.
Your staff also need to be sensitive to your customers, there is likely to be uncertainty, high tension and possibly disturbances caused by people who don’t want to adhere to your policies. Providing training and a clear line of communication is essentia,l if a situation does occur it will be a lot easier to manage if people know exactly who they need to contact, and what steps they need to take.
For most venues, it is likely that you’ll be opening on reduced staff, so cross-functional planning and communication is key. Where possible you should designate a specific manger to oversee the implementation of new measures and ensure compliance across all departments.
There is a lot to manage in getting your hotel up and running again, and as we mentioned before, your marketing needs to evolve to clearly convey what you’re doing to your guests.