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Hotels Reopen- with Masks and Frequent Sanitization

Although they are in no way interconnected with each other, thinking of the Indian hotels and tourism sector right now, brings to mind the famous quote by Robert Frost- The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep (Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening). In a way, this seems to be the prevalent scenario for the entire sector at the moment, going by the need for embarking on extensive (and often costly) sanitization measures and adopting other safety precautions, adjusting to the new normal owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and of course, tweaking customer service, marketing and overall hospitality paradigms to reflect this change. 

The good news is that hotels are steadily reopening as part of the Unlock framework laid out by the Central Government. Several States are slowly opening up more hotels for local travellers and tourists alike, albeit with a flurry of restrictions and regulations that have to be followed by both hotels and guests alike. However, to be honest, the definition of the best hotels to stay has undergone a rapid transformation. 

What are Guests Looking for in the Current Scenario? 

People are now seeking secure, somewhat isolated (from crowds and not near major tourist spots/pilgrimage sites for instance) and sanitized stays that are equipped to maintain adequate distancing as well.

Space for guests to spread out is a major criterion and so is the location, i.e. not too far from major hubs (restaurants, shopping avenues, major tourist landmarks) yet not too near them. Hotels with ample parking space, CCTV surveillance, all necessary safety infrastructure including frequent sanitization of all surfaces, the kitchen, restaurants and common areas, temperature checks of staff and guests alike and amenities like room service of food and beverages will automatically win brownie points from guests. People are also looking for workations or vacations which combine work and play in the current scenario. Hence, free Wi-Fi, conferencing facilities, power backup and televisions become a must at hotels. Brands which stay ahead of the curve in adapting to the new normal are the ones who will garner more hotels bookings in the future. 

Hotels are finally opening up- Vital information worth knowing 

You should know that standard operating procedures or SOPs have already been officially released by the Indian Government pertaining to the hospitality sector and hotels. This has paved the way for the reopening of several hotels which were closed over the last 3-4 months. 

One thing that stands out is the emphasis of the Union Health Ministry on the duties and responsibilities of hotel management with regard to maintaining safety on the premises and containing the spread of COVID-19. A big responsibility for sure, considering that these SOPs seek to reduce all physical contact, as much as possible, between guests and hotel personnel while including a raft of other preventive measures to be taken. 

Major guidelines that have been issued so far 

Agreed, guidelines and regulations are often of the boring kind! Yet, in the current scenario, if you with to travel anytime soon, you should keep an eye on these regulations. Who knows, you might just find them quite interesting as well! 

Some key guidelines: 

  • All guest details, i.e. medical condition/data, travel history, ID and self-declaration form should be given to the hotel during check-in. 
  • Each time a guest departs, service areas and rooms should be thoroughly sanitized without fail. 
  • Staff members should adhere to social distancing regulations while in the kitchen. Frequent sanitizing should be done for the kitchen area. 
  • All washrooms should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized at regular intervals. 
  • Masks, gloves and face covers left behind by guests or staff members should be suitably disposed. 
  • Waiters and staff members should always wear hand gloves and masks while adopting other necessary precautions. 

While these are the basics that hotels have to follow, there are several added details that may come in handy, should you wish to travel in the near future. 

A few regulations that you may not have known about

There are some regulations that many of you may not know about till now or have not heard of the same. Here’s taking a look at these crucial pointers that you should absorb without fail as a hotel guest: 

  • Hotels will not be opening in containment zones. 
  • People above the age of 65, those having comorbidities, children below 10 years of age and pregnant women should ideally remain at home except for any health or essential needs. Hotel management has been advised by the authorities to ensure the same. 
  • Minimum 6 feet of physical distancing has to be there between guests and staff members of the hotel as much as possible. 
  • Face mask/cover has to be compulsorily used at all times. 
  • Spitting is strictly punishable and not allowed at hotels. 
  • It is recommended that all guests download and install the Aarogya Setu app as per the Central Government advisory. 

There are some other specific guidelines for hotels as well. These include the following: 

  • Entrance of hotel to come with compulsory sanitizer dispenser for hand hygiene and the facility of thermal screening. 
  • Asymptomatic guests and staff members will be allowed into the premises after thermal screening is done. 
  • Entry will only be allowed if staff members and guests wear face masks/covers at all times. 
  • Manpower will be amply used by the management of hotels for ensuring adherence to regulations pertaining to social distancing. 
  • Staff members should be wearing gloves as well. 
  • Employees, who are older, pregnant or have any medical conditions, should be taking additional safety precautions. Ideally, they should not be exposed to people on the front-line or desk. Work from home should be enabled for these employees as much as possible. 
  • Social distancing norms will be enforced by the hotel management in parking lots and outdoor premises as much as possible.
  • Gatherings and large congregations are strictly prohibited at hotels. 
  • Valet parking will operate with staff members wearing face masks/covers along with gloves. Disinfection should be done properly for the door handles, steering wheel and keys of vehicles. 
  • Separate entry and exits are recommended for staff members, supplies and guests. 
  • There will be limited people allowed to use elevators with appropriate social distancing. 
  • Posters/films and other media on preventive COVID-19 measures should be prominently showcased on the premises. 
  • Reception areas should have hand sanitizers for guests to use prior to filling up forms and signing the register. 
  • Hotels should facilitate digital check-in and check-out procedures along with relying on online forms, digital payment methods such as e-wallets and QR codes for contactless systems. 
  • Disinfection of luggage is a must before reaching the customer’s room. 
  • Guests should avoid visiting tourist spots located in containment areas. 

How restaurants can ensure added safety for patrons

Of course, it goes without saying that one of the prime experiences at most hotels pertains to visiting restaurants and feasting on sumptuous food and beverages. However, in the current scenario, restaurants have temporarily lost their buzz and are busy adapting to the new normal, attempting to come up with preventive measures to safeguard patrons. 

Here are some of the key guidelines that have been issued for restaurants: 

  • Social distancing has to be maintained for guests sitting at the restaurant. 
  • Disposable menus are recommended along with high-quality disposable paper napkins in place of regular cloth napkins. 
  • Contactless digital payments and ordering methods to be implemented. 
  • Social distancing should be followed for buffet services while take-aways and room service are also recommended. 
  • Food delivery staff should leave the food packet at the door of the guest/customer. Home delivery staff are required to undergo thermal screening prior to carrying out deliveries. 
  • Mobile/intercom based communication should only take place between staff members and guests for room service at hotels. 
  • Areas for children/playing zones will remain closed. 
  • Air conditioning should be kept at 24-30 degrees Celsius with relative humidity at 40-70%. Fresh air should be ushered in as much as possible. 
  • Sanitation will be done frequently with major emphasis on hand washing areas, kitchens, bathrooms, etc. 
  • Disinfection to be done regularly for all surfaces in restaurant. 

These are some of the new guidelines recommended for restaurants in hotels and things that you should keep in mind before visiting one. 

Hotel-Guest cooperation to be the way forward

While the personal touch and physical contact might be absentees from the new list of operational protocols at hotels and restaurants, something that will ultimately work is the sense of cooperation between guests and hotels. You as a guest may have only a mask or gloves although the hotel staff will remain physically distant from you, wearing PPE kits and attempt at being invisible as much as possible. There are innumerable surfaces or touch points at hotels for visitors including reception areas, lobbies, lounges, restaurants and pubs, rooms, gymnasiums, business centers and other areas. 

Touching will be the new taboo and hotels will be frequently sanitizing surfaces as well. You, as a guest, will have to furnish more information than ever before along with undergoing temperature checks on a regular basis and will be expected to abide by stringent restrictions. You will have to install the Aarogya Setu app while maintaining social distancing even in outdoor areas. This requires cooperation on your part and understanding of the rigors that the hotel staff has to go through for your sake. 

You will be surprised to see restaurant tables at sizable distance from each other along with staff members wearing PPE kits and protective equipment. You may order from your mobile app and undergo temperature checks when you enter the establishment. Getting room service means you will have to open doors and take the trolley inside the room once the staff member has departed post delivery. All these measures may seem tough initially for both guests and hotels alike. It will require a little understanding, empathy and carefulness on everyone’s part. With time, once we have all adjusted to the new normal (the next big Dictionary addition for sure!), you will ultimately realize that you can start having fun again, only in a different way than before. 

Hospitality sector looks forward to a better future 

Leaving the lockdown, financial impact and other hurdles in the past, the Indian hospitality industry is looking forward to a brighter future. Hotels and all establishments are taking extra care to abide by all guidelines and safety precautions for the wellbeing of their patrons. 

With Governments opening up hotels in various parts of the country, it is only a matter of time before the tourism industry starts reviving albeit under a different paradigm altogether. Workations (packages fusing work and vacations), higher emphasis on technology and contactless procedures, a new model of invisible service (physically invisible or hidden staff members as much as possible) and innovative staycation packages should keep the hospitality industry chugging along until things return to normal. 

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