A closer look at COVID19 hotel measures announced by TUI

A closer look at COVID19 hotel measures announced by TUI 1024 768 thecloudkeys

TUI, one of the biggest travel companies in Europe and UK’s biggest tour operator, announced how it plans to operate its hotels after COVID19 lockdown measures are removed and global travel restrictions are eased. How much can travelers be assured that these measures are enough remains to be seen. We take a closer look, as we are also working with our hotel partners in Greece to address the issue.

But let’s dive in the key measures in more detail. Many hotel owners in Greece are still not sure if they will open their business at all this season. But Greece’s virus contamination efforts have been praised from governments all over the world, so there are some great positive signs in a desperate global travel & tourism situation. After all, Greece has been hit hard by the financial crisis of 2008 and was still recovering before the coronavirus crisis.

The no-brainers

“Holidaymakers can make check-in contactless”
This makes perfect sense and is a straight-forward solution.

“Only events, sports and entertainments involving a small number of participants and without close contact will be made available”
Again this measure is very straight-forward. Other activities such as swimming pools and bars, where many holidaymaker favored “activities” take place, are also problematic areas.

“Extensive new cleaning practices will be put in place”
Straightforward and anticipated measure by many guests. TUI mentions common use room areas and devices such as the bathroom and the TV remote control.  Spots such as light switches, minibars and the telephone are also very important but there is no mention of that.

Cleaners are the new heroes of the hospitality industry despite their very low wages and heavy pressure during peak holiday times, where a hotel might need to prepare several rooms checking-out and guests checking in 2-3 hours later. There is also the issue of personal hygiene of cleaners and other staff who get in contact with guests. The correct use of masks and gloves is very often simply not followed. Either because the employee can not be bothered or for money saving reasons.

It is true that hotels will have to make higher expenditure on guest and staff safety this season without being able to sell rooms at RevPAR rates they managed to achieve last season. Given that we talk about Greece, a country that has witnessed a surge in investment in it’s travel industry, room prices were already starting to fall in the past two years. Hotel owners are weighing their options in order to stay competitive and manage to deploy effective coronavirus safety measures.

Key hotel facility disruption

First we look at the most popular features hotel guests used to be looking for. Or at least what they used to look for before the coronavirus crisis severely affected International travel.

“Self-service offers such as buffets will be reduced to a minimum”
This may disappoint many guests as breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are typically the first facilities guest look for before booking a holiday in order to save money at the destination they plan to spend their holidays in. TUI does not provide information on what that minimum means. Will it mean less tables in the buffet dining area, large distance between guests on the queue? All that remains to be seen.

If there is an open-air space within its hotels that a buffet can be setup then most likely there is not much to worry about. Of course the practicality of an outdoor buffet can be a problem, with insects, dust and possibly heat making things more difficult but manageable for hotel staff.

If hundreds of guests are to eat meals in a dinning room area, there can hardly be good safety measures for both guests and staff. First of all social distancing can hardly be enforced even with plans to extend buffet operating hours. If a person is infected, the air particles can make the area infectious for at least 3 hours according to health experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the United States. Wearing masks in a restaurant or dining table is just not feasible apart from the staff and air ventilation can be problematic in most hotel buffet/dining areas.

Of course social distancing is not the only issue. If each guest touches cutlery and various other equipment on the buffet table to serve on their plate, this equipment is also prone to virus infection, even if every guest wears gloves. Then there is the issue of tables used by guests. It is simply not feasible to be disinfected after every use and hotels will require one of their employees to be doing just that.

At CloudKeys we have been advising hotel owners to move their buffet service outdoors wherever this is possible, given the very high temperatures that are forecasted to start their appearance this week around the 38-40 degrees Celsius (100-104 Fahrenheit). For those not able to host the buffet service outdoors, it will be very difficult and some customers may be left without food. We know that some hotels have been exploring partnerships.

We have also been championing the local economy too. If buffet services are not available at all-inclusive hotels, local businesses are likely to win some new business. The all-inclusive model is just adding a lot of pressure to heavy tourism destinations and islands in Greece without great expenditure on the local economy.

“Tables will be set up at a minimum distance of 1.5 metres apart”
This is another measure which according to health experts is just not enough. If an infected guest sneezes or coughs, the air particles can travel within seconds. Also many hotels just don’t have the luxury of setting tables so far apart as the number of table and the space available is already low. The same applies to some TUI hotels in Greece and most indoor restaurants in Athens and elsewhere. The Greek government is also rumoured to announce similar distancing measures in order for restaurants to open before the already announced date of the 1st of June.

Other coronavirus measures

“Staff will work together in fixed teams in order to reconstruct possible infection chains”
Not a very revealing statement on what this measure means for guests.  There are just too many common use areas inside hotels and very confined spaces. Apart from their rooms, common hotel areas provide a great “playground” for the coronavirus to spread. There are numerous touchpoints both staff and guests touch, such as the elevator buttons.

Hotels up to three stories could be ok, but what about some tall hotel buildings where the elevator is a key facility used by guests. During some of our team’s visits to audit hotels, we have witnessed guests overcrowding elevators even above the allowed persons.

Are these coronavirus measures enough?

This remains to be seen. With nearly 300,000 COVID19 deaths globally and a portion of patients who have survived the virus apparently suffering side effects on their health, guests are certain to be very careful. Hilton Hotels have announced more thorough measures. But our view as experts in the hotel and accommodation industry is that it all comes down to staff training and staff making the extra effort to enforce the rules.

If this year’s season gets really busy, something which looks very unlikely, then these measures will be very hard to enforce and maintain on a daily 24-hour basis.