From contactless check-ins and digital menus to the presence of service staff dressed in protective equipment, hotels in the city are going all out to reassure guests of a safe stay during covid-19
On August 19, hotels across Delhi received the much-awaited news from the Delhi Disaster Management Authority that they would be allowed to open up. This update came after nearly six months of being closed to the general public, following the announcement of the lockdown by the Union government in March in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic.
As restrictions ease up in different spheres of public activity and there is much talk about “adapting to the new normal", there is no question that the hotel experience is likely to undergo a change as well. So, here’s how’s your stay is going to be different from the pre-covid days. For one, it will be a common sight to see people dressed up in protective suits, masks, gloves and face shields, deep cleaning the lobby or the kitchens. Buffets—high touch point zones—are going to be put on hold for the time being. Contactless check-in services and digital menus with QR codes are likely to be the norm.
“This new journey starts early with the reservations," says Julian Ayers, general manager, Hyatt Regency Delhi, which opened up last Friday and saw decent footfalls over the weekend. Like many other five-star hotels in the city, Hyatt Regency Delhi too has an option for online check-in, with the guests supplying documents and travel history over email. “I wouldn’t say it has become all contactless but ‘contact-light’. Guests are also asked early on if they want the room serviced daily or not. Do they want to be present while servicing is being done? Every detail is being thought of," he says.
Once the guests are picked up in a sanitized vehicle with screen separators, mandatory non-invasive temperature checks are done at all entry points in hotels. All the baggage is disinfected and fogged on arrival. Various hotels now have a dedicated hygiene manager and crew in place to maintain safety and sanitization in all guest areas. Others like The Oberoi, New Delhi, have partnered with external agencies such as the Bureau Veritas, which specialises in testing, inspection and certification services, to validate and review their safety and hygiene programme.
According to Jay Rathore, senior vice president and general manager, The Oberoi, New Delhi, a long list of high-touch items—ranging from room keys, EDC machines, tablets, laptops, keyboards, mouse, printer and wheel chairs to stationery and registration countertops, door handles, knobs, elevator doors and buttons—are being cleaned every 30 minutes with prescribed disinfecting solutions. Hand sanitisers with a minimum alcohol strength of 70% are being placed in all guest rooms prior to arrival and at all lift landings, complete with tissues and pedal dustbins. Contactless pick-up and delivery protocols are being followed for in-room dining and laundry services. Laundry assistants can be seen wearing surgical gloves and protective gear to sort and load linen in washing machines, and a waste management-segregation process has been put in place for disposal of used tissues, gloves and masks.
One ends the stay at most hotels with the same contactless norms as followed during check-in. For instance, at the Taj Palace, New Delhi, an invoice is left on email or WhatsApp, with payment done online. “There was also a concern earlier about virus being transmitted through air conditioners. So, we are maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity levels of around 24-26 degrees. HEPA filters have been installed in the rooms," says Nayan Seth, general manager, Taj Palace, New Delhi. Once the guest checks out, the rooms are given a resting period of minimum 24 hours before the next check-in. The same protocols will be followed at Taj Mahal, New Delhi, once it opens mid-September. At Hyatt Regency Delhi, after check-out, once the room has been cleaned, it is tagged so that no one enters till the next guest arrives.
Many believe that this amplified programme is just an extension of the high level of hygiene standards traditionally followed at the hotels anyway. Benita Sharma, Area Manager (North) and General Manager, ITC Maurya, asserts that the hotel has been following responsible luxury practices and sustainability for over ten years now with local produce being used, no single use plastic, clean air initiative with air at par with World Health Organisation standards, a planet positive ethos, and more.
Jaideep Dang, managing director, Hotels and Hospitality group (India) at JLL, a real estate consultancy firm, feels that if one had to compare a premium shopping mall, gym, office building and a hotel, the latter would come first in terms of safety and hygiene. “They are now going one step ahead to reassure guests about the steps being taken, be it in elevators or seating in the restaurant. The standard operating procedures (SOPs) are so robust that the chances of an infection being transferred from one guest to another is very low," he adds.
Sharma concurs, and adds that while the associates are wearing masks and gloves, "our warmth is not distant. It reaches out to the guests as they come back. We care for our guests and our team. Associates have been checked for covid-19 before they come back into the system," she says.
In such a scenario, efficient communication is believed to go a long way towards reassuring guests. So, at Andaz Delhi, all procedures are being communicated way in advance to all guests. “We have placed safety posters in our hotel lobby as well to reassure that all safety measures are being taken care of," says Madhav Sehgal, general manager of the hotel.
Similar efforts are being taken in the food and beverage offerings as well. At ITC Maurya, the coffee shop has every alternate table empty and separators are in place to enforce social distancing measures. At Taj Palace, breakfast buffets have been replaced fixed menus that the guest can choose from.
And the guests are now warming up to the idea of spending time at the hotels. Sunaina Anand, director of the Art Alive gallery visited ITC Grand Bharat and Oberoi Gurgaon in the NCR region recently for a meal and came back impressed. “My visit to ITC Grand Bharat was my first outing since the pandemic broke out. And I was a little jittery. But the experience was very reassuring," she says. Temperatures were checked in three places, and the staff had masks and gloves in place. At the restaurant, cutlery had been packed in individual pouches and the food was cooked fresh for each guest.
Rashmi Chugh had a similar experience. She came back to Delhi from Nairobi on the Vande Bharat repatriation flights in early July. Several hotels in Delhi had been roped in by the authorities to serve as quarantine facilities and she isolated herself at Taj Palace. “My daughter and I were anxious about our 7 large suitcases. But we were graciously assisted with a person in full protective gear, who followed the fogging and disinfection protocol," says Chugh, who is the group head of digital at the Nation Media Group in Kenya.
While the guests are now trickling in, experts believe that even with all of these measures in place, it will take some time for hotels to bounce back to their pre-covid revenue. According to a survey conducted by JLL in July with 15 leading hotel operators in India, titled ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Indian Hospitality Industry’, only 20% of the operators believed that their hotels could bounce back to the 2019 revenue per available room within 6 to 12 months. Luxury hotel operators are expected to ramp-up slowly, with some expecting their portfolio may take more than 2 years to reach 2019 performance levels. Business travel is expected to reduce in the post-covid world as companies are likely to rationalize spending on travel, which could, in a way, benefit branded economy and mid-scale hotels.
Meanwhile, the opening up of the hotels allows for some semblance of normalcy to seep into the public life. “There are not too many people in the restaurants and you miss the buzz. But it is reassuring to know that you can survive with a little bit of care," says Anand.