In England, it is estimated that one in 75 people are testing positive for Covid-19 – a somewhat inevitable statistic following the nation’s relaxing of restrictions on Freedom Day, 19 July. But the reality is far from liberating. The dreaded “ping” of the NHS Test and Trace app is causing major disruption for those businesses finally able to reopen.
Train operators are being forced to decrease the volume of services due to guards and divers stuck at home; the BBC has pulled its local morning breakfast bulletin until at least September; and some businesses such as Iceland and Greene King have closed sites altogether.
For hospitality venues in particular, which for the majority of the past 18 months have been unable to trade, the so-called “pingdemic” is stalling the industry’s recovery. BHN speaks to three hotel professionals to understand exactly how they are operating amid staffing shortages.
• Which Covid measures have you decided to keep in place?
Kerian Barnes (operations and commercial director at Starboard Hotels): “At breakfast, whilst we have continued with an assisted buffet, we will keep the breakfast host to reduce the guest touch points; particularly around the service of hot food and cleaning the coffee machine. Individual items like croissants and bread rolls will continue to be individually wrapped, and we’ll offer individual cereal boxes, yoghurts and porridge pots.
“Regarding sanitising, we have team members cleaning tables and touch points regularly and will keep this going. Back of house sanitising is really important and we are continuing with the regime of sanitising between every shift. We have been using SHIELD+ which offers 28 day protection but at the moment you can’t overdo these things. We are sanitising bedrooms surfaces with SHIELD+ but are not putting any of the cushions or un-required soft furnishings in the room.
“Reception screens we will keep for a while and see how this goes. Staff are welcome and encouraged to wear masks but it is their choice. This is supported with signage to the guests asking them to feel free in their choice of wearing a mask if they wish.
“For food and beverage revenue sales we have been using a range of WhatsApp to QR codes. We have recently introduced Leslie at Park Royal – a smart, real-time digital ordering solution which enables our customers to view our menu and order food items with their mobile phone – all they have to do is tap or scan a QR code and collect their order from downstairs. We have introduced this not only in our restaurant but also in all of our hotel rooms which has opened a new revenue stream for us. We will keep all of the technology as we believe guests will still want this as a choice.”
Julia Hands (chairman and CEO at Hand Picked Hotels): “Although we are pleased that further regulations have been lifted for our hotels in England, we have taken a cautious approach in relaxing the measures that are in place to keep everyone safe. We all have a duty of care to act responsibly and so many of our protocols are still in place. For example, we are still taking a temperature reading from all our guests and team members when they arrive at the hotel. Our team members will also continue to wear a face mask and we are encouraging our guests to do the same whilst in our public areas, unless seated or exempt.
“Rigorous cleaning regimes are of course still in place as are our sanitisation stations around the hotels, and we will continue to reduce customer touchpoints with our cashless payment system remaining. Whilst rules around social distancing have softened, we are still keeping a sensible distance between the tables in our restaurants and equipment in our health clubs. We are fortunate that our hotels are grand buildings with high ceilings, large windows and extensive grounds, so we have plenty of space and are continuing to maximise it in all areas so that our guests feel safe and comfortable as restriction ease, which I believe is paramount.”
Jonathan Raggett (managing director at Red Carnation Hotels): “For the time being we are retaining all the protocols we have had in place since re-opening last year in order to do our very best to protect our guests and our staff. We will be reviewing these protocols on a regular basis, as the situation develops, but for now our staff will continue to wear face masks, hand sanitiser will be readily available throughout our hotels and social distancing measures will remain in place. We have a twice weekly regime of lateral flow testing among our teams and have installed Rensair air purifiers in public areas. The wearing of face masks is not compulsory for guests, we leave this decision to them.”
• Are you having an issue with staff being pinged and not able to work? If so, how are you addressing this?
KB: “Yes we have had issues with the isolation which has added further stress to where we are struggling to recruit and therefore already short staffed. We are trying to keep teams working together but this has proved difficult where staff shortages or skills are lost.
“By staying on top of the sanitising, if staff are pinged then we have done everything we can to stop them getting the virus and then it’s just isolation. We are continuing to host meetings over Teams rather than face to face, as is the same with training.”
JH: “The Test and Trace system has indeed meant that some of our team members – as with countless others – have had to self-isolate at a moment’s notice. This has naturally presented some challenges for the teams operationally, but we fully support the need to protect one another. It is as critical now as was at the start of the outbreak and we all have a role to play – not just those who work with us, but everyone needs to act responsibly.
“Despite the challenges, I am very proud of the way in which the teams have pulled together – they are indeed taking extra shifts to support one another. Our guests, who have remained loyal throughout this pandemic, have also continued to show their support. I am incredibly touched by their desire to help us, and the wider industry, truly get back on our feet and come out of this stronger than before.”
JR: “Like many other businesses we are encountering issues with staff being pinged and it is creating a lot of uncertainty. PCR tests are arranged for staff who are pinged and to date, none of these staff have tested positive. We are doing our best to work around the resulting absences, with other members of the team undertaking additional shifts.
“In some respects we are fortunate that the majority of our hotels are located in London since with occupancy levels way down on 2019, we are able to manage with smaller teams. However managing staff absences is much more challenging in Guernsey, Dorset and Ireland.”
The Trailblazer webinar: Freedom day… what next? Taking place on Monday 2 August, will expand on all the above and more. Further information including registration details can be found here.