Many experts predict that long-distance travel will remain an exception well into 2021, with mismatched vaccine rollouts and travel restrictions in place around the world. That has brought a few U.S. locations to the forefront as in-demand travel destinations. One location in particular provides both the safety of U.S. coronavirus guidelines with the exotic allure and warm climate usually found in international travel and has made travelers ask: Is it safe to vacation in Hawaii right now?
After a prolonged pandemic shutdown, the answer seems to be a clear “yes.”
In October 2020, after six months of lockdown, Hawaii reopened to visitors from the mainland. To date, the islands of Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Hawaii are requiring travelers to meet the state’s Safe Travels pre-travel testing program. This requires that travelers either quarantine for 10 days upon arrival or present a negative COVID-19 test result from an allowed Trusted Testing Partner on the state's preapproved list within 72 hours of departure.
Because of their stringent quarantine policies, most of the Hawaiian Islands have fared relatively well throughout the pandemic. What’s more, these strict, specific entry rules have made Hawaii a destination that is both scientifically safe and emotionally reassuring for travelers in 2021. In fact, travel industry experts see Hawaii’s requirements as particularly enticing for consumers who have been playing it safe for the last year.
However, the strict rules place a significant burden on staff working to ensure hotel rooms are clean. These frontline workers are emerging as an increasingly critical part of providing a safe travel environment, so hotels must have clear policies to protect guests and staff. Consider the following strategies for unburdening your staff from the protocols guiding Hawaii hotel reopening.
6 Ways to Keep Hotel Staff Safe from the Travel Surge
1. Identify Frontline Workers Who Need Vaccines
At-risk frontline hotel workers in Hawaii have begun to be prioritized for vaccination. Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association (HLTA) requests that members submit lists of prioritized employees to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible, even if you have already submitted an employee list to the state Department of Health. Encouraging vaccinations among housekeeping and other staff, and addressing vaccine hesitancy with education, will help convince staff and guests that it is safe to work and vacation in Hawaii right now.
HLTA is helping to ensure that no employee slips through the cracks. They request that hotel and resort operators submit information that includes the individuals’ names, phone numbers, email addresses, and home zip code to help the Department of Health schedule these workers for an appointment at a vaccination location near their residence.
2. Enforce Quarantines
Hotel staff must remember that the strict quarantine period is one of the enticements bringing many travelers to Hawaii. As such, enforcing this quarantine for its entire period is critical. While many hotels have set up ways to restrict the use of electronic keys by guests until the quarantine period has passed, other hotels have noted they are using traditional keys or cannot confirm which guests require quarantine.
Clear communication with guests before travel can help. As Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers administrator Angela Keen commented, “People are confused, travelers are confused, and sometimes they use that confusion as an excuse.” Eliminating any confusion with a series of reminders across a range of media (email, text, etc.) before check-in can help. Better yet, clearly communicating this enforcement in marketing materials can help make safety a selling point while establishing clear guidelines.
3. Practice Transparency
While hotel housekeeping has suffered tremendous unemployment rates, those returning to work are balancing desperation for work with worry about their health. This is no way to operate and will undermine the hotel experience for guests who depend on hotel staff for their safety and comfort. Your frontline housekeeping workers will be increasingly critical in the months ahead in creating a safe, welcoming experience.
Until all workers and their families are vaccinated, ensure that you’re communicating clearly to staff about your safety and cleaning practices. Make sure that housekeeping understands why you’re taking specific steps so that you can instill confidence. Regular safety meetings and training will go a long way toward helping workers feel at ease.
Give workers confidence, too, to report concerns. This includes any actions taken by hotel guests that violate safety policies or put staff at risk, or if staff or a family suspects they may have COVID-19. Per HLTA standards, employees are responsible for reporting if they are sick, so it’s important that employers provide them with sick leave and job protection.
4. Layer Safety Strategies
Hotel and tourism operators in Hawaii have expressed concern that ensuring hotel rooms are clean would put employees and guests at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 through more regular close interaction. Following layered safety protocols based upon CDC guidelines for hotels, resorts, and lodges, will help mitigate this spread.
Many experts tout what’s been called the “swiss cheese model” of protection. It acknowledges that no single strategy will be entirely successful in stopping the transmission of COVID-19. Every approach—wearing a mask, hand washing, testing, and so on—has some “holes” where failures may occur. Layering these approaches increases the likelihood of safety. So, protecting staff with appropriate protective equipment, requiring frequent hand washing, and ensuring ample distance between guests and staff will all work toward keeping staff safer.
5. Invest in New Tools
In addition to following a clear Return to Work checklist that outlines cleaning procedures, cleanliness communications, and building modifications that support social distancing, hotels may consider new tools that help housekeeping workers ensure that hotel rooms are clean.
Autonomous commercial vacuum cleaners, like Whiz from SoftBank Robotics, increase productivity while supporting social distancing. Housekeeping can deploy a robotic vacuum while focusing on value-added disinfection activities, getting into and out of guest spaces more rapidly.
6. Support Mental Well-being
This is an incredibly stressful time to serve in the hospitality industry for employers and workers alike. But one can’t be successful without the others’ support. Employers must prioritize employee wellbeing. Burnt-out or otherwise stressed workers will be more prone to making mistakes that could jeopardize health and safety. Take steps to provide positive reinforcement, recognize exceptional efforts from staff, and care for your workers so they can care for your guests.
Recommit to Safety
Hotels everywhere are struggling to cope with the disproportionate impact this industry has seen as a result of COVID-19. Certainly, Hawaii has faced an enormous economic slowdown as a result of its pandemic shutdown. However, now is not the time for hotels to compromise on health and safety measures to accommodate guests if they want to truly ensure and demonstrate that it is safe to vacation in Hawaii right now. Hawaii’s decisive actions to protect its communities in the face of the pandemic is the safety that many of today’s travelers crave. By remaining firm in the face of this challenge and working closely with partners equally committed to your facility’s safety as you, hoteliers and resort operators can protect workers and guests while returning to revenue in the challenging year ahead.
Here at SoftBank Robotics, we’re committed to helping the hospitality industry return to normal safely. To learn more about how Whiz can help, contact us today.