In many places, hotels are starting to re-open amidst the ongoing pandemic. They've put a lot of safety precautions in place, including new check-in protocols and social distancing tools. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel — fleeting it maybe.
Once we can fully re-open, how would we make that decision?
Let's see how the team at The Mangrove Inn approaches this. Names were changed to protect privacy, and some timelines were compressed for brevity.
"We lost another long-staying guest this week. We'll be down to about 10% occupancy on Monday.", said Rishika.
As head of sales at The Mangrove Inn, Rishika was desperately trying to get new bookings. But with severe city restrictions, they can only accept a tiny category of guests. And they need to ask for a health certificate, a rapid test, and several other bureaucratic paperwork on top of that.
It's a world-class disincentive for guests, to say the least. Only travelers who are most in need, or most desperate, tolerated such measures.
"What do you think of opening up in the online travel agency websites again?" Rishika asked the team during their regular briefing. "We'll indicate all the city requirements, and maybe there are ways to reduce the list like remove the rapid tests. I can try."
Paul, the general manager, kept quiet. His mind was calling to him from 7 months ago: "Beware the middle of March".
March 20. A haphazard lockdown was just imposed on the city. Fear was palpable in the air.
Early that morning, there was a commotion across the street and people were shouting. They were agitated by a guest that just arrived in an airport taxi and was trying to unload his luggage.
A bulky officer from the local town approached Rishika, and menacingly berated her: "Why are you still accepting guests?! What if that person is infected?!".
A crowd of bystanders were already gathering and jumped in, pointing at the confused guest, "Quarantine! Quarantine!". Poor guest might have felt being surrounded by pitchforks.
Rishika tried to reason with the officer:
"He booked days ago, and they cleared him at the airport. We can stop future reservations, but we can't just turn these people away. They need a place to stay too."
Before the situation can escalate further, the receptionist quickly ushered the tired guest inside. He sat down in the lobby, a bit dazed.
But Paul knew they could have done better. Even if the guest had a reservation, they should have been more proactive about the change in the situation mid-transit.
The officer marched back to his bike after barking a stern warning: "If there is an infection, you will be held responsible."
"What do you think?", Rishika pressed, snapping Paul's mind back to the present.
"If we will do this, we have to make sure everything is really contact-less. But is everyone comfortable in loosening the testing requirements?", Rishika continued.
Melchor, the operations manager and the most senior in the team spoke up. "For me, it's a dangerous risk. To ourselves and the reputation of the hotel. If we get even one infection, it might force us to shut down for a long time, if not forever."
Despite the situation, Paul felt proud at that moment. To hear his team look out for the future of the hotel, even when everybody was already on severely reduced salaries. He felt energized.
We already saw what happened last March, Paul thought. We certainly don't want to subject our team and our guests to a similar experience again.
What if we just hibernate for a while? Wait for the vaccine to come, wait for travel conditions to improve. This way, we don't risk getting anybody infected, and we don't have to worry about risks to our reputation.
"First let's get some clarity on paper on what are the latest guidelines." Paul said. "I know there's some confusion, but let's do what we can. Send an email if we can't find any updated announcements."
"And how is our financial status?", he asked the treasurer.
"If occupancy levels don't improve next week, we might still be able to pay the bills, but I don't think there will be enough for payroll.", she replied.
Paul thought about the staff's kids who just started remote schooling. Also Rishika's cat who recently needed emergency trips to the vet. And all the rest who depends on the hotel to put food on the table. How will they be able to get the funds they need?
The team adjourned for the day.
They can either risk shorter-term guests and find a way to skip the rapid tests. Or suspend operations for a few months until the vaccine arrives.
Paul took a deep breath. How do we make this decision?
Do we give the decision to the staff? Is this a matter of consensus?
If we don't re-open for a while, how long will the team wait? Do we need to start-over afterwards?
Or, can we not make a decision, and just let the chips fall where they may? Isn't that irresponsible?
His mind drifted back to the incident in March.