The Family Vacation: What Hotel Owners Need to Consider Post-COVID-19
By Janet Wright Director of Risk Management, Ryan Specialty Group | June 07, 2020
Vacation season is here and after the year we've had, guests will likely be anxious to book their next vacation when the time is right. But not everyone will be looking for a Clark Griswold-style family vacation–with each family member side-by-side for the duration. No, many guests book vacations at hotels where they can get a little me-time while their children enjoy fun camps and supervised recreational activities. These camps and activities are often run either by the hotel directly or through contracts with third-party organizations.
The truth is, camp offerings for children are at the top of many parents' wish lists when searching for the perfect getaway. Hoteliers realize the importance of this amenity and aim to offer a safe and enjoyable experience for the whole family.
Increasingly, safety is at the forefront of everyone's mind in light of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Though at the time of writing this article, the full impact this pandemic will have on the world and our global economy remains unclear, we continue to consider how the hospitality industry can better itself. And, when it comes to family-safe programming now or in a post-pandemic world, we want to continue to explore what resorts can do to provide a safe and enjoyable family programs without taking away from a memorable experience.
Hotel and resort camp offerings can vary greatly, depending on the activities and age and number of children attending. Care can be by the hour, multi-hour or all day long with the option to choose among multiple activities throughout the day.
Some locations offer beach-themed camps including those designed around surfing, tide pooling, beachcombing and paddle boarding. For teens, hotels and resorts offer age appropriate organized activities like spa services, arcade events, movie nights, s'mores around a fire, sand crab flashlight hunting, equestrian experiences, and dance parties, among other things. Still more traditional camps offer kids activities focused on tennis, golf, baking, eco-friendly activities, swimming or nature walks to explore their surroundings.
With all these offerings available, hotel owners and operators do their best to remain competitive and differentiate themselves from others in the marketplace. While they may be eager to jump into a new camp activity to appeal to guests, they should understand that they are exposing themselves to liability.
There are many potential risks associated with hosting a camp at a hotel or resort. We have summarized some of these potential risks below and provided potential mitigation options in the remainder of this article. Hotels and resorts offering such programs should be careful to consider any risks and mitigation options related to the new activity and talk to their insurer, attorney and other relevant professionals. For example, an insurer specializing in the hospitality space can assess the risk of the hotel's camp programs and identify ways to mitigate some of that risk through waivers and more.
So what are some of the potential risks involved in hosting a camp at a hotel or resort? These are suggestions to reduce risk.
According to the American Camp Association, the most common incident at camp is illness. There are twice as many illnesses as injuries at camp, according to MFASCO, Health+Safety, manufacturers of first aid supply kits. To prevent an outbreak of an illness during camp at a hotel or elsewhere, parents should be told to keep sick children at home, and ill counselors should not be allowed to return to work until they have recovered.
Slip, trips, falls and collisions are also common injuries, both in camp environments and in hotels. Children will fall while running, climbing on equipment, while playing sports or from any area where they can climb. According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls account for 50 percent of non-fatal injuries in children. Most of these injuries are not serious, but they can be. This is why it is important for hotel owners and operators to verify all play areas are safe and free of debris and to ensure that campers are monitored at all times.
Finally, children playing within a hotel recreation environment will, from time to time, experience cuts, rashes and bites from outdoor bugs while under the hotel's supervision. The ACA says 15 percent of children's injuries at camp are from cuts. This includes injuries related to running into sharp objects or cutting themselves with tools from lessons (cooking, art, etc), among other things. To curb these accidents, campers should be taught safety before starting an activity where they are handling a sharp object.
Staff should use their first aid skills to respond to such instances and be supplied with the proper supplies and disinfectants to assist injured campers. If a camper develops a rash or bug bite, they should be quickly evaluated for allergic reactions. Further, animal bites should be treated accordingly with the injured child taken to a medical facility depending on the severity.
Building a Safe Program
The first part of a successful program is having staff that are fully trained and have received the appropriate clearances. All hotel employees should undergo a criminal background check, including a search of sexual molestation databases. Once hired, staff should have a clear understanding of their job description, policies and what to do in case of an injury, allergy or other incident. Formal First Aid and CPR training should be provided to staff as well and a trained member should always be present when camp is in session. Training should also include security policies and basic emergency preparedness for injuries, fire, weather and more.
Regarding the COVID-19 virus, information and best practices were still unfolding as this article went to print. According to the American Camp Association, no strategy can be 100 percent effective for preventing communicable illness. However, the more strategies management has in place, the stronger the camp's protection will be.
As we've all heard, for protection from Coronavirus, follow these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, which call for: frequent handwashing, no touching of the face, and frequent sanitizing of surfaces.
Further, for campers specifically:
- Any children displaying signs of illness should not attend camp.
- Anyone displaying signs of illness should be sent home and camp procedures for handling illness should be communicated daily to participants.
- Campers should be well hydrated throughout the day.
- Posters provided by the CDC and WHO should be posted in key locations.
Depending on the age of your hotel campers, the degree of precaution you take will vary in certain areas. Indoor locations should have outlets covered, heavy items secured, and chemicals and cleaning products should be locked away. If food is provided, safe food handling guidelines should be followed, with staff ensuring all allergies are noted.
A swimming pool is the area of most concern for hotel guests as well as hotel campers and needs to be top of mind in terms of safety. All staff, either employees of the hotel or counselors with a third-party program operating on hotel property, should be trained in pool safety and constant supervision needs to be provided. Daily safety checks of the pool should be performed, including drain inspections, inspections for trip hazards, sharp objects, and proper lifesaving equipment.
Further, staff should ensure features like the slide, ladder and diving board are properly secured and that chemical levels are adjusted property and proper signage is posted. Staff also needs to be trained in weather evacuation from the pool if a storm is in the forecast.
All other outdoor features, including playgrounds, should be inspected daily for trip hazards and to ensure the equipment is in proper working condition. Staff will need to review for sharp edges, trip hazards, glass or other objects on the ground, and ensure that children are properly supervised at all times. The play areas should also be limited to children of similar ages at any one time and proper use of equipment should be strictly enforced.
Know Your Campers
Each camper should have a record on file that indicates emergency contact information, a health assessment, which lists any food allergies or medical issues, and lists who is authorized to pick up the child from camp. Many locations offer a wristband or other method of signing in and out campers and encourage a buddy system during camp. Hotel management's policy for any child that is ill should clearly be communicated to parents/guardians. All parents/guardians should sign a waiver prior to their child attending camp.
At the start of every day, hotel management should review basic policies with staff, ensure safety checklists and inspections are performed and review any potential incidents or safety issues from previous days.
Finally, as much as hotel management can plan and prepare, incidents will happen. Having a good safety protocol in place can help to significantly mitigate risk exposure. This plan should include monitoring campers' health, daily camp facility inspection, and thorough training of staff. With that said, it is also critical to frequently evaluate and communicate these plans, as failing to do so could greatly increase the potential for a liability loss.
Safety is the number one priority and operating a successful program will lead to happy campers, happy staff and an enhanced guest experience.
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