HEI Hotels & Resorts Implements New Operating Procedures in Response to COVID-19
By Rachel Moniz Executive Vice President of Operations, HEI Hotels & Resorts | July 12, 2020
Cleaning and sanitation have always been a foundational element in hotels; clean crisp sheets, an abundance of fresh towels, daily housekeeping service, toiletries arranged in just the right way…all the soft touches have always been a part of the guest experience. That was earlier in the year. Today when we think about cleaning and sanitation we are talking about "hospital grade" disinfectants, following CDC guidelines, new cleaning devices, we are referencing countless documents relative to sanitation from Ecolab, to AHLA to all of the brands and more in order to put together the best possible training programs and materials for our people. Today, cleaning is about being safe.
We knew there would be a demand for new disinfectant technology so we moved quickly to secure Electrostatic sprayers so we wouldn't run into a supply issue down the road. We mandated our hotels to order Electrostatic sprayers in early April and even being one of the first movers in this regard, we didn't receive the sprayers until June. Clients want to know what we are doing in this regard, they need to know their attendees will be safe. Clients, meeting planners, decision-makers, and individual guests are asking questions about cleanliness standards.
Our property teams have been highly proactive in finding ways to share our sanitizing practices to put guests at ease when they are ready to travel and select a hotel. Our property Sales teams and General Managers have given us feedback that cleaning protocols are a point of differentiation and can inform a client's decision on whether or not to book a hotel.
Our corporate training team has assembled our SOP's and put them into a digital training course that all of our associates are required to take before returning to work. For active associates, we rolled out an initial COVID-19 training in March and have since updated in May when we mandated the second training course. In just two months we learned more, there was more information provided and we needed to move quickly to ensure our teams on the ground had everything they needed to keep our hotels safe for each other and our guests. Our training goes beyond the classroom and into the guest rooms, kitchens, public areas.
Following the course, all associates are provided individualized training by the operations leadership team in our hotels on exactly what is expected – from high touch guest areas to our own heart of house procedures relative to sanitation. Of course with any training, we reinforce the need to practice social distancing, wear PPE which we provide, and to stay home if you are sick. We also temperature check our associates daily as all of these proactive preventative measures lend themselves to safety.
Our cleaning procedures are very detailed, essentially the general rule is if it can be touched, it needs to be sanitized before it is touched again or thrown out. We have developed procures for linen handling, with single use bags, disinfected linen carts with single-use liners, we removed all decorative items from the room (i.e. decorative pillows), and have placed seals and/or covers on all convenience items from the remote controls to coffee makers. There is no glassware, instead single-use disposable pre-wrapped cups, we have single-use in-room dining menus and between guests, all rooms are electrostatically disinfected. We have specific procedures for linen processing and where we outsource laundry services, we have contacted all of our vendors to certify they have procedures in place that meet our expectations.
For example, when soiled linen needs to be transported and clean linen brought back, we ensure the truck used to transport the linen is sanitized before and after each transfer. We have high expectations of our vendors, they are an extension of our hotels and it is our responsibility to ensure compliance. If you go behind any of our front desks (which all have plexiglass shields) you will find cleaning kits; all associates are expected to sanitize their work stations and while we have public area attendants in place to keep things clean and sanitary, we also expect every associate to assist with this initiative and have a certification process in place where are General Managers certify that these tasks are being completed throughout the day.
We are finding the majority of our guests do not want daily housekeeping service, they would prefer to limit the number of people entering their room. However, when we do provide this service our associates will take great care to ensure they are properly protected and because items are being removed and replaced, small things like wearing their PPE (masks, gloves, in some cases smocks) changing gloves frequently during this housekeeping service have never been more critical.
Our rooms that have been vacated and are ready to be cleaned for the next guest do take longer to clean. There is no way we can tolerate cutting corners and we have given the room attendants more time and more resources to deep clean the rooms which means heavily cleaning and sanitizing every square inch of the room. After this is complete, it is finished off with an electrostatic spray and then the door is closed and sealed (literally) for the next guest to use.
We have heightened our cleaning procedures in our restaurants as well. We have several different options to maintain a sanitary environment in our outlets, depending on the outlet. Some of our restaurants are 100% one-touch. This means we have chair covers, table covers, use disposable service ware and everything is changed between guests. Many of our restaurants are elevated so this doesn't work everywhere, therefore we have heightened standards around disinfecting between service. One of our hotels, Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas, sent me this comment from a Trip Advisor review where we received a perfect 5.0 score:
Crescent Court · June 07, 2020 at 10:52 AM
5.0: "I guess there is no such thing as over-preparing in COVID-19..... The hotel reopens this week and they over exceeded my expectations on health and safety. EXAMPLE: After a long day of work, I indulged in a drink at the bar. Before I sat down the staff wiped down my area (social distance).... table and chair, while serving me nuts of my choice sealed in a jar, while I finished up some emails! Wow .. So, I don't have to explain"
For us, this is the best and most rewarding feedback we can get.
In addition to touchless, low touch, and heightened cleaning standards in our restaurants and bars, we have these same standards and options in place for our meetings and events. We electrostatic spray all of our meeting spaces after deep cleaning them, and disinfect pens, tables, chairs, anything a guest can possibly touch before the start of the event. Just like guest rooms, this does take more time and it does require a heightened level of training and inspection, but it is well worth it in order to win the trust of our clients and keep our guests safe.
We are also being careful about what we offer in terms of amenities, if we cannot disinfect it between use then we will not open it up to our guests. An example being our fitness centers. One of the "pre-covid" attributes of a hotel fitness center was that it was convenient, open with a swipe of a room key at all hours, seven days a week. This is no longer the case. Now we either staff an attendant to be there certain hours who cleans and wipes down equipment between use or we have a specific sign up times for our guests to get access to the fitness center (through the front desk) so we can control the number of people working out and sanitize between use.
Keeping the hotel clean and safe can create minor inconveniences to our guests, but the vast majority of our guests are very understanding. They can visibly see the hotel personnel actively cleaning and wiping down the front desk before welcoming in the next guest to check in, guests can see us disinfecting the table before they are invited to sit, they may have to wait a moment while we sanitize a shuttle bus seats between use, and while these pauses aren't efficient, they are necessary at this time and we would prefer to be safe over being fast.
Our heart of house is equally as important to us as our guest-facing areas. It has always been a core value for HEI to ensure the experience we provide and the standards we have for our guests, applies to our associates as well. We have taken these same principles and procedures and have applied them to our associate areas; when we rolled out standards for our heart of house in conjunction with our guest areas, the teams immediately executed on implementing these cleaning standards to keep each other safe. We have hand sanitizing stations at the time clocks, entry points to the hotel, and associate spaces. Our associate changing rooms are electrostatically sprayed and disinfected between shift changes, we have very specific standards around how often food preparation stations, food storage containers, and high touch areas of the kitchen are disinfected.
I have so much respect for the teams that are doing this important work, with the heightened focus on cleanliness during this critical time, these teams have exceeded our expectations and we couldn't be more proud. There is a reason we call it heart of house, our people truly are our greatest asset.
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