How hotels in Asia Pacific are stepping up

From housing healthcare workers to serving as quarantine quarters, hotels are pivoting to increase occupancy during COVID-19

April 20, 2020

As the world grapples with travel restrictions and social distancing measures related to the coronavirus pandemic, the hospitality sector has been among the hardest hit. But hotels across Asia Pacific are putting their empty rooms to good use, housing returning residents required to spend 14 days in quarantine before being allowed home.

Governments around the region have recently tightened quarantine measures for returning residents, requiring them to spend two weeks in a hotel, rather than in their own home, to prevent them from potentially spreading the virus to their families. In Singapore, it has been reported that the government has booked more than 7,500 hotels rooms from chains such as Accor and Intercontinental Hotel Group to house overseas returnees.

It’s a similar situation in Australia, where the government is housing arrivals into the country in major hotels to contain the spread of the disease. In Hong Kong, “quarantine packages” are being offered for students, residents and expats coming back who face a mandated 14-day self-isolation period.

“With a drop in demand from international arrivals, hotel operators have to be open to considering any potential business,” says Sashi Rajan, senior vice president of advisory, JLL Hotels Asia Pacific. “Every piece of business that offers to bring in cash flow and keep business running is a positive outcome under the current circumstances.”

More than just quarantine quarters

Beyond serving as quarantine stations, hotels in the region are also doing their part to house healthcare workers. Budget hotel group Oyo is working with governments in India and Thailand to give free or discounted hotel rooms to healthcare professionals. Others in the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Jakarta have also followed suit.

Australia’s state of Victoria has launched a Hotels for Heroes programme where both clinical and non-medical staff working in healthcare facilities are eligible to stay for free to help them isolate and avoid potentially taking the disease home to their families.

“These are worthy efforts. In such unprecedented times, there is a need for solidarity,” says Rajan. “It’s also a lifeline for the hotel industry from these countries’ governments.”

But for most hotels, offering these services was not a straight forward process. Additional training around sanitising the premises, security protocol to ensure no breaches from guests trying to leave their rooms and their families trying to pop by.

In these high-risk times, it is paramount for hotels to follow guidelines set by the authorities, as well as looking into the welfare of their own staff to ensure they are well-briefed and are equipped with the right precautions, Rajan says.

“On the commercial front, hotel operators need to do their sums, continuously revisit breakeven points, review cost structures and consider all opportunities such as emergency temporary occupancy agreement from government bodies or commercial enterprises,” he says.

Reputation and recovery

Looking forward, potential public perception will need to be addressed as part of the recovery strategy, says Rajan. “There could be some stigma around this virus and these hotels will be need to have clear messaging around concerns such as cleanliness and safety of future guests,” he says.

Although, this potentially damaging perception is likely to be more than offset by the service that these hotels are providing by keeping  their doors opened to fight the virus, offer rooms to medical workers and a shelter for those serving quarantines while keeping their staff employed.

“With most hotels doing their part, this perception is quickly fading,” he says. “It counts more that they are working with government agencies and authorities to combat the crisis whilst trying to keep their industry afloat.”

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