Planning for an event, meeting, or incentive program these days comes with a lot of questions and concerns surrounding Covid-19. To get a more thorough perspective of how our hotel partners are preparing to welcome groups again, I recently completed two site inspection trips to Cancun and Los Cabos, Mexico to learn more. I was able to see first-hand how our hotel partners are adjusting their operations to ensure guest safety.
When it comes to understanding if your hotel partners are readily prepared, there are of course countless questions to ask. However, I found that when I asked these five questions, I gained the most insight into how hotels are proactively creating safe environments and responding to the new needs of the travel experience.
If your hotel partner can easily answer these questions, you can feel more confident in their ability to support you in hosting a safe event.
You will see that these questions are focused on the guest experience rather than the production of a safe event or meeting (since that’s what most people voted for in the poll I shared before I left). The questions I share are also more specific to resort properties in a tropical destination, since that’s where my inspections were.
However, I hope they can be helpful to you should you be considering any destination for your future events. I also provide a lot of anecdotes from the 19 hotels I experienced (it would have been 20 but Hurricane Genevieve in Los Cabos changed my plans!), as well as links to my personal posts and videos from a Hotel Safety Series our team at Achieve created. If you prefer to get quick access to the questions, enter your name and email here to download the Covid Site Inspection Checklist.
1. What safety protocols are in place surrounding the guest arrival experience?
- What is the step-by-step arrival process for guests checking in to the hotel? For the most part, hotels are greeting all guests with a temperature check, required hand-sanitizer and shoe sanitation mat, luggage sanitation, and an amenity kit with medical masks and hand wipes. But there is much more coordination that goes along with these common standards. Ask these follow-up questions to clearly understand the full scope of the arrival process and consider how you may want to proactively communicate these changes with your attendees.
- Are face masks required when my guests are on the property? If so, how is this rule enforced?
- Are you checking guest temperatures upon arrival? If yes, what devices are you using to scan temperatures, and what is your “temperature allowance”? Most hotels are using scanners that are pointed at a guests’ forehead or forearm. UNICO 20°87° and Grand Velas Los Cabos have invested in stand-alone temperature sensors that do individual body scans. Small changes like this show that hotels are creating a guest-centered arrival experience. You may even want to have your own branded standing temperature scanner.
- What happens if a guest presents with a high temperature during check-in? In many cases, hotels will ask the guest to sit in a cool area and drink cold water. After 10-15 minutes, they will then rescan the temperature. They may do this two or three times. If the temperature still does not go down, they will request the on-site doctor to assess the guest. Should the guest show symptoms of Covid-19, they may have on-site tests available or would require that the guest goes to a local clinic or hospital to have an official test done. From there, each hotel has different rules on if they are allowed to quarantine at the hotel or if they must quarantine at the hospital or a different space.
- Are you testing guests’ oxygen levels in their blood with a pulse oximeter? Both JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa and Grand Velas Los Cabos are adding this protocol in addition to temperature checks. This is a quick process where the reader tests your finger to check for oxygen levels; low levels could be an indicator of Covid-19.
- Do you provide a complimentary sanitation amenity bag? If so, is this distributed at check-in or in the guest room? What exactly is included? (you may even want to ask if you can add any branded items such as hand sanitizer in there)
- Do you require guests to sign any new waivers, releases of liability, or health declaration forms? What is the exact language? How do guests fill this out? Is it electronic or paper-based? If it is paper-based, do you have pens available? What is the process for sanitizing the pens? At Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, all pens are sanitized at check-in with their ultraviolet sanitizer box (a 60-second process to sanitize small items – this is also used for sanitizing their room keys), while Breathless Cabo San Lucas Resort & Spa has a QR code available to fill out their forms.
- How are room keys distributed? Are you providing physical keys? If so, are they handed out at check-in? Are they sanitized? Hotel San Cristobal in Todos Santos (near Los Cabos), Mexico is a small boutique hotel and they brought guests to their room where keys were pre-sanitized and placed in the room.
- Do you have mobile key options? If so, do my guests have to download an app first? As hotels work towards moving to contact-free solutions, many are in the process of developing mobile keys within a phone app. All-inclusive hotels like Paradisus Los Cabos (and all Melia properties with bracelets) are in the final stages of developing a wrist bracelet that has a chip in it for room access.
- Is there any physical information distributed at arrival? While most hotels are trying to reduce any paper distribution, Montage Los Cabos showcased a great way to safely share information. They provide guests with a sanitized packet with information about the resort, available activities, a property map, as well as a one-pager with all of the QR codes to access restaurant menus. They also included sanitized room keys that were prepared prior to arrival in this packet.
- How is guest luggage handled upon arrival? Is it being sanitized? Is it delivered to the guest room? Due to regulations, bellmen are often only allowed to bring the luggage to the guest room but cannot enter the suite.
- What has changed in your guest rooms and housekeeping procedures? Is housekeeping available during the stay? If so, do guests need to request housekeeping or is there a set daily schedule? Is turn-down service available?
- What new safety procedures are housekeepers incorporating into their cleaning efforts? What items have signage or sticker seals on them to showcase they have been sanitized? Housekeepers are typically adding “DISINFECTED” stickers to guest suite doors, phones, television remote controls, and so much more. Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal showcases all of the areas they disinfect on a sticker on the bathroom mirror, which also provides a QR code to access details about their Hilton Clean Stay program.
- Have any items been removed from the guest room? Housekeepers are typically removing as many non-essential items as possible, as well as anything that requires dry-cleaning. This could include room service menus, notepads and pens, and in some cases – all of the contents of the minibar. Many hotels like Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort provide a sign with a scannable QR code so guests can order items from the minibar and have them delivered to their room.
- What happens after a guest checks out of their room? Are you placing a new guest in the room immediately after sanitation? At Paradisus Los Cabos, rooms are cleaned and then sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant mister. After that, the room is vacated for at least 72 hours before a new guest can check-in.
- How are the guest room air conditioning and filters cleaned? At Nobu Los Cabos, they have increased the frequency of their 3M air filter replacement and HVAC system cleaning in their guest suites.
- Are you doing anything special to create a sense of warmth in your safety procedures? Hotels are working very hard to maintain their sense of hospitality amidst all of the sterilization and safety measures. At Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, they are providing laundry service for two articles of clothing per person, a very generous gift to visitors who are eager to have their “plane” clothes clean after a day of travel.
2. What happens if one of my attendees either shows symptoms of or contracts Covid-19 during my program?
This is of course the most important thing to know, so it is important to fully understand how your hotel partner handles every single step.
- Does the hotel offer any insurance programs? The Posadas Group (who operates Fiesta Americana & Live Aqua resorts) just launched their “Travel with Confidence” program and for $4.00 per night, guest receive medical and legal benefits (should they contract Covid-19 or have another emergency), and it even covers 14 room nights for the guest to stay during their quarantine period. You can bet I signed up for it!
- Are all hotel employees trained to detect Covid-19 symptoms?
- What is the process if they see someone exhibiting symptoms?
- Do you have a doctor on-property 24/7?
- Should my guest need a Covid-19 test, is it possible to do this on-site or do they need to go to a local hospital?
- How close is the local hospital? Is there transportation available on-site to transfer my guest? What is the capacity of the hospital? How much does a Covid-19 test cost? What is the typical time frame for receiving results?
- If the results are positive for Covid-19, can my guest quarantine at the hotel? It is VERY important to ask this. Some hotels will not allow a guest to stay if they have tested positive for the virus. That means planners need to plan in advance to book a separate hotel, villa, or short-term rental to ensure attendees have a safe, comfortable place to quarantine.
- If you allow guests to quarantine at the hotel, is there a special floor or area where my guest would quarantine? Will the hotel require security to “guard” the room? Do those rooms have individual air filtration systems? Grand Fiesta Americana Los Cabos has set aside a block of rooms intended for any guest who may need to quarantine; those rooms all have individual air filtration systems. Viceroy Los Cabos has designated a whole building just for people who may need to quarantine.
- Will my guest have access to food and beverage?
- Do you have a special “quarantine room rate”?
- Do you have a communication plan for informing hotel guests of possible and confirmed Covid-19 cases? If so, can you share it with me?
3. Have you made any technology or digital shifts to prevent the spread of germs?
Overall, hotels are thinking proactively on how to leverage technology to create as many “contactless” solutions as possible.
- Does the hotel have an official app for guests? Paradisus Playa del Carmen and UNICO 20°87° have incredible apps where guests can make dining, gym, and spa reservations. You can also review the room service menu (eliminating physical menus in rooms) or pool bar menus and order directly from the app.
- Do restaurants have scannable QR codes or online menus? As an effort to reduce cross-contamination, restaurants have eliminated physical menus. Typically, once guests are seated at a restaurant, a paper placemat with a QR code to access the menu is placed on the table. Other hotels like the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal bring a beautiful chalkboard menu in front of your table to review the cuisine options.
- Have you enhanced your broadband infrastructure to allow for the increased demand for online streaming?
- Have you made any new technology improvements to the guest rooms? While hotels had to close during quarantine, they invested a lot of time and energy into updating the property. This means many guest rooms have new features on the television where you can order room service and book reservations with the simple click of your sanitized remote control. Many have also installed “smart outlets” with USB connections and smart televisions where you can log in to your streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
4. Have you made any substantial operational changes since Covid-19 started?
- Do you have any leaders or teams focused specifically on hygiene, safety, sanitation, and quality control? What exactly do their roles encompass? How will they work with me specifically to ensure my meetings and events are upholding the best practices for social distancing and cleanliness? Like many other hotels, Grand Velas Los Cabos hired a new Quality Manager to implement and oversee all sanitation procedures for the hotel.
- Have you received any special certifications or awards for your new health and safety protocols? Upon arrival to your guest room at Breathless Cabo San Lucas Resort & Spa, they showcase their CleanComplete Verification on the door hangers. This is the brand’s quality and hygiene program that takes into account every aspect of resort operations, backed by third-party certification. The hotel has also earned the Cristal International Standards award, one of the industry’s highest-level certifications verifying best-in-class processes for quality and safety.
- How often are high-contact surfaces in common areas being sanitized? At Nobu Los Cabos, all surface areas such as front desk check-in counters, elevators, and elevator buttons, door handles, public bathrooms, ATMs, handrails, tables, gym equipment, dining surfaces, seating areas, and pool chairs are sanitized as soon as a guest approaches those areas.
- What new procedures have you implemented in your food and beverage departments? Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun put more than 180 new procedures in place, including new masks and face shields issued daily for chefs and servers, new cleaning products to sanitize restaurant tables and chairs, and divided duties among servers to ensure no cross-contamination.
- How have you changed the dining experience to make it safe for guests?
- Are buffets currently operating? At this time, all buffets have been transitioned into a la carte restaurant or have food stations with servers serving the food. This will likely change as guest capacity increases.
- Are any restaurants now requiring reservations that were not before? Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun newly added required reservations as an effort to reduce groups of people from congregating around the restaurant areas.
- If you have spas or pools on-property, how are you keeping the pool experience safe and providing clean towels? There are many new protocols in place when it comes to the spa and pools. The Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal is even making sure their towels are sanitized. As a guest arrives at the pool or spa, an attendant will bring them a towel in a sanitary bag.
- How often are engineering teams testing your water systems for safe water levels?
- Have you re-positioned deck and beach furniture to allow for physical distancing?
- How are you encouraging safe physical distancing at your swim-up bars?
- Do you allow food and drink service at the pool? The hotel app UNICO 20°87° developed allows guests to access the pool menu from their app and it will be delivered directly to their pool chair.
- Have operation hours changed for any of your restaurants or hotel outlets? Currently, Mexico is operating on a traffic light system that allows hotels to welcome up to 30% guest occupancy, which is also mirrored by 30% staffing capacity. With this regulation, hotels are working hard to balance what outlets they can keep open – meaning often times there are reduced hours for restaurants and shops, and reduced availability at the spa (or in some cases, the spa remains closed) and the fitness center. It is now typical for hotels to require reservations for the fitness center. Hotel San Cristobal even required reservations for their two on-site hot tubs; ensuring people are safe, groups do not congregate, and everyone gets a chance to enjoy.
- If you had previously offered day passes (most common among all-inclusive hotels) to your resort, are you still allowing this? Grand Fiesta Americana Los Cabos is no longer offering day passes to reduce visitors coming on the property.
- Is valet service available to guests? Most hotels are operating their valet stations and sanitizing the vehicle’s door handles, steering wheels, and gear shifts afterward. Chileno Bay Resort & Residences even leaves a little note indicating the vehicle has been sanitized.
- Are you allowing amenities to be delivered to rooms? Many hotels have discontinued the option for room gifts as bellmen are not allowed to enter the rooms. They are encouraging you to hand out any gifts during arrival day at your hospitality desk or hand out gifts following an event.
- Do you currently have construction going on, or upcoming plans for renovations? Are there any new construction projects happening or planned near your property? As resorts were closed for long periods of time, many construction timelines have been moved up to take advantage of the vacant properties.
- With one-use items so prevalent at this time, are you focused on any sustainability initiatives for the future? Melia properties have doubled-down on their commitment to sustainability. By moving to digital platforms, they removed all paper products in guest rooms, restaurants, and activity centers. With this move, they anticipate saving 3,500 trees annually. They are also only using plastic bottles which are recycled by their own waste management and recycling program certified by EarthCheck at each property.
5. What safety protocols have you implemented for your employees?
- Are there any certifications or testing requirements for hospitality leaders specific to your destination? In Mexico, all employees who work in hospitality are required to pass their IMSS (translated to The Mexican Institute of Social Security) exams before they can return to work. The two exams, Safe Return to Work & Everything You Need to Know About Prevention, covers how both employees and employers implement new sanitation protocols to create safe environments. They also cover what the Covid-19 virus is, how to properly detect symptoms of the virus, how to safely use PPE (personal protective equipment), how to stop the spread of the virus in the workplace and in their personal lives, and much more.
- Are there any certifications or testing requirements for your teams to work on the property? Many hotels are requiring their own internal training, such as Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos’ SAFE & SOUND program powered by Ecolab. Nobu Los Cabos has also added “practicing healthy habits at home” to their employee trainings. Understanding that what their team members do once they leave work will affect the whole health and safety of their team and their guests, they wanted to make sure they reinforced the importance of continuing safe practices at home.
- What is the process for employees to return to work?
- Have you tested employees for Covid-19?
- What is the process for employees to arrive at work? At most hotels in Mexico, employees have their temperatures scanned, wash their hands, store all belongings in lockers, and sometimes even take showers in the staff bathrooms before they can report for duty. At Grand Fiesta Americana Los Cabos, they are even having uniforms laundered on-site for all of their team members (not only is this kind, it is super smart as many of their team members take public transportation and this ensures cleanliness).
- Are your teams trained in wearing Personal Protective Equipment? It was most common to see hotel employees wearing medical masks. In some cases, employees wore gloves and face shields in addition to the masks.
- In what ways are you supporting your employees right now? We all know that happy employees make happy customers or guests in our case. We also know that there is already so much expected from hospitality leaders across all departments – and even more so now with the new safety protocols. Those who are on their feet all day, wearing masks and gloves, are hospitality heroes. And it is my belief that the hotels who are taking extra special care of their employees at this time are the hotels who have team members who are more dedicated to following the countless procedures. That’s why I loved learning that Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach All-Inclusive Spa Resort has created a special area for their teams to sit outside, have a cold drink, and take some extra moments to catch their breath; without their mask on. During these times, I believe that happy employees make happy, safe guests.
These two trips have been truly eye-opening to experience how forward-thinking and meticulous our partners have been in creating safe environments amidst a global pandemic. Thank you to all of our friends in Cancun and Los Cabos for opening your “homes” and your hearts to showcase your hard work. With your dedication to safety and hospitality, you are setting the stage for the return of group travel and events.
This is of course in no way a complete list of questions to ask on a site inspection during Covid-19. But hopefully, getting answers to these initial questions will give you more confidence that your hotel partner is prepared to welcome you, your guests, and your event safely. I also hope this will help you think through your planning process and consider how you communicate the many changes to your attendees.
If you have any specific questions about the properties I visited or the protocols I experienced, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. And if you discovered something new, and find yourself interested in witnessing these protocols first-hand, please fill out this poll. Team Achieve just might be hosting an Educational Experience for our clients and partners in the near-ish future!
*These are my personal experiences and observations. I hope this can be helpful to you as you start to dream up and plan for your future events. All of the procedures noted in this article were accurate as of September 1, 2020.