As restrictions around COVID-19 are relaxed and hospitality businesses start to reopen, the need for establishments serving food to implement and reinforce best practice in sanitation and food safety is more important than ever. These guidelines should be used in conjunction with instructions received from local authorities and existing procedures. 

  • Use only approved hard-surface disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) given by Health Canada.
  • Clean the entire restaurant thoroughly, sanitizing all food contact surfaces.
  • Update cleaning schedules to prioritize high touch areas including door handles, front of house counters and restrooms.
  • Clean and disinfect shared equipment after every use e.g. kitchen equipment, credit card machines, point of sale stations, safety vests, headsets.
  • Between every seating, remove, clean and disinfect on-table items including cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, sauce dispensers, reusable menus and other items, leaving tables empty until the new guest arrives.
  • Make hand sanitizer available for all staff and guests.
  • Have deep cleaning response ready in event employee tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Disinfect high risk infection areas on a regular basis to protect against pathogen spread, focusing on hand hygiene, using disinfectants with virucidal/bactericidal claims, dealing with blood and bodily fluid spills immediately and dealing with laundry, kitchen utensils and medical waste in accordance with safe routine procedure.

In the context of physical distancing requirements and safety guidelines, adapting to new market realities will hold particular challenges for accommodation and hotel businesses. Here are a number of measures that can be adopted in order to both ensure compliance and provide assurance to guests:

  1. Write a re-opening email that lists all the precautions you are taking.
  2. Every page on your website should have a pop-up advisory. Now would the time to begin building this in.
  3. Compile “Best Guests” lists from your customer database to send personalized messages. Loyalty will be essential in the recovery period.
  4. Redraw your meeting space floor plans in accordance with physical distancing requirements. Ensure these new plans are on your website.
  5. Publish your temporary limited menu of spa services (or other relevant in-house services that may be affected).
  6. Apply physical distancing floor plan measures to spa and other relevant in-house services.
  7. Determine bag handling procedures – will your staff be allowed into guest rooms when exposed to common areas?
  8. Consider requiring a COVID-19 affidavit to be signed at the front desk for guests to confirm that they have not been close to anyone showing symptoms.

As part of the re-opening process, most tourism operations will need to follow detailed and stringent protocols for cleaning and disinfecting their property. The following are recommendations for the steps that you will need to follow to protect both hospitality staff and customers.  

  1. Determine if there are enough trained employees to staff each area of your operation during normal working hours, and develop a business continuity plan if not fully staffed.
  2. Educate employees on symptoms of COVID-19.
  3. Monitor employee health and ensure that symptomatic employees stay home according to company illness policy.
  4. Reinforce personal hygiene practices, cough etiquette and physical distancing according to local and federal public health authority guidance.
  5. Provide necessary hygiene materials such as tissues, hand soap and hand sanitizer.
  6. Ensure employees disinfect all personal hard, non-porous surfaces according to directions for use on the product label.
  7. Inform employees of pandemic status and proper infection control procedures.
  8. Develop policies for worker protection; train all cleaning staff on proper product use and how to use a Safety Data Sheet.

Programs are also being put in place to help support hospitality businesses across Canada meet the cleaning and sanitation challenge as they reopen. The Manitoba Tourism Education Council (MTEC) has launched its Clean It Right online training program to provide awareness and education on cleaning your facility, while the Hotel Association of Canada has launched Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare Canadian hotels for welcoming back guests and employees safety. as the economy reopens.

Even if some restrictions on accommodation providers are lifted in time for high season in 2020, it seems certain that they will have to operate under very different circumstances than was the case before the pandemic. Taking steps to ensure that guests are safe during their stay, that they feel that they are safe, and that they do not spread the virus, will involve a whole range of new procedures, particularly for establishments also providing food and beverage.

Food and beverage areas

Re-draw restaurant and bar floor plans ensuring minimum 6 feet distance between tables and bar chairs, and investigate whether it is possible to move kitchen stations to ensure more space

Re-do staff shift schedule for different proportions of usual business – for 30%, 50% or 80% of last year’s business

Research likely increases in food costs if less volume is ordered

Create a re-opening menu with items that limit numbers of cooks in kitchen

Front office and reservations

Add COVID-19 Out of Order designation in your Property Management System (PMS) system in anticipation of occupancy restrictions, and decide which rooms are to be taken out of order

Write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for reading temperature of all guests on arrival

Consider the possibility of having guests sign COVID-19 affidavit confirming they have not been close to anyone with virus symptoms

Craft a COVID-19 disclosure for phone and online reservations – either to be read to each guest or posted on the website with an ‘agree’ button

Ensure your credit card scanner accepts contactless cards

Other

Redraw meeting space floor plans to adhere to physical distancing requirements, and upload to website

Determine new bag handling procedures – e.g. whether hotel staff can carry bags into rooms as they are exposed to common areas of hotel

Simulate common area distancing scenarios, furniture distribution, common bathroom usage rules

Send re-opening email listing all precautions being taken, and personalize for ‘best guests’ list

Conduct a full review of the supply chain in the event of ongoing disruptions, and identify alternative suppliers for all critical items

Restaurants and food & beverage businesses in general have obviously been harder hit than most businesses by the current crisis. Restaurants are will be under intense hygiene scrutiny in the months following the relaxation of travel regulations as travellers and guests are likely to be anxious around hygiene issues, and local authorities will be even more stringent on food hygiene than usual. Here are a few steps restaurants can take to adapt to these challenging new circumstances:

  1. Re-draw your floor plan so that there is a minimum of 6 feet between tables.
  2. Do the same for your bar and/or bar chairs. Clearly mark these positions on the floor so they are visible to guests and inspectors.
  3. Review your shift schedule – e.g. one schedule each for 30% of the previous year’s business, 50%, 80%, etc. You will need to explain to your staff why they are getting only a fraction of their previous hours and they must be made aware of the requirements and their necessity.
  4. Consider and factor into your budget that food costs will increase when you order in lower volumes. Your supply chain and budget will need to undergo multiple tweaks in this regard – your product offerings and menus may need to be equally flexible to account for shifting availability and hygiene requirements.
  5. Consider requirements and sensitivities around serving of raw food where applicable.
  6. Move kitchen stations to maximize space, particularly between line chefs where applicable.
  7. Create a re-opening menu with items that limit the number of cooks in the kitchen at any one time – you may need to introduce a tighter menu to account for shifting availability and disrupted supply chains.

Additional safety measures in the workplace

Even when your staff return to the workplace, it will not be a return to business as usual – at least, until a vaccine or effective treatments for COVID-19 are found. You need to be ready to implement a range of additional safety measures to ensure a safe workplace environment.

Scale down meetings and events. It will be necessary to defer, hold virtually or scale back in-person events for some time. You may also need to reduce the frequency, duration and attendees of critical work meetings.

Ensure safe distancing. Increase the physical space between people, including by reconfiguring your staff’s work stations or, where possible splitting your team or staggering their working hours. Note that your employees’ consent may be needed to change their contracted working hours or location.

Provide additional safety equipment. You may need to both provide, and require the use of, equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer in your workplace. Where appropriate, institute temperature checks and health declarations in the workplace.

Provide health and safety training. Ensure your employees receive up to date training on health and hygiene so that you are in compliance with your obligations under health and safety laws.

Give clear safety directions. Employees suspected of having COVID-19 will need to receive clear direction to stay away from the workplace until they receive medical clearance. Consider whether you will require employees to report suspected cases, and how this will be balanced with protections under anti-discrimination or data protection laws. 

Develop an incident response plan. You will need a clear response plan for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. This will need to include elements such as the health and safety of others, mandatory notifications, internal and external communications and how to manage disruption to operations.

Anticipate your response to disciplinary matters. Specific circumstances need to be considered, but plan how you will deal with an employee who refuses to return to the workplace, or one who breaches mandatory quarantine, or one who travels to an infection hot-spot and is then prevented from returning to the workplace.

Tone and approach

Of course, social media is essential for organizations in the global travel and tourism industry to survive this crisis. It will allow you to stay connected to future travellers regardless of physical distance and is invaluable in ensuring ongoing interest and in planting the seeds of future travel plans.

  1. Offer calming but evidence-based messages and continuous engagement. Prospecting opportunities will come, but you may want to put some paid media behind your posts to ensure ongoing visibility.
  2. Memories of previous trips can provide comfort to shaken consumers. They will want to recreate memories and your social media channels can provide this opportunity.
  3. Engage in advocacy campaigns and re-engage with past comments from visitors on your platforms.
  4. Make your marketing unique by steering clear of echoing similar messages to other businesses. How can you differentiate?
  5. Strike a different tone. Can you be funny, memorable, empathetic or thoughtful?
  6. Engage in lead generation by building out email contacts. Promote visitor guides, or access to a special passport to your offering build anticipation and curiosity about your destination and/or offering.
  7. Do your best to keep consumers dreaming about what they want to do; through continuous engagement you can build their commitment to make their dreams a reality.
  8. Be responsive to shifting travel planning trends, capture consumers who are shifting plans from cruise and international travel to road trips, domestic travel, and staycations.

Website strategies

While a slew of cancellations might be overwhelming, consider the long-term strategy of showing consumers why they should visit your destination. Such a strategy could include:

  1. Ongoing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts to preserve website rankings.
  2. Adjustments to homepage to focus less on current events and more on general destination information.
  3. Temporary pause on media campaigns around specific annual/seasonal events or time periods.
  4. Inspirational storytelling to encourage website visitors to dream of future travel.
  5. Only showing any activities that are still scheduled.
  6. Additionally, this can also be a time for internal ‘housekeeping’, working with your website development team to address backlogged tasks or long-standing issues that have not been prioritized.

Although it is essential to take this very seriously, this crisis will pass, and when that time comes, your primary marketing efforts will need to be ready for the return of visitors and operations. All of these steps can help you prepare and make that recovery period healthier.

How to manage your team during a crisis

The unprecedented conditions that businesses across the world find themselves in due to COVID-19, and the circumstances in which managers are now having to manage their teams, are causing high levels of stress and anxiety. Managers in tourism businesses as elsewhere need to keep in mind a number of guiding principles as they help their staff adjust to the new reality. 

Remember some workers have never done this. Younger employees in particular may not have any memory of offices shutting down due to emergencies like hurricanes, earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

Help employees get used to working remotely. Develop work from home checklists, give advice about self-care (keep routines, take care of physical health, take breaks), have empathy for interruptions to the work routine because staff have to attend to family needs. 

Make a communications plan. Agree how employees will get company updates, and how you will communicate important information. Develop a web page you can update yourself with important information in real time.

Be honest. Let employees know if there are parts of the company that will be particularly affected by the crisis. Give your team information on company outputs that will indicate how the team is performing, and which are most significant for company prospects.

Include everyone. Make sure you reach out to quieter employees, and that people feel acknowledged in business decisions even if everyone is working remotely. 

Practice compassion. Be flexible, help manage your employees’ stress and anxiety. Communicate that you are there for your staff. Ask what you can do to help.

Checklist for line managers when dealing with employees on return to work

Line managers are often the first contact for employees when returning to work, and are in the best position to provide workplace support, referring to occupational health professionals where needed. The following are simple steps to identify and support those in need of help:

Make early contact with the employee in a way that is positive and caring. 

Use conversation starters to establish a rapport and discuss problems (e.g. “how has life been?”, “are you OK about coming back?”, “do you feel safe coming back?”, “how can we make your job better?”, “do you know who to talk with if any problems come up?”).

Identify specific obstacles to a return to work – e.g. personal, health, workplace.

For those with existing health problems, identify specific issues and possible solutions (e.g. “do you feel up to doing your usual job with your health problem?”, “what parts of your job will you find difficult because of your health problem?”, “what can we change to overcome the difficulties?”).

Agree a return to work plan to overcome specific obstacles – who needs to do what, when?

Refer to an occupational health professional for help if obstacles are too complex.

Tool for evaluating workplace risk for returning employees

When considering which employees can safely return to the workplace following the COVID-19 lockdown, both the nature of the role, the protections available at the workplace and the underlying risk vulnerability of the employee needs to be considered. This is all the more important because tourism workplaces are often mostly public-facing. The following risk evaluation tool outlines the various dimensions of workplace risk, mapped against the overall vulnerability of the employee.

Dealing with an employee having a crisis

The stress, fear, upheaval and uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic make it a challenging time for the mental health of many around the world. For whatever reason, your employees may over the months to come go through times where they struggle to cope. As an employer, you need to offer support while being mindful of the limits of your role. 

Make yourself available. Learn to recognize the warning signs that an employee is going through a difficult time, and maintain an atmosphere of compassion in the office so people are more likely to come to you.

Don’t pry. Show empathy and care but avoid asking many personal questions about the employee’s problems. Read your employee’s needs and concerns without overstepping the mark.

Listen first, suggest second. Be attentive to their concerns but don’t rush to suggest a solution – ask what both of you can do to address work performance during a difficult period. “What can we do to support you?” – the employee may have an idea for a temporary solution that is acceptable to you.

Know what you can offer. Understand what leeway you have to offer support – for instance, restrictions on long- and short-term leave, and any bureaucratic hurdles. Check what’s possible before you commit to an arrangement. 

Check in regularly. Drop in by their desk or send an email occasionally to show your employee you care and to get a sense of how they are coping, encouraging them to come and see you again if they start to struggle.

Consider workload. Think about the impact that a prolonged absence may have on team members. Reward those who step in. Set deadlines to meet and discuss next steps with the employee. Always be clear about expectations.

Be transparent and consistent. Be conscious that other employees will expect similar consideration to that given to a struggling colleague. Make sure you are comfortable with policies in case you are required to apply them again.

Checklist for employee communications in a crisis 

The COVID-19 pandemic is a very unusual crisis, hitting as it does almost all companies in sectors in all countries around the world at the same time. Many crises you will encounter will be specific to your own business, or its sector. Sticking to a few important rules for communicating with employees in a crisis will help them remain focussed and productive advocates.

Be proactive. Anticipate and plan for crises that your organization could encounter before they happen.

Get a team together. Identify employees who will make up the crisis management team. These are the people who will know what to do when disaster strikes.

Do not expect employees to come to you. Put in place a notification system that speedily reaches out to staff with accurate information and guidance.

Do not put up roadblocks. There is no point in trying to stop employees communicating about crises on social media. Instead, help them shape their messages by giving them correct information in a timely manner. 

Act fast, but only say what you know to be true. Speed is critical when it comes to crisis communications, but it cannot be at the expense of accuracy.

Do not go silent. If your business is not yet ready to respond to an emergency, at least let staff know that you are gathering information and will follow up as soon as possible.

Test, then test again. The most well-crafted communication plan will not be very helpful if employees have no idea what it is or how to use it. At least once a year, test the process to find out from workers what it does and does not do well, and adjust accordingly.Evaluate. Assessing how things went after a crisis is as important as a pre-crisis plan. Review how the internal communication plan was executed, what succeeded and what can be improved.

Communicating the position on absence and pay due to COVID-19

Once employees return to their workplace, before a vaccine or other treatment becomes available for COVID-19, it is likely that there will be further interruptions to work in response to possible incidences of infection. You will need to communicate with your employees about how the company will handle future absences relating to COVID-19. Here are some points that your communication should look to include:

  • Measures to be taken to reduce virus spread. Reiterate the official guidance on infection control – washing hands regularly using alcohol-based gel or soap and water, coughing or sneezing into a flexed elbow or tissue, which must be thrown away immediately, avoiding contact with anyone with a cough, staying six feet apart.
  • Personal foreign travel. When travel resumes, communicating plans and countries to be visited. Need for employee to keep company informed on countries requiring self-isolation on return.
  • Procedures for those requiring to shield/self-isolate. Importance of alerting you or a manager immediately, alert that decision will be made by company on whether home working is possible, whether paid leave can be taken, or on what basis sick pay will be paid. 
  • Employees potentially exposed to virus. Communicate that the company may send employees home if it is believed they have been exposed to virus, even if they are not displaying symptoms.
  • Employees with symptoms of the virus. Importance of following government guidelines and keep line manager updated. Reiterate that time off will be treated as other sickness absence.
  • Closure of child(ren)’s school. Reiterate that time off to make arrangements for childcare will be treated in accordance with time off for dependants, and whether it will be paid/unpaid.

Scenario Analysis – Exploring different futures

The future is impossible to predict reliably. Even with good instincts, the outcomes that you predict could be disrupted by a range of different factors. Challenging your assumptions and guarding against making unfounded assumptions about the continuity of the status quo, means that your decisions will more likely be sound, even if circumstances change.

But what are the most likely outcomes in response to changing circumstances? Author and corporate strategist Peter Schwartz, one of the pioneers of scenario thinking, identified the following common scenarios:

  1. Evolution: All trends continue as expected. Things gently move towards a predictable end point.
  2. Revolution: A new, disruptive, factor fundamentally changes the situation.
  3. Cycles: What goes around comes around. Boom follows bust follows boom follows bust.
  4. Infinite Expansion: Exciting trends continue. Think of the computer industry in the 1950s.
  5. Lone Ranger: The triumph of the lone hero against the forces of inertia.
  6. My Generation: Changes in culture and demographics affect the situation.

Scenario Analysis is often used for crisis planning. By imagining a range of negative situations, your business can face worst case scenarios and best prepare for them. That said, this can also be used in a positive context. You can use scenario analysis to forecast a range of possible futures to encourage innovation within a framework that enables you to assess and minimize potential risks.

1. Define the Issue: A first step is to define what your goal is, or the decision that you need to make. Then assess the timeline in which this will need to happen which will be driven by the scale of the plan.

2. Gather Data: Identify the trends, variables, and uncertainties that may affect the plan. For more large-scale plans, you may find it useful to do a PESTLE Analysis  of the Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural, and Technological, Legal, and Environmental context in which it will be implemented.

3. Separate Certainties From Uncertainties: As predictable as many ongoing trends may appear, remember that in volatile economic conditions, certainties are far more scarce – you should try to avoid unconscious bias in favor of certain assumptions, by identifying and analyzing potential blind spots in your thinking. List uncertainties in priority order, with the largest, most significant uncertainties at the top of the list.

4. Develop Scenarios: Starting with your primary uncertainty, take a moderately good outcome and a moderately bad outcome, and develop a scenario around each that combines your certainties with the outcome you’ve chosen. Follow this process in order of the uncertainties you have listed.