As an industry where person-to-person contact is integral and often unavoidable, the tourism sector needs to consider carefully what sort of risk mitigation may be required in order to keep staff and customers as safe as possible from potential COVID-19 infection. 

COVID-19 spreads from person to person, most commonly through respiratory droplets, which can be generated by coughing, sneezing, laughing or talking during close interactions. Those most at risk, therefore, include staff members who have close interactions with clients or other employees during their shift, particularly where these interactions are prolonged (longer than 15 minutes) and who may work in areas with a high density of people or in confined indoor spaces.

This means that it will often be appropriate for frontline service workers to wear masks, when local epidemiology and the rate of community transmission warrants it. Non-medical masks (NMMs) are recommended when it is not possible to consistently maintain a two-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded settings. It is critical that they fit well and are worn correctly.

Clearly, you will need to earmark budget to cover the cost of sourcing this sort of protective equipment. Talk to your local DMO to find out whether funding is available locally to help with the cost of procuring masks and other PPE. For example, RTO7, covering the region north of Toronto, has a fund to reimburse up to $1,000 of the costs of purchasing PPE or adhering to social distancing or of increased cleaning. 

The COVID-19 pandemic means that, more than ever before, tourism businesses need to have the health and safety of their customers – and their employees – at the forefront of their minds as they re-start operations. A national protocol has yet to be agreed upon, but best practice is already well established. Tourism attractions need to be thinking about operational and staff preparedness, delivering a safe experience and rebuilding trust and confidence.

Operational and staff preparedness

Ensure you have:

  • Obtained any licences required locally
  • Developed checklists for infection prevention, cleaning and disinfection. Guidance is available here
  • Implemented protocols and guidelines for staff health including stay-at-home policy for staff displaying COVID-19 symptoms
  • Adjusted workplace layout to promote physical distancing and limit staff in common areas
  • Implemented protocols to minimize physical contact, especially for waiting in line, using virtual lines where possible. Floor signs to encourage socially distanced lineups can be downloaded here
  • Evaluated laundry services and meal delivery options available to staff
  • Integrated technologies to allow for contactless payment if possible
  • Make non-medical masks (NMMs) available to staff as long as required, particularly when it is not possible to consistently maintain a two-metre physical distance from others or in crowded settings.
  • Learnt from best practice of prominent attractions throughout Canada. For instance, the National Gallery of Canada has established entry and exit of visitors through different doors, added signage and floor markers to encourage physical distancing, installed plexiglass shields in their boutique and Box Office and made mask-wearing mandatory for all visitors. 
  • Evaluated innovations for cleanliness and disinfection such as foggers, electrostatic spraying technology, UVC light and EPA based air filtration, with validation from expert bodies – particularly for large attractions
  • Established with suppliers and partners including restaurants, cafes, kiosks, hotels and transport partners that they are also following likeminded health and hygiene protocols
  • Provided staff with all necessary tools and information for infection control, physical contact, appropriate attire and enhanced hygiene measures
  • Reviewed employee sick leave policies and updated as needed
  • Implemented and retrained staff on new protocols for infection control, physical distancing and enhanced hygiene protocols (e.g. hand washing, use of masks and gloves)
  • Instituted continuous monitoring of staff physical and mental wellbeing by leadership 

Delivering a safe experience

Ensure you have:

  • Worked with partners and suppliers to understand what additional measures have been introduced
  • Implemented processes to ensure enhanced sanitation, disinfection and deep cleaning as well as increased cleaning/disinfection frequency
  • Selected disinfecting products approved by health authorities
  • Revisited guidance to cleaning team, with a specific focus on high-frequency touch points such as handrails, elevators, common areas and washrooms
  • Provided participants with recommended elevator etiquette to ensure physical distancing throughout the venue if relevant
  • Approved disinfecting products made available at sanitation stations in high-traffic areas
  • Laundered towels using a detergent and high-heat washer and dryer settings
  • Reduced participant capacity limits in venues as appropriate and required by local legislation to allow for physical distancing. The City of Toronto website provides detailed guidance for those organizing live events on how to do so while operating at a reduced capacity and limiting the potential for viral transmission.
  • Implemented guest health checks if appropriate
  • Limited physical contact and standing in line where possible
  • Made masks available to guests (if required locally), and encouraged them to wear them
  • Encouraged guests to purchase tickets online if possible
  • Allowed extra time for guests to enter the venue, and explored staggered timing of venue access where possible
  • Created isolation units outside the venue where possible for people showing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Established that partner restaurants and cafes follow likeminded health, sanitation, disinfection and hygiene and food safety protocols to protect guests

Rebuilding trust and confidence

Ensure you have:

  • Provided clear, consistent and up-to-date communication to customers on new health and hygiene protocols both digitally and physically at the venue, including clear signage on social distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols
  • Integrated where possible (and highlight the implementation of) technologies enabling the use of timeslots to minimize crowds
  • Shared guest guidelines both ahead of trip (for instance, together with a booking confirmation email) and upon commencement of trip (for instance, via a reminder SMS) including on wearing of face masks, practising hand hygiene and avoiding physical contact, and had guests acknowledge them
  • Informed guests about support available if questions or concerns arise. How will you respond if guests are concerned about others not respecting social distancing? How will you handle the presence of a guest who appears to be sick with COVID-19 symptoms? How rigorously will you enforce the wearing of masks? You need to develop a robust response to all the most important customer questions that may arise, and brief your staff accordingly. Bear in mind that you may well have procedures already developed for customer complaints or difficult customers that may be able to be adapted and applied to this situation.
  • Set up a medical service point if possible, depending on size of attraction
  • Created water/soft drinks protocols at events, including recommendations for guests to use their own refillable water bottles or providing individual water bottles as an alternative

For more information, visit: https://wttc.org/COVID-19/Safe-Travels-Global-Protocols-Stamp

The COVID-19 pandemic means that, more than ever before, tourism businesses need to have the health and safety of their customers – and their employees – at the forefront of their minds as they re-start operations. A national protocol has yet to be agreed upon, but best practice is already well established. Hospitality businesses need to be thinking about operational and staff preparedness, delivering a safe experience and rebuilding trust and confidence.

Operational and staff preparedness

Ensure you have:

  • Obtained any licences required locally
  • Developed checklists for infection prevention, cleaning and disinfection
  • Ensured required staffing levels available to restart operations
  • Implemented protocols and guidelines for staff health including stay-at-home policy for staff displaying COVID-19 symptoms. This briefing document lists some of the factors you need to consider as an employer in this context, such as the self-isolation period and stipulations around employee travel.
  • Adjusted workplace layout to promote physical distancing and limit staff in common areas
  • Implemented protocols to minimize physical contact
  • Implemented enhanced protocols for food safety relating to supply chain control, food handling and preparation, hygiene, digitization and deep cleaning
  • Aligned procedures on issues such as social distancing, mask usage and cleaning with local transport partners
  • Integrated technologies to allow for contactless payment if possible
  • Evaluated innovations for cleanliness and disinfection such as electrostatic spraying technology, UVC light and EPA based air filtration, with validation from expert bodies
  • Implemented and retrained staff on new protocols for infection control, physical distancing and enhanced hygiene protocols (e.g. hand washing, use of masks and gloves)
  • Instituted continuous monitoring of physical and mental staff wellbeing by leadership 

Delivering a safe experience

Ensure you have:

  • Implemented processes to ensure enhanced sanitation, disinfection and deep cleaning as well as increased cleaning/disinfection frequency
  • Selected disinfecting products approved by health authorities
  • Revisited guidance to cleaning team for all areas of the hotel, with a specific focus on high-frequency touch points such as room key cards, light switches and door handles
  • Ensured physical distancing for guests through signage and guidelines
  • Implemented guest health/temperature checks if required by legislation. This document outlines some important issues to consider if these sorts of checks are required, including the need for social distancing, logistics and privacy concerns.
  • Recommended use of face masks for as long as required
  • Enhanced food safety by avoiding guest handling of food at buffets, regularly cleaning machines, disinfecting tables immediately a guest has left and minimizing what is placed on guest tables
  • Implemented physical distancing for event seating distribution and gathering size based on government guidance. This short video gives some useful guidance. 
  • Created water/soft drinks protocols at events, including recommendations for guests to use their own refillable water bottles or providing individual water bottles as an alternative

Rebuilding trust and confidence

Ensure you have:

  • Provided clear, consistent and up-to-date communication to customers on new health and hygiene protocols both digitally and physically, and trained staff to answer questions. Here are some examples of how household-name companies are communicating with customers about their new COVID-19 protocols. 
  • Implemented clear signage throughout the hotel to inform guests of enhanced cleaning protocols, physical distancing and recommendations. Here are some samples that are free to download. 
  • Shared guest guidelines on basis of health authority advice that may include wearing of face masks, guidance on hand hygiene, physical distancing

For more information, visit: https://wttc.org/COVID-19/Safe-Travels-Global-Protocols-Stamp

The COVID-19 pandemic means that, more than ever before, tourism businesses need to have the health and safety of their customers – and their employees – at the forefront of their minds as they re-start operations. A national protocol for Canada has yet to be agreed upon, but best practice is already well established. Tour operators need to be thinking about operational and staff preparedness, delivering a safe experience and rebuilding trust and confidence.

Operational and staff preparedness

Ensure you have:

  • Obtained any licences required locally
  • Developed checklists for infection prevention, cleaning and disinfection
  • Implemented protocols and guidelines for staff health
  • Adjusted workspace layout to promote physical distancing and limit staff in common areas
  • Implemented protocols to minimize physical contact
  • Made personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks available to staff
  • Integrated technologies to allow for contactless payment if possible
  • Worked with suppliers and partners to ensure they follow health and hygiene protocols
  • Established COVID-19 contingency plan in collaboration with suppliers and partners in the event that new cases emerge – see for example section 10 in this document, which gives examples of appropriate contingency procedures for tour operators
  • Introduced appropriate cleanliness best practices approved by expert bodies
  • Explored different options for operations such as advanced tickets, timed entries or smaller groups
  • Provided staff with all necessary training and information regarding infection control and physical contact

Delivering a safe experience

Ensure you have:

  • Worked with your suppliers to understand what additional measures have been introduced
  • Selected appropriate disinfecting products approved by health authorities
  • Issued new guidance to cleaning teams focusing on increased cleaning frequency and high-frequency touch points
  • Made approved disinfecting products, e.g. hand sanitizer, available to guests at sanitation stations 
  • Introduced allocated seating plans with no rotation and appropriate seat spacing – some venues are adopting the ‘checkerboard’ system
  • Provided trash cans with liner bags and regular disposal
  • Implemented guest health checks and testing where required by local legislation
  • Limited physical contact and standing in line where possible – there is some useful advice here on how to maintain physical distancing when managing customer lines
  • Made masks available to guests where required by local authorities
  • Developed online/contactless check-in and check-out tools and procedures where possible
  • Explored the potential for staggered timing of access to venues. You may want to consider specific appointment slots for customers or allocating entrance times by last name. This may require you to change your customer messaging regarding the time your customers will need to safely enter and leave the venue.
  • Established that partner restaurants follow likeminded health, sanitation, disinfection, hygiene and food safety protocols

Rebuilding trust & confidence

Ensure you have:

  • Provided clear, consistent and up-to-date communication to customers on new health and hygiene protocols both digitally (emails, texts) and physically (signage)
  • Shared guest guidelines both ahead of trip (for instance, together with a booking confirmation email) and upon commencement of trip (for instance, via a reminder SMS) including on wearing of face masks, practising hand hygiene and avoiding physical contact, and had guests acknowledge them
  • Informed guests about support available if questions or concerns arise – here is an example of the sort of measures that one tour operator has put in place and is briefing its guests about, including self-drive options, flexible dining and measures to ensure social distancing on tour buses
  • Trained staff to answer questions and resolve challenges, including the detection of new cases and guest non-compliance
  • Explored collaboration with insurance companies to offer traveller insurance covering COVID-19 and assistance with emergency repatriation or medical care if necessary. For example, TUI in the UK is collaborating with insurer Axa to offer COVID-19 coverage with packages booked with them during 2020, including medical repatriation, vacation guarantee and medical assistance. 
  • Promoted contact tracing apps if required by local legislation, and put in procedures to collect client information as required by local legislation to facilitate contact tracing

For more information, visit: https://wttc.org/COVID-19/Safe-Travels-Global-Protocols-Stamp

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.

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

Pandemic contingency plan policy

In order to be able to act quickly in response to future pandemics, your company will need to have a clear policy of how it expects to respond that is well understood by your staff. You may wish to do the following, in order to be as ready as possible for a possible future pandemic.

Identify who is responsible for ensuring staff understand the pandemic recovery plan. This may be you or a manager, HR leaders or GMs, depending on the size of your business. Staff should be tasked with familiarizing themselves with the procedure and given a contact person for questions.

Identify a Crisis Management Team. This needs to comprise employee, middle and senior management. They will be expected to exercise leadership in the absence of senior or operational managers. 

Develop a pandemic communications strategy. This will ensure that employees receive up to date and accurate information on the status of the pandemic, provide information on personal health and hygiene and will identify channels, both on- and offline, by which staff will be kept informed of relevant information and alerted to how to deal with possible incidences of the virus within the company. 

Review leave and absence policies, including policies on sickness absence, time off for dependants and bereavement leave.

Identify likely rules to be put in place to reduce infection risk. Make clear that these will be specific to the pandemic in question, but will likely include physical distancing and minimizing of face-to-face interactions as far as possible, increased levels of hygiene management, and a requirement for employees to adhere to government guidance on symptom management and self-isolation.

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.

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.