This pandemic has thrown up challenges we’ve never seen before. Thailand has endured flooding, political protests, natural disasters, economic crises, pollution, disease, and more, and has always taken pride in its resilience. But this time – well – this time Suvarnabhumi Airport arrivals in the last few days have been down almost 90% compared to late March last year, and those figures include Thais trying to return home.

It is in this rapidly-changing environment that has asked the experts what their latest advice entails, with the emphasis on long-term survival, and protecting guests and staff in the short term. NOVA Asset Management (Owner Representatives), DFDL (Legal Firm), and Pragma Hospitality (Hotel Management Company) have all volunteered their thoughts and tips. Some are obvious – provide hand sanitizers, keep everything clean, and follow government guidelines – but there are plenty of nuggets which might easily be overlooked by busy management teams battling a crisis.

Ideas from an Asset Management Company

From NOVA, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and you should never base any major decisions on “facts” picked up from unverified sources. Always do your research. Nobody needs to be told to increase cleaning frequencies, but you might also want to consider changing your cleaning products to hospital grade. Running out is also not an option, so within the limits of your cashflow, make sure you stay a month ahead on keeping these products in stock. Facemasks for all staff are obvious – but don’t forget to make sure that every single staff member knows exactly how and when they should be worn, and then check that they actually do it.

Surfaces within the hotel must be kept clean, but staff will need training to instill the idea that all high-touch areas must be constantly disinfected between dealing with each guest. Nothing should be shared, as a general rule.

Screening on entry can at least identify staff or guests with high temperatures in order to protect everyone on the premises. You might want to cut your entrances down to just one or two, by the way. Changing working hours to help staff avoid busy periods on public transport can also reduce the risk of infection. Travel policies for staff – an important consideration two weeks ago – are probably of minimal concern today as international travel drops to a standstill. If staff take a foreign trip, they’ll be hard pressed to re-enter the country anyway, but do remind them to follow the latest news so they know exactly where they stand at all times.

Normal activities such as revenue management and marketing still have a role to play. It’s important to communicate exactly what you’re doing to give any potential guests peace of mind. They need to know that the hotel is clean and safe, and that their booking is also safe. Be generous with cancellation policies and re-bookings rather than low prices. Your promotions now can lay the foundation for recovery when it comes.

Cost-cutting will be important. With staff to keep employed, and fewer guests to serve, you can scrap the breakfast buffet and deliver breakfast in bed, enhancing the customer experience and cutting down on food waste. Shutting down parts of the hotel may be necessary anyway – gyms and pools, for example – so more savings can be made. It is also potentially a time for renovations while occupancy is low. The aim is to be around in the future to run a successful business, and that requires a contribution from everyone in the hotel, who must all be involved.

The perspective of DFDL focuses mainly on the legal matters which hoteliers face as they try to manage the workforce in the face of a severe downturn in business. It has to be recognized that some hotels will not be able to pay staff when the revenues dry up, but the law must still be followed, so here are some ideas to consider.

The first is the use of compulsory leave. It is broadly permissible for an employer to dictate the leave period to the employees if this is done in writing and in advance. Given the need for staff to be around in full capacity for the recovery, but potentially not for the next two or three months, there is probably room to negotiate a leave schedule which means staff are on holiday very soon after right now.

Asking staff to work part-time is also an option, but this would probably not appeal to the staff due to the reduction in income. To do this requires the written consent of the employee, so needs to be handled carefully.

The employer can also consider suspending the business, if it can be proved that the business can no longer be operated, perhaps through an absence of demand, or losses exceeding the registered capital. In this case, the employer must give three days’ written notice and pay staff 75% of their normal income. However, if the suspension is due to force majeure, then the employer might not legally be responsible for those payments. Force majeure is defined as an event which could not reasonably be prevented even though the business took all appropriate steps. This would be up to the courts to decide if a pandemic qualifies.

It may also be possible to make staff redundant if the employer can demonstrate that it is necessary to restructure the business in order to survive, and that there is no alternative means of reducing losses. However, the selection criteria for staff who will be let go must be objective and performance-based, or the courts would consider this to be unfair dismissal. In any case, written notification would be necessary, and severance payments made in line with staff seniority.

Continue or Close - the Management Company Choice

Pragma Hospitality looked at the situation from the management viewpoint, and proposed two basic scenarios. A rebound is coming, and survival is the name of the game, but the strategy will depend on cashflow. If cashflow permits, then it may be possible to keep operations running while making severe and pro-active cuts to keep the expenses to a minimum. It’s essential to look after guests and staff, since both will be vital in the future. Maintaining the guest experience and preserving the spirit of the staff will be crucial if the hotel chooses to keep going.

If cashflow is insufficient, however, the hard choice to close down the hotel and wait for better times may have to be taken. The question here is how closure should actually be done – after all, hotels often close down for a period, perhaps for renovation or sale, and this takes place through a carefully planned procedure. Doing it overnight requires the same planning, with the caveat that you don’t have time to actually do that planning. You can’t afford to get it wrong, however, because you need to re-open at some point, better than before, with guests and staff in place and ready to go. Therefore, your plan has to involve keeping your staff busy if they are not laid off, developing their skills, and getting the property ready and looking its best. Closing a hotel down quickly and efficiently requires just as much expertise as launching a new property, so its worth contacting the experts for further guidance if that’s the course of action you need to take.

Meanwhile, keep washing your hands and don’t forget to keep an eye out for those who have it worse than you do.