For many hotels, the chance to open as an ASQ hotel means they can at least try to break even or keep their staff employed.
There are 166 Alternative State Quarantine hotels in Thailand and while they don’t usually make the press, we feel like these ASQ hotels deserve the spotlight because they aren’t just accommodation for visitors, but they also keep staff and owners alive. After all, it has been suggested that revenues from ASQ will reach 1.2 billion baht. But that was written and ready for publication yesterday, just before ASQ hotels did finally make the press for all the wrong reasons, causing a fresh outbreak of panic, and providing an unwanted answer to the question in the headline.
The shock announcement has been made that there were four new locally transmitted covid cases linked to an ASQ hotel: young (under 40) healthcare workers who had presumably picked up the virus in the course of their ASQ duties. One of those workers had apparently administered covid tests to a family in quarantine whose results subsequently returned positive. It is believed that the health worker then passed the virus on to colleagues.
While the latest covid cases are concerning, it should be remembered that some of these ASQ hotels have been operating now for around seven months, and to date this is the first incidence of local transmission. Quarantined passengers arriving from overseas have of course from time to time tested positive, but there has been no conclusive evidence that any of these cases were actually contracted in Thailand. In short, it can be argued that the program has been very successful from a safety perspective.
Much of this success can be attributed to the design and management of the scheme. There are actually two types of ASQ hotels: a hotel can be fully ASQ or Hybrid ASQ depending on the building structure. If the entrance can be separated, or if the hotel has more than one wing, then it can be qualified to be a Hybrid ASQ, allowing the property to continue to serve ‘normal’ guests who are carefully segregated from those in quarantine. As Daniel Simon of Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel explains, “under ASQ certification, ASQ guests are confined exclusively to their rooms in dedicated and isolated areas and have no access to the hotel’s public facilities and public areas, so we can guarantee that there is no risk to any other guests, who can enjoy our dining outlets, events and Anantara Spa and we can safely allay any concerns that guests may have.”
To ensure the safety of everyone involved, and indeed the country as a whole, the ASQ hotels have to follow strict safety protocols at every stage of the two-week quarantine period.
Guests - detainees, inmates, call them what you will - are collected from the airport where they have already been very closely monitored since leaving their aircraft. The transportation is provided by the particular hospital which partners each hotel. Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel, for example, is working alongside Bumrungrad International Hospital. In this case a specially prepared medical van is provided which has separate AC systems to prevent any contact between the driver and passenger. The hotel’s ASQ package therefore includes all the necessary transfers in a secure environment.
It is of course critical that ASQ guests do not come into contact with hotel staff, and that a system of strict segregation is applied to any public areas that guests are permitted to enter. For example, guests often reach their rooms via service elevators and isolated back-of-house areas. This segregation extends to the issue of dining. One guest who passed through the system reports that mealtimes were managed according to a very strict timetable, with food being left outside the guest room at specific times. The guests were then requested not to open their doors to collect the food while the staff might still be in the corridor, so this would typically mean that breakfast would be delivered at 07:30, and guests would be asked to wait until 08:00 before opening their doors to pick it up.
Laundry and cleaning
Servicing of ASQ guest rooms takes place every second day during the quarantine period, and the guest is required to remain outside the room while the housekeeper services the room. Laundry is collected in red plastic laundry bags and processed in a separate area of the laundry by staff who must be wearing adequate PPE at all times. In addition to closely following the strictest hygiene and sanitation procedures and government requirements, Anantara properties have also implemented a Stay with Peace of Mind program which promotes heightened sanitisation and hygiene measures, with a dedicated Guest Guardian responsible for internal audits based on a series of rigid brand guidelines.
Meanwhile, all ASQ areas of the hotel, such as hallways and elevators, should be sterilized daily with special attention paid to high-touch areas, using disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency along with electrostatic spray technology to ensure comprehensive coverage.
What’s in it for hotels?
Packages for ASQ generally fall in the range of 28,000 baht ($932) to 220,000 baht($7325) for what is normally a 15-night stay. The differences will depend on the perceived quality of the hotel and the partnering hospital, and the level of comfort on offer. While some hotels have argued that half of that basic revenue has to be paid to the hospitals, others have certainly managed to increase their earnings by charging for additional services such as in-room gym equipment, which can make the guests’ stays a little more tolerable. As Bruno Huber of Movenpick BDMS Wellness Resort says, “our goal is to make the guest’s stay as smooth as we can and reduce the fear of the restrictive conditions of a quarantine stay by adding some hospitality magic.”
For many hotels, the chance to open as an ASQ hotel means they can at least try to break even or keep their staff employed. And according to Daniel Simon, “we have already had some guests returning in our restaurants and planning future stays with us,” so it seems to work quite well from the marketing perspective too. However, there are some investments which have to be made in setting up a secure segregated system and training staff to follow strict procedures for safety and biosecurity. This can involve alterations to air-conditioning systems, or even measures such as removing carpets so that the highest standards of cleanliness can be achieved for floors. Unsurprisingly, some hotels have determined that it is simply not worth their time and investment to follow this path, choosing instead to focus on offering regular hotel services to local Thais, and maximizing the earning potential of their F&B offerings.
However, those hotels which have chosen to provide ASQ services are undoubtedly providing a vital service to visitors who need to enter Thailand to be reunited with their families, to return safely to their homes, to bring in business expertise or investment, or in future simply to visit a country which once welcomed millions of travelers every month. The system has been performing a difficult job to a high standard, and we should all hope that the latest mishap turns into nothing more serious than a reminder of how important it is that nobody in ASQ drops their guard, even for a moment.