On June 8, 2020, New Zealand finally announced the end of all social distancing requirements and restrictions on businesses.

“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time – it is a sustained effort,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

June 8 was also the 17th day since the last new case was reported. This is an important milestone and a time to celebrate. However, as economic rebuilding continues, there are several challenges ahead if New Zealand wants to retain its COVID-19-free status while almost everyone else is still struggling to keep the pandemic under control.

Although businesses, including hotels, can return to business as usual, two professors of Public Health from the University of Otago suggest that people should not lower their guard. Being ahead of everyone else – again – the country is leading the way in introducing three key policies to protect New Zealand’s long term public health:

1. Public Use of Fabric Face Masks in Specific Settings

Multiple barriers to infection and contamination are key to public safety. The professors argue that mask-wearing should be mandatory on public transportation. The evidence base for the effectiveness of even simple fabric face masks is now strong, according to a recent systematic review published in the Lancet. The World Health Organization has also updated its guidelines to recommend that everyone wear fabric face masks in public areas where there is a risk of transmission.

2. Contact Tracing Effectiveness and Suitable Digital Tools

To be effective, such digital solutions must have high uptake and support very rapid contact tracing. Downloadable apps appear insufficient. New Zealand and Singapore are investigating Bluetooth-enabled devices which appear to perform better and could be distributed to all residents.

3. Science-Based Approach for Border Management

A potential expansion of inbound travel management is quarantine-free entry, which will be safest from countries that meet similar elimination targets. This process could begin with Pacific Island nations free of COVID-19, notably Samoa and Tonga.

What Will This Mean for the Hotel Industry in the Post-COVID Era?

Even with zero active cases in New Zealand, the two professors still highlight the importance of wearing face masks in certain public settings. Given the nature of our industry being service intensive, hotels need to maintain the quality of their customer service. Can hotel staff deliver the same level of hospitality to guests when they are wearing cold-looking surgical masks? Since the “new” face mask culture is inevitable, hotels have to work with masks. Perhaps a friendly design of face masks is the only way to lessen the hostility of this communication barrier.

It is highly likely that when one COVID case emerges at a hotel, the government will ask for that guest’s private information. How can hotels assure visitors that their privacy is respected while handing out the visitors’ logs to the government? Surely, hotels should use this moment as an opportunity to update their policy on privacy.

Lastly, it is clear that the goal is to slowly return to business as usual, allowing international travel once again. It is also obvious that not many countries have the pandemic under control, but some are more than eager to open their doors. Is it possible for hotels to offer an “alternative quarantine package” to responsible international travelers, where hotels provide guests with all amenities and connect them with medical care for a weekly check-up? The collaboration of hotels and private hospitals could provide guests with sufficient medical attention while they can enjoy their exclusive vacation.

There is no denying the hospitality industry will change after the pandemic. The best thing hoteliers can do is predict the change and prepare for it.

Photo Credit : https://www.nzherald.co.nz/