CORONAVIRUS

The housekeeping and maintenance staff at Kriya Hotels in the DFW market took part in workshop on cleaning and disinfecting methods on March 11, the day the World Health Organization deemed the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. Adrian Chavez, fifth from right, regional director of operations for Kriya, said the team learned new things and was also reminded of the importance of fundamental cleaning practices.

HOSPITALity in the age of COVID-19

Hotels transform into health-care centers while others review deep-cleaning methods to combat virus

As hotels in the U.S. are forced to dramatically scale back operations or close altogether because of the new-coronavirus pandemic, government officials are looking to use the empty rooms to fight the spread of the virus or provide a place for patients to recover.

San Diego County last week announced in had secured 1,300 local hotel rooms to be used to quarantine people believed exposed to COVID-19 as well as those diagnosed with the virus.

Hotel Investment Group of San Diego’s Mission Valley is one of the companies to see its property transformed to a hospital.

Darshan Patel, COO of the family business, said county officials have claimed two of their independent hotels. On Friday, Hotel Iris, a 79-room property, was ready to accept the overflow of patients from local hospitals. The other property has not yet been transitioned.

San Diego County has transformed Hotel Investment Group’s Hotel Iris into a health care facility. The property’s 79 rooms are among 1,300 rooms the county has claimed to manage the anticipated overflow of COVID-19 patients.

Patel is also a lawyer with hotel owners as clients. While Patel said his family is willing to help, a lot of questions remain regarding how the takeover will impact their business as well as the legalities surrounding the county program.

“Right now the county is still trying to figure out exactly how this is going to work. We’re helping them figure out the logistics, not only for our property but for other properties as well in the county,” he said.

“These are unprecedented times. I don’t think anyone was fully prepared to grasp or handle this pandemic the way it has grown here in the last couple weeks.”

San Diego Country Supervisor Nathan Fletcher on March 19 announces the creation of a COVID-19 community response fund, including using hotels to house patients and the homeless. At right is Nancy Sasaki, CEO of United Way of San Diego County. (Photo: Charles Clark/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A major facet of the program still in the works is the legalities in a contract between the county and the hotel owner. Patel said there may not be a uniform contract and owners might get a contract specific to a property. For the Hotel Iris, Hotel Investment Group has a one-page, four-sentence agreement.

Patel said he added addendums and clauses to the contract, but county officials said they did not have time to deal with the finer print, and asked him to trust that they will do right by Hotel Investment Group and other owners.

“What we decided to do was sign the contract as it came across, understanding there were a lot of things that had to be worked out during the process,” Patel said.

Compensation will vary from property to property, Patel said. One question owners have is what to do about the county’s property tax deadline on April 10. Do they pay their taxes or do they wait? He suspects they’ll have to pay as the county will need the money to fund its fight against COVID-19.

California Template

San Diego County is not the only municipality turning to the hotel industry for help.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that the state will lease or buy hotels to house patients as well as homeless people who are at high risk.

The California Hotel & Lodging Association sent an email to members after Newsom’s news conference with a link to download an “emergency occupancy agreement.”

CHLA noted the state is seeking hotels with interior corridors; an HVAC unit in each room; and a large parking lot “to maneuver large trucks/ambulances.”

Hotel employees will not be used, but the state will compensate hotels for the anticipated cost of staffing had they been used and as if the hotel was at 100 percent occupancy.

The agreement template leaves blank the rental payment amounts, which apparently are to be filled in once an agreement is reached.

The agreement template states the owner is responsible for the utilities and other services or supplies related to the hotel’s business.

Long Live Lodging requested an interview with Lynn S. Mohrfeld, president and CEO of CHLA, and Bijal Patel, chairman. Neither returned calls or emails.

Wear and Tear?

Other hoteliers who have talked to Long Live Lodging about the possibility of seeing their hotels commandeered for quarantines or to serve as health care facilities said they are concerned about the wear and tear the unusual practice may have on their properties and whether the government would take that into account when it came to deciding on compensation.

But Darshan Patel is not too worried about that. San Diego County officials told him the rooms would not be used in any extreme manner or in a way that would cause unusual wear and tear.

Hoteliers in cities such as New York and metro Atlanta have seen local officials claim their properties to manage the overflow from local hospitals. So far, it appears no patients have been moved into the makeshift health care facilities. But it’s a very real possibility as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increases almost hour by hour throughout the country.

Cleanliness Awareness

On Sunday afternoon, the U.S. was the third highest in cases, behind China and Italy, with more than 32,000 cases and 390 deaths. The recovery count is 176.

It’s a given that hotels turned hospitals will get a deep clean both before and after the crisis.

Meantime, hotel operators are taking a fresh look at cleaning procedures to ensure guests both now and in the future that their properties are focused on the health and safety of guests and employees.

Adrian Chavez, regional director of operations for Kriya Hotels in Grapevine, Texas, is going back to the drawing board with the company’s housekeeping and maintenance teams.

Kriya Hotels has 10 properties in its portfolio. Most of those are in the Dallas Fort Worth market.

Chavez saw the light a couple weeks ago after he attended a workshop sponsored by The Hotel Association, a local organization that invited Ecolab to demonstrate what it takes to kill the virus in a hotel.

Hotels have the chemicals on hand already, Chavez said. Ecolab representatives demonstrated how to use them to kill the virus.

Chavez said he also brought back some new ideas to keep the possibility of contagion low.

“At the front desk, we’ve stopped accepting key cards hand-to-hand. We now have a basket where the keys are left. We sanitize the keys. We also sanitize pens, anything that goes hand-to-hand.”

Chavez and his team have taken the disinfecting practices further, including wiping down the inside of the hotel shuttles after every passenger pickup.

The hotel’s cleaning regimen also targets front desk counters and other surfaces, door knobs, light switches, elevator buttons – if it’s touched it’s disinfected again and again.

Chavez and the hotel management staff have become keen observers of how guests and employees move throughout the property as they try to spot areas that need to be cleaned and disinfected.

The workload gets lighter by the day, however. Though some guests remained at Kriya’s properties at the end of last week, Chavez said there were no new reservations on the books.

Where to find up-to-date information about COVID-19

For information on how to manage your hotel business during the crisis:

AAHOA’s COVID-19 site offers guidance and webinars.

American Lodging & Hotel Association has a members-only online site related to COVID-19 but it offers access to its daily webinars.

STR is offering a series of webinars updating the performance analysis of hotels markets around the world. To sign up for the March 26 event on U.S. and Canada, click here.

For information about the impact of COVID-19 on the hotel industry, read U.S. Travel Association’s recent analysis.

AT A GLANCE

Here are some updates regarding the impact the new coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. Long Live Lodging will continue to update this chart as well as other information as part of its Special Report on Coronavirus and the U.S. Hotel Industry.

  • The U.S. Senate over the weekend failed to agree on a $1.6 trillion economic stimulus package proposed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and approved by President Trump. Included in that is $150 billion in aid that will go directly to the hotel industry. AAHOA and AHLA are supporting the measure.
  • Arne Sorenson, CEO, Marriott International, announced March 21 he will receive zero compensation for the remainder of the year. Marriott senior executives have reduced their salaries.
  • Hersha Hospitality Trust announced Jay Shah, president and CEO, and Neil Shah, COO, have halved their annual salaries; the board of directors will receive stock in lieu of cash payments in 2020.
  • Many hotel companies pulled back earlier guidance in the shadow of the impact of COVID-19 on the hotel industry. Marriott International, Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corp. and Choice last week all reported they have assumed a wait-and-see position.

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