Life at a hotel during the Covid-19 pandemic - Part 1
Restrictions, mass-cancellations, sending employees home, closing the hotel and the insecurity that follows. This has been the theme for many hotels in 2020. So what is it that gives us hope, and why do employees continue to hold on to their positions in the service industry instead of “just walking off” and finding another job?
For the sake of this article, we will be speaking from our own perspective, however, talks in our network do confirm that the situation was similar in other hotels and service establishments.
Everyone knows by now that the beginning of 2020 was highly unusual, due to Covid-19. People started hearing about more and more infected individuals all over the world, and governments quickly engaged in planning and implementing restrictions. On the 11th of March, the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, had announced the lockdown of a considerable part of the country's institutions, parts of public transport and other restrictions that affected most of us.
The first lockdown
The measures implemented by the government resulted in many businesses, especially within service, hospitality, and retail, losing their customers and in many cases having to send their employees home, or even fire many of them. The virus had brought a sense of fear and insecurity to the world. It is at this point that people started to grasp the true gravity of the situation.
As soon as the first wave of drastic restrictions were implemented, the phones were almost immediately “on fire”. We have experienced an unprecedented cancellation spree. Cancellations of events and conferences, as well as the government's request that people stay at home led to the re-booking or cancellation of many hotel reservations. The authorities did not have the time to develop rules for different scenarios, and this raised several highly relevant questions regarding our work as hospitality agents. Everyone was confused and waiting for answers from the decision-makers higher up in the chain, as well as in the government. (More about how this affected each department specifically, in part 2).
Restaurants, cafes and detail stores could turn to take-away solutions and e-commerce, however our hotel, being a city hotel, had to face the fact that we could not deliver our product online or “out-of-house”... We have a physical location, where we work hard to deliver memorable experiences, and we did not have the possibility to react in the way that many other businesses did, by digitalization or delivery.
Shortly after, the hotel (at that point, still First Hotel Aalborg), chose to close its doors in hopes that the restrictions, as well as the virus, would blow over and everyone could safely travel again soon. Sadly, the conditions took a turn to the worse and the pandemic quickly escalated. The hotel’s opening date kept getting pushed and pushed and the insecurity of an entirely unprecedented situation (in our lifetime at least) had taken hold of everyone.
As service staff, it is in our job description to come in contact with tens, or hundreds of guests and customers every day. Not only at hotels, but also at restaurants, bars and in retail. We knew that the pandemic had put all of our jobs at risk, and nobody could feel secure, but our colleagues still faced every day with a positive mindset and every guest with a big smile (under their mask). Of course we were worried about losing our job, or being exposed to the unknown virus, but through our determination to make others feel safe in our beloved hotel, we learned to put our thoughts and feelings aside, and put the guests first. In part 2, we will elaborate on some of the challenges we faced in this period, in each department…
During the time the hotel was closed, months went by without us knowing what will happen. With the date of reopening getting pushed constantly, how have the staff not lost hope and how come they did not look towards employment in other places? There were, after all, some companies that benefited from the entire situation. E-commerce stores with large warehouses, cleaning companies, delivery companies, just to name a few…
Many of the employees have stated that they loved working here. They love the environment, the energy, the guests, their leaders, and therefore, they have formed a bond with the hotel. Of course, it also helped that most of them were still getting salaries, with the assistance of the packages from the government. But even some of those who were not getting paid, held out for a few months, topped off their income with a side-job, SU (aid for students in Denmark), and later they came back to the place they know and love so much. We cannot find the words to describe how much we appreciate their loyalty and dedication. It is something that cannot be built from one day to another, but has to be nourished from the day that they first step into the hotel.
The 26th of June, 2020 - the day everyone was looking forward to. It was a day filled with excitement and everyone was looking forward to seeing guests arrive at the check-in desk once again. However, the conditions in which they were welcomed had unfortunately changed. Despite the general restrictions being lightened, we still had to transmit a feeling of safety and adhere to a responsible work ethic, in order to protect our guests as well as our employees. The smiles that normally welcomed our beloved guests got hidden under the masks that had become such a common sight in the past months. To further add to the disruption, plexiglass shields were mounted between our receptionists and the guests. The lobby and common areas were filled with hand sanitizer dispensers and many of our standard procedures had to be reconsidered. Furthermore, we constantly had to remind everyone to use hand sanitizer, keep their distance from the other guests, stay behind the line drawn on the floor, etc. It all felt very condescending and rude, and we did not enjoy telling people what to do and how to behave, however it was a necessary step, to make sure that everyone can enjoy their stay, safely. It felt like a large gap had been created between us and the guests, which made it unusually difficult to create a welcoming, personal environment. This was definitely not aided by the fact that the authorities were altering the restrictions constantly, leading to more questions than answers.
To be continued… in part 2
But how did the routines change? What about breakfast, housekeeping and the future of the hotel? What questions and new restrictions had raised problems in the various departments, and how did they affect our work and morale? Read more about Life at a hotel during the Covid-19 pandemic, in part 2, on our blog.