Travellers who spend a sizeable part of their lives in hotels might find themselves wondering what’s happening with those properties right now. Some have given their inventory over to helping out in the current crisis, while others have closed.
But what’s the process of closing a city centre hotel, what has happened to the people working there, and how will hotels reopen when the crisis over? Over the coming weeks we will talk to hoteliers around the world. This week, it was the turn of Diogo Fonseca e Silva, the operations manager of Altis Hotels in Lisbon, Portugal.
How quickly did your Lisbon hotels close?
We have six hotels in Lisbon altogether – a mix of hotels and apartments, and all of them are closed apart from one set of apartments. We closed them once the announcement had come from the government, but the number of people we had with us was gradually reducing anyway, for obvious reasons. By the end it was mainly leisure customers who were waiting to get flights home.
Did you wait until everyone had found a place or did you kick them out?
We waited until everyone could leave. Then once the hotels had closed, we put a small team of around five in each one, with a couple of maintenance people, one housekeeping and a front office person and sales manager.
In the case of housekeeping, are they cleaning the rooms then?
Yes, there is a programme. We keep the rooms clean, of course, but we can also clean things that previously were difficult to clean, such as perhaps a chandelier.
Do you turn off the lights and the air-conditioning?
We turn off those things we can to save on electricity, but it’s true that turning off the air conditioning isn’t an easy thing to do because it can be very difficult to start back up again.
I heard about one hotel where when they turned off the air-conditioning all the wallpaper came off the walls.
Well, we wouldn’t have that, but we keep it on just to be sure, but at a low level.
And what about the mini bars, are they kept stocked?
They are, and the items in there have a long shelf life. It’s more the restaurant and the fresh fruit and vegetables. We gradually closed the restaurants, closing two of them in a hotel like our Altis, for intake, and just leaving one open, and then making sure that when they closed we put together the items into boxes for the staff to take home.
What has happened to the staff?
The government is supporting them and so are we. So the government has said for the three months two thirds of the salary is paid, with that being divided one third and the government two-thirds, so the cost to the hotel ends up being around 20 percent of the normal pay roll.
Lisbon has been a popular destination in recent years. How do you see travel returning?
I think 2021 will be less than 2019, but then 2022 will be more than then, so there will be a strong bounce back, but it will take time.
And for the rest of this year?
Well, we all try and forecast it, but perhaps we will get it wrong, At the moment we see it being around 15 per cent in July, 20 per cent of normal in August this year, then maybe 30 per cent by September, so with these figures we are talking about a 60 per cent decrease from last year.
And how will you reopen the hotels?
The same way we closed them, bit by bit. We can open first one restaurant, then more, and we might open just one floor of rooms, and then increase that.
To hear more about re-opening a hotel after a period of closure, see our discussion with hotelier, Derek Picot.