It was bound to happen sooner than later, and when the H1N1 virus was announced to have officially arrived in Asia – Hongkong reported the first case on May 1, resulting in the quarantine of guests and staff at the Metro Park Hotel – hotels around the region did not panic, but simply heightened measures already put into place when news of the epidemic in Mexico broke out earlier.
“Our experience with SARS reminded us of the importance to plan and be always prepared for crises, as well as the necessity for all our managers and leaders to respond with courage, clarity, calmness and always with a sense of compassion when people’s safety is concerned,” said Roel Constantino, director of sales and marketing, Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok.
Besides reminding employees to heed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) directives of washing and sanitising hands more than the usual and keeping healthy, hotels have been stepping up sanitation and disinfecting of their premises, particularly the ventilation system. At the Kowloon Shangri-La, gym equipment is thoroughly cleaned after each use, said Patsy Cheung, director of communications.
While WHO has reiterated constantly that there is still no known link between eating pork products and catching the H1N1 virus, some hotels are not taking any chances. The Marco Polo Group in Hongkong has cut down on its orders because of “a general perception the virus can be spread by eating pork,” said Janice Azurpado, the chain’s director of marketing communications. However, others such as the Shangri-La Bangkok, Courtyard by Marriott Bangkok and Pan Pacific Singapore don’t believe such drastic action is yet necessary, citing their stringent preparation methods.
Said Pan Pacific Singapore general manager Ivan Lee: “Our guests’ and associates’ well-being is of utmost importance to us and all food is handled and served in strict accordance to established national standards of hygiene. We keep an eye out for any guest or colleague who might appear unwell. In such cases, we will send them to the Raffles Medical Hospital, five minutes away by car.”
Even before the crisis, most of the bigger hotel chains boasted having a clinic onsite, or if not, they made sure to have an arrangement with a doctor or hospital nearby. “Besides partnering with several medical centres in town,” said Nicholas Tse, general manager of Courtyard by Marriott Bangkok, “we have a nurse and doctor on call 24 hours.” Since SARS, face masks and hand sanitisers have become a regular part of the inventory.
Precautions notwithstanding, Constantino of Shangri-La Bangkok stressed: “While the threat of swine flu is real, we do not want to create a sense of fear and panic among our customers and personnel at this stage. However, we do assure our people of the company’s high level of food safety and health measures and our readiness to provide assistance and step up to more severe contingencies when needed.”