Public memory is proverbially known to be short – the hotel industry, among others, can be thankful for that or else global travel would have come to a standstill whenever there is news of a pandemic be it a mutating virus or a new kind of flu. Few remember the deadly threat SARS represented for the hotel industry in 2003 that struck particularly harshly in the Toronto area while New York braced itself for the inevitable. As it turned out, the Big Apple got a free pass on that biggie.
Recently, a relatively more benign malady, the Norovirus, shut down a Washington DC Hyatt Hotel. Management at the property acquitted themselves commendably by quickly evacuating the hotel and communicating effectively to guests and the public at large – two key elements in a triage response. The virus frequently makes its unwelcome appearance on cruise ships, hotels, nursing homes and prisons. Evidently lots of people in close quarters eating out of a common kitchen presents a fertile breeding ground for the microbe.
For hotels worldwide the movement of people from all across the globe presents a real problem in managing a sanitary environment – viruses and bed bugs are the most obvious manifestations. Preventive measures range from the obviously simple such as ensuring no linen such as pillow cases from spare pillows in closets are reused for successive guests to eliminating mildew and spore growth. For pet-friendly hotels, as most national brands are, the latter can be a real challenge. Reactive measures should at a minimum include a comprehensive and frank admission of a problem as was the case with the Hyatt in Washington DC and the creation of a comprehensive emergency response plan that includes relevant government agencies. Pandemics almost never give notice – being prepared wins more than half the battle.