“What we miss most are smiles. It’s really difficult to greet visitors to the hotel minus smiles. So we have told our staff to smile even behind their masks as it shows up in their eyes and body language,” says Amaan Kidwai, general manager of the ITC Gardenia hotel during a walkthrough on its first day of reopening post the national lockdown.
It’s not just seeing masked faces everywhere—the world of the 5-star hotel has changed in the past two months to incorporate essential social distancing and hygiene measures as well. Minutes earlier, we finished lunch at the Bengaluru hotel’s all-day restaurant Cubbon Pavilion—after reading its new, restructured menu on our phones by scanning QR codes off a standee on the table, unwrapping our own crockery and cutlery from sealed paper envelopes, and eating a pre-plated meal brought to the table under a dome-shaped cover. The buffet, alas, is gone for now. “Indians are fond of sharing food, but we had to redesign the menu in order to encourage everyone ordering their own pre-plated meal,” says Kidwai.
For the past two months, across ITC’s properties in India, around 30% of staff at each hotel stayed back, preparing and perfecting measures that would enable them to host guests once the lockdown was lifted. This included answering tests and passing certifications on new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and guidelines. “For the past week we have been doing live practice sessions. The staff is all very excited to open up,” says Kidwai.
Although the number of occupied rooms is low at present, the check-in, room cleaning and room delivery protocols are in place. Check-in has become completely contactless, with guests being asked to submit all details and IDs via online forms before they arrive at the hotel. They do have to physically sign a check-in document but that goes into a tray that’s not handled for 24 hours, while the pen they use is sent for UV sterilization.
In-room dining now comes with two options: a ‘Knock n Drop’ service using takeaway-type boxes that are left outside the door, and plated meals on trolleys that the guest can slide in by herself. Rooms will be fumigated and ozonated using a portable ozone generator, and kept empty for 24 hours between guests. While the rooms look the same, there are subtle changes: all thick, leather-bound menus and leaflets common in hotel rooms are gone, replaced by QR codes.
“Housekeeping is the hero of the movie in the current scenario. They are in charge of maintaining hygiene and protocols. Yes, many of these changes are irksome, but I think guests want them as much as us. Luxury hotels will set the standard for the hospitality sector, because standards and protocols are ingrained in our training,” predicts Kidwai.