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Rotana Exclusive: “If we are going to operate, we had to keep guests and staff safe, no matter what”

“It’s bizarre for a hotel to be promoting a contactless guest service,” Guy Hutchinson, President and CEO of Rotana Hotels told AMEinfo in an exclusive interview. But that's exactly what they are doing and needs to happen until a COVID-19 Vaccine is found and implemented

Significantly enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices are certified by Ecolab. Rotana has rolled out a host of contactless services, from online check-in, to check-out hotels are still at the mercy of the pandemic, and need international travels and markets’ revival to survive and bounce back

AMEinfo has now seen its share of PR on hospitality sector re-openings and wellness measures, so when we got hold of Rotana hotels’ “Safe Space” program, we immediately assumed it to be just another COVID-19 safety promise”.

It wasn’t. 

The program is exhaustive, tackling every aspect of contactless hospitality you can ever imagine, and that by itself is a contradiction in terms, a paradox for prominent UAE headquartered hotel chain Rotana, or any such establishment for that matter.

“It’s bizarre for a hotel to be promoting a contactless guest service,” Guy Hutchinson, President and CEO of Rotana told AMEinfo in an exclusive interview.

“If a vaccine is found and restrictions are lifted, contactless measures will be lessened, yet remain for as long as they are necessary to safeguard guests and staff.”  

Just how stringent are Rotana’s safety procedures at its 69 hotels across the MEA, Eastern Europe and Turkey?

Read: Preparing for Hospitality 2.0 in the post COVID-19 era

Peace of mind

Rotana is promising guests peace of mind from check-in to check-out with the “Safe Space” initiative focusing on guests’ contactless hospitality experience throughout their stay using tools such as the Rotana app or their own devices and significantly enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices certified by leading water, hygiene and energy technologies and services provider, Ecolab.

A partnership with SGS, a global leader in inspection, testing, verification and certification company, will additionally monitor and verify cleanliness and hygiene procedures at every property.

“Since early February of this year, we knew that safety, health and disinfection were going to be fundamental issues going further. And it was clear that if we are going to operate, we had to keep guests and staff safe, no matter what,” said Guy.

“We were quickly aligned with WHO regarding chemical deployment and disinfectants, and we were the first to deploy across all our hotels in the UAE with effective chemical and thermal treatment agents against the Coronavirus.”

Contactless across the board 

Rotana has rolled out a host of contactless services, from online check-in, to check-out, menus and restaurant bookings, to grab-and-go packaged food options, in-room dining and flexible room-cleaning options, all geared to make guests feel as comfortable as possible.

In-room pick-up or delivery services will also see no human interaction involved.

Cleaning, disinfecting and protective measures

Rooms will undergo deep cleaning as well as a full disinfection process that includes the use of intense aerosol methods, ensuring an entirely safe space is delivered. All bedding feather items, mattress protectors, bed and bath linen will be removed and disinfected after each stay and will undergo chemical and thermal disinfection. Immediately following the completion of all protocols, rooms will be sealed, assuring guests that they will be the first to enter their “Safe Space”. 

Luggage disinfection will take place upon arrival. Sanitizers and dispensers will be available in public areas like lobbies, elevators and restaurants, and social distancing measures will be clearly marked, coordinated and managed.

Read: MENA Hotels Quarterly Review – Q1 2020 – Colliers International

Discipline is key

According to Guy, it is difficult to put investment figures on this new safety aspect of business.

“It varies from hotel to hotel, depending on location and size, but it’s not an extremely expensive exercise or capital outlay; rather it’s more an investment in terms of time and discipline,” Guy explains.

“We invested 3-4 weeks going to every single hotel making sure health and hygiene measures are rock solid at every turn, ensuring guests experience the delivery of this, gain confidence that the staff is well trained and disciplined, and that every space and need is handled properly.”

Nowadays, the smallest hygiene mistake can potentially cost lives and this adds a whole new dimension to safety and guest well-being anywhere hospitality services are offered. 

Read: New Technologies Will Redefine Hotel Sector in C19 Era

Revenue streams

When asked about current RevPar and future expectations, the answer from Guy was: “We are almost deliberately not having an opinion, but we are cautiously optimistic and this is partly based on how this difficult environment has been exceptionally well managed by health authorities, the government and crisis committees.”

The UAE is ranked 4th or 5th in the world in terms of safe countries and guy believes this will encourage travelers and business groups to return to these destinations.

Beach Rotana“We also see re-opening happening quicker than we or people have anticipated and we’re seeing, domestically, restaurant and hotel take-up at very encouraging rates.”

Meanwhile, the hotel is promoting staycations “…which are already working and very well, along with our restaurants.”

“With every restriction release, we see success, such as the case with beach reopening, which for us was a big lifeline.” 

Guy did say that hotels are still at the mercy of the pandemic, and need international travels and markets’ revival to survive and bounce back.

Read: Meet Hotel Data Cloud, the UAE startup that wants to put hotels back in charge of their data

No staff layoffs

Guy said Rotana hasn’t closed any hotel in the UAE (save for one RAK outlet closed for 2 weeks, for maintenance). 

“No staff was laid off and Rotana is not in a hurry to let people go. We have had austerity measures, like unpaid leave, where we all contribute to hopefully overcome the crisis and come out stronger,” said Guy.

“Where we have been a bit different is how we focused on re-purposing staff.”

As an alternative to laying staff off in the UAE, the hotel chain had them working for multiple other companies such as Aramex, doing warehouse work or online distribution.

It also opened a call center, a COVID hotline in the UAE operated by Rotana staff. 

“We have a highly trained multilingual staff, so we put together a call center and subcontracted that to the Ministry of Health. We worked very hard and knew what was coming, so we decided to exhaust every opportunity to think laterally and get people paid using complimentary or supplementary employment opportunities.” 

Is the hospitality sector in danger?

According to Guy, consolidation was happening before COVID-19. “And this will continue after the pandemic is over,” he said. 

“Multinationals have been hit by domestic US share price declines, and will have to recalibrate before thinking about growth. The industry will rebound very quickly though. It presents opportunities for smaller players like us, people who are more investor-focused and better aligned with local developers’ strategic thinking.”