Guests who come to Shangri-La as it reopens will be greeted with a new welcome kit: it’s called the Shangri-La Cares pack, a trim little box containing items to make your stay at the Shang nicer, pleasanter, and — naturally — safer. Inside you’ll find a personal-size bottle of 70-percent alcohol disinfectant, a facemask, a set of cleaning wipes, two small containers of Tic-Tacs, and two immune-boosting herbal teabags.
All this, the people of Shangri-La hope, will make your return to the hotel a calming, reassuring experience.
After all, this is new terrain. As hotels start to reboot worldwide, a thousand and one priorities and details must be mapped out, from the moment you alight from your vehicle and touch upon the disinfectant mats (now a standard feature of Shang hotels), to the moment you check in and check out (using their contactless Shangri-La Mobile App).
As of now, Shangri-La is implementing these new hygiene and safety protocols and operating at “limited capacity” (currently 50 percent per government regulations) until the GCQ is lifted. Open for dine-in now already are Edsa Shangri-La’s Heat and Shangri-La at the Fort’s Bake House and Raging Bull Burgers, with Makati Shangri-La’s Sage and Lobby Lounge set to reopen July 1.
The tone of “welcome back” is so important. So I asked Shangri-La Philippines VP for Operations Jonathan Rice how their six hotels and resorts in the Philippines will strike that balance between telling guests “Have no cares,” while also assuring them “We're being very careful.”
“I think at the moment, for guests, the assurance of safety and security is absolutely paramount,” Rice responded at the Zoom media briefing. “We learned very early in the process that guest contact would have to be a thing of the past. So we had to learn to engage guests by not engaging. And we saw digital platforms as a way forward in doing this” — i.e., people can make reservations online, download the Shang app to check in before they get to the hotel, and even check out at their convenience without having to engage staff face-to-face.
Shangri-La has divided the “new normal” hotel experience into seven areas with helpful cartoon charts online (www.shangri-la.com/en/manila/edsashangrila), For instance, all Shang lobbies now have special floor signs to help people check in while maintaining social distancing; disinfectant and temperature-reading stations are laid out for guest convenience; of course, all staff wear facemasks in communal areas. (Guests will also receive temperature checks and be required to wear masks in communal areas, though not in restaurants and bars.)
Guest rooms will now be sanitized much more thoroughly, using EPA-listed disinfectants and UV lights to deep-clean rooms, regular cleaning of aircon filters and systems, and high-temperature linen laundering to ensure greater safety. In addition, Shangri-La hired global hygiene and cleaning company Diversey to thoroughly train its staff in the new safety protocols.
Restaurants and bars are opening first, Rice says, proving the “resilience” of the Filipino market. New protocols are now in place: all meals will be served covered, and of course there will be no buffets for now, but “all you can eat” dining will allow servers to bring patrons their (bottomless) orders on covered plates. Almost as good as a buffet, we suppose. Shang restaurants will also observe “queue management,” limit number of patrons per table, offer digital menus (to eliminate patrons touching paper) and offer personal disinfectants at reception.
As for health and wellness centers: swimming and whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms and spas are still closed, as direct-touch treatment is prohibited by safety guidelines; but gym facilities at Shang will reopen with enhanced safety measures — temperature screenings, social distancing markers, attendants to wipe down all equipment with disinfectants after each use, and health declaration forms for guests to ensure better safety.
As “our businesses immediately went to zero” in the wake of the pandemic, says Rice, Shangri-La had to quickly regroup. “After the initial shock, the adrenaline started to kick in. The first area we immediately focused on was caring for our colleagues (employees) in these unprecedented times” to make sure they were paid through the crisis. “We saw a lot of fear and anxiety creep into our workforce, largely due to the uncertainty of the situation.” Shang also had to tend to their guests left stranded in lockdown at hotels and resorts (not a bad place for a lockdown, actually). Per guidelines, they waived all forward reservation cancellation fees as COVID took over. They ensured that supplier lines were intact, and reached out to local communities to deliver aid to those most affected by the crisis (an outreach they’ve embraced since opening in 1971).
But reopening required new thinking as well. “We decided that we had to be innovative and learn to add value,” Rice says, “and if we didn't move fast and we weren't agile, we would definitely be left behind.” In the new normal, “we had to turbocharge our decision-making. Decisions that we didn't make this very hour — a guest we didn’t help — would be a lost opportunity in two hours’ time. So every single individual colleague at Shangri-La had to become a leader.”
It sounds a little like wartime footing, as Shangri-La — and the whole hotel industry, probably — mapped out strategies to recover lost ground.
“We also knew that our talent” — its friendly, helpful Filipino staff — “would be our greatest asset.” While hotels are traditionally inward looking, a cocooned environment of comfort, “We had to take an ecosystem approach,” Rice says. “We had to become very outward. We had to look on our suppliers, our vendors, even our competitors, as partners.” It was all about survival: “High revenues were out the window; small margins became the course of action.”
New priorities for a new normal
Rice notes that a hotel’s traditional value propositions — the quality of the linen, the excellence of the food, the value of a warm greeting — had to be reformulated. Moving forward, health and safety would be number one; flexibility for guests would also become key. “People want to be able to have the decision-making ability to make a reservation today, and cancel it tomorrow, with no penalty,” he says.
After Shang’s restaurants and bars reopen, the next focus will be the local “staycation” market. “As people get back to work, as they have more time, they won't be traveling abroad, but they'll be looking internally for a vacation, or through domestic travel.”
Next, he projects, will be the international corporate (business) market, returning in the first quarter of 2021, and the international tourism mass market is expected to start traveling again by second quarter of 2021. But, “in terms of getting our business levels back to any sort of semblance to pre-COVID, we don't see that happening fully until 2022.”
Shangri-La may not be able to see exactly what lies ahead, but they’ve made provisions to ensure there will be a “welcome” mat laid out safely at all their hotels and resorts. And if you do that, history tells us, the guests will come back. “I don't have a crystal ball,” notes Rice, “but I do know that we have a future.”