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Hotels could save jobs and lives

New Zealand’s hotel sector could save thousands of jobs and lives by playing a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19, says a leading hotel expert.

National director of hotels at Colliers International Dean Humphries says innovative solutions are needed for the industry to survive this period of unprecedented uncertainty.

"We need to think differently about the strategies hotels could employ in response to COVID-19," he says.

"Hotels have a lot of the key infrastructure and in-house resources required to provide essential support and services over the coming weeks and months.

"Overseas, we are already starting to see hotels embracing alternative uses such as quarantine facilities, temporary hospitals and emergency accommodation.

"These strategies could play a key role in New Zealand’s fight against COVID-19 – as well as keeping thousands of staff employed and our hotel businesses open.

"New Zealand’s short-stay accommodation sector is already suffering, with more than 27,000 hotel beds literally vacated across the country. These are vital private sector infrastructure assets that we can immediately utilise.

"The decisions we make in the next week will make all the difference, but we will need government buy-in. It’s crucial to act now."

Dean says accommodation is among the sectors that the New Zealand government has recently identified as an ‘essential service’ during the nationwide lockdown.

"That’s a great start. Now the government and the hotel sector need to work together to take the next step."

Dean points out that hotels have surprisingly similar infrastructure to hospitals and can provide many of the same essential services for guests. These include shelter, food, sanitary and laundry services, security, wellness and a range of other services.

Hotels also offer many of the essential services of an office environment, providing an alternative to working at home. These include secure IT platforms, the ability to host virtual meetings, and office infrastructure such as scanning and printing.

Here are some of the strategies that hotels could employ in the coming weeks and months:

Long-term letting: With short-term demand being compromised, there is an opportunity to provide longer term rental solutions. This will be most viable for self-contained serviced apartments, but a ‘hybrid model’ could be adopted for hotels with limited in-room cooking facilities.

Self-isolation respite: There is likely to be demand for short-term accommodation among people who have recently returned from overseas, live with extended family, live in flats with multiple people, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, or people who simply want to reduce anxiety or feel safe. Hotels could be a perfect solution for these groups, as they are able to isolate rooms or floors and provide meals, cleaning and other services.

Remote working: Working from home may not be an ideal or productive option for some people. Furthermore, many people may not have the essential tools required to work at home, such as fast and secure IT platforms. Hotels could look at offering ‘temporary individual offices’ on a daily or weekly basis.

Quarantine for people with COVID-19: Hotels are well placed to provide self-quarantine accommodation if hospitals simply can’t cope with capacity. This will require government support and careful management. Hotels near hospitals could be ideally located to assist. Floors or wings could be isolated, and nurses or caregivers could be employed and provided with in-house accommodation.

Essential services accommodation: Hotels could provide accommodation for essential services staff in the health, public and primary industry sectors. This could either be government-funded, or provided at a subsidised rate to allow staff to avoid going home and risk spreading infection.

Home delivery services: With takeaway shops due to close from Wednesday, hotels could step in to provide pre-made meals for people who are unable to cook or lack the time to do so, including vulnerable people or health and emergency services staff. Laundry is another delivery service that hotels could look at providing.

Shelter for those in need: Unfortunately, a growing number of people may temporarily lose their jobs and possibly their primary place of residence in coming months. Hotels can provide short-term solutions for these people. The Ministry of Social Development already has experience with this approach, having used motels for people in need for years.

Dean says all these solutions would require buy-in and cooperation from the government and hotel operators.

"But it’s clear that we can’t afford to ignore these strategies, given the enormity of the health, social and economic challenges that New Zealand faces.

"These solutions could help to save thousands of jobs and, ultimately, thousands of lives."

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