It's good to see hotels support workers on the frontlines, but consolidation of these bespoke programs and booking platforms may be needed if the pandemic escalates.
Breakfast, Wi-Fi, late checkout, and a World Health Organization-approved deep clean — welcome to the new world of managed travel for the crisis worker.
While most hotels have either closed or are in the process of closing, some are keeping their doors open to accommodate crisis workers (when they’re not being transformed into makeshift hospitals or birthing centers, that is).
Crisis workers come in different shapes and sizes, but a common theme emerging is shift work and the need for potential isolation.
In the U.S., the American Hotel & Lodging Association launched its Hospitality for Hope Initiative to connect hotels with local healthcare providers and governments — it’s racked up 15,000 properties so far.
And in the UK, a growing number of corporate travel agencies and technology platforms are switching their attention to the only demographic that’s technically supposed to be traveling.
Almost 200 hotels have made 20,000 beds available around the UK for NHS staff and other crisis workers, including Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, following a call from hospitality trade body UKHospitality.
And this week, the Business Travel Association tasked Capital Travel and Events with setting up a live tracker of properties that can be booked by its 36 agency members, which include the likes of Egencia, BCD Travel, CWT and American Express Global Business Travel.
A list is being updated daily. However, its most recent 35-page update doesn’t make for pleasant reading, with the majority of properties listed as closed.
Technology platforms are also stepping up. On Wednesday, Dublin-based Roomex launched a dedicated program consisting of exclusive crisis worker hotel discounts with hotels that are still in operation across UK and Ireland.
Its platform allows users clients to save time and money by centralizing all bookings and invoices in one account, throwing in use of its in-trip expense card, RoomexPay, free of charge.
“We are dedicating account managers to our customers that have key workers to ensure safety and peace of mind, and assurance that all hotels that are offering this discount are cleaned to the standards recommended by the World Health Organization,” the company said.
“It’s a necessity for the industry to support our key workers as much as possible at the moment, especially as so many hotels have closed due to the government guidelines, so organizations that have key workers need to know who is able to accommodate them,” added Jill Palmer, CEO of Click Travel, which is already managing crisis worker travel.
“Booking and searching becomes easier if they know which specific properties are open. It also minimizes the risk of booking a hotel that closes temporarily the next day if they book into a hotel who specifies that they are open for key workers. As we have direct API links with major hotel chains including Travelodge and Premier Inn opening availability is up to date at all times on our platform and key worker rates are clearly shown.
Another consideration is those hotels need to ensure they can offer food and beverage options, as travelers are often going straight to work on shift from their stay, and are not able to get breakfast or dinner, Palmer added.
Oyo, meanwhile, is mixing charity donations with room bookings following Friday’s rollout of OYO Rooms for Carers. It allows anyone to book a room on behalf of an NHS worker, with a £25 ($30.60) donation buying one room night at any of its UK hotels that are able to host workers. This amount covers the minimum costs of keeping these independent hotels operational under the current circumstances, and Oyo said it is not taking a commission on these bookings.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the NHS staff working tirelessly on the frontline in challenging and exhausting circumstances. Oyo wants to say thank you to these heroes — and we’re giving you the chance to join us,” the company said.
Photo credit: Staff from the Royal Liverpool University Hospital join in a national applause to salute local heroes during the nationwide Clap for Carers NHS initiative to applaud workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Peter Byrne / Associated Press