It's going to take more than a label to give guests confidence to book a post-pandemic hotel stay. Hoteliers need someone to make sure all the heightened cleaning standards are not only announced but also rigorously followed.
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A heightened health and cleanliness standard is slated to be the ultimate five-star service when travelers return to hotels around the world — so much so that the Baccarat Hotel New York has created a new role to oversee its new hygiene protocol.
Tanja Hernandez spent the last month training to be the Baccarat Hotel’s new director of environmental health and safety. A five-year veteran with the 114-room midtown Manhattan property named after the famed crystal company, Hernandez previously spent time managing special events and in-room dining. Most recently, she facilitated the partnership with two-Michelin-starred Chef Gabriel Kreuther, who serves as the hotel’s culinary director.
But when coronavirus hit New York City, the Baccarat’s owners suspended operations at the property — which is still closed — and decided a director to oversee a new health and safety standard was a necessary part in the path to reopening.
“We have always thought of the hotel as a sparkling sanctuary, and, now more than ever, we see ourselves as an oasis during these trying times,” Hernandez said.
Originally from the city of Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hernandez has a 17-year career in hospitality. She has worked for some of the biggest names in food and beverage, including Danny Meyer, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Bouley and Kreuther. She began her career at the Baccarat Hotel in 2015.
Hernandez enjoys new challenges and is passionate about excellent service, she said during an interview with Skift. Her favorite parts of working at the Baccarat Hotel are mastering the technical aspects of luxury service, working with a team, and making an impact on the customer experience.
“And in all seriousness, I am very passionate about cleaning and organizing, so this new role is a perfect fit for me,” she said with a laugh.
Rallying a Team Around a New Kind of Clean
Major hotel companies like Hilton and Accor are partnering with cleaning companies and healthcare providers to roll out new health and cleaning protocols to appeal to travelers in the initial recovery from coronavirus. But some boutique and luxury properties are approaching the rebound with a less in-your-face approach while maintaining just as much attention to safety as some of the bigger companies, Hernandez said.
“The less imposing and obtrusive the new protocol, the more likely it will remain in place long-term,” she added.
Hernandez has, since taking on her new role, gone through special trainings regarding all the new health and safety measures. Multi-day seminars and sessions take place to get her up to speed on what hotel operations need to look like when travel demand returns post-pandemic.
The Baccarat Hotel already had a stringent cleaning and safety policy, Hernandez said. But trainings educated her on new safety programs like thermotechnology screening to be placed at each hotel entrance to check an arriving guest’s body temperature.
Because the hotel remains closed and the Baccarat Hotel isn’t fully staffed for the time being, Hernandez will continue to train as the hotel and greater New York City economy reopens. The Baccarat Hotel employs 232 people, and Hernandez will be in charge of ensuring each member of the team knows, understands, and implements the new safety protocols.
Hernandez will assist in onboarding staff members to the new procedures through an online platform. The app will guide employees through new coronavirus, general safety, and company policies.
A select number of employees will also train on-site ahead of the hotel’s reopening. Vendors will also need to attend on-site training to become acclimated with the Baccarat’s new health and safety standards. However, staff training will not entirely focus on the new, stringent policies.
“Knowing the importance of mental well-being during this time, we will be offering health and wellness workshops,” Hernandez said. “We even hope to offer yoga classes as well.”
But onboarding is just a small part of her new job. She will also oversee the implementation of new health and safety guidelines, the monitoring and screening of everyone who enters the hotel, and use her position to give guests and employees confidence that the Baccarat Hotel is a safe place to stay and work.
“While the health and safety of all guests and team members has always been our number one priority, our current reality has mandated us to modify our operation and services to achieve this end,” Hernandez said. “It has also challenged us to find innovative ways to make our guest experiences more seamless, convenient, and connected.”
Cleaning With a Five-Star Flare
Baccarat plans to use Pop ID, a facial recognition application, to scan employee and vendor body temperature. The readings would then get sent to that person’s smartphone as well as to their department leader for safety verification to be at the property. More frequent cleanings and a focus on high-touch areas will also be included in the new cleaning standard.
But Baccarat also plans to weave its five-star aesthetic into the new protocol. The hotel is collaborating with New York designer Raul Penaranda on custom face coverings for guests to enable “comfort, style, and safety,” Hernandez said. Enhanced signage and protective guards will also maintain the Baccarat style.
“The strategic process will begin with the presence of a limited number of hotel guests and team members,” Hernandez said. “As we expand the hotel capacity in accordance with all regulatory guidelines, we’ll strive to provide solutions which address the near-term while establishing templates to enhance guest convenience and satisfaction for the long-term.”
There is still some concern in the hotel industry on whether heightened cleaning and safety standards, coupled with social distancing guidelines, may come at the expense of luxurious services and amenities that lead one to make a reservation in the first place.
Why book a stay if it is going to be more like a hospital than hotel? Under Herndandez’s watch, she promises to make sure the Baccarat hits the new safety high mark while holding onto all five stars.
“If anything, the elements of service, security and discretion should be enhanced, not diminished. Transitioning from a high-touch to contactless guest service will be done with warmth, care, and heart,” Hernandez said. “And as we adapt to this new normal, we will strive to be more welcoming than ever.”
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Photo credit: Tanja Hernandez is the Baccarat Hotel's new director of environmental health and safety. Baccarat Hotel New York