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Last Updated : Oct 22, 2020 05:40 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Pandemic Hospitality: Our writer checked into a five-star hotel to find out what has changed due to COVID-19

How have hotels adapted to the post-pandemic norms? A review of the experience in ITC Maratha.

The coronavirus pandemic “shell-shocked” hotels, said Chekitan Dev, a Professor of Marketing at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. “They initially pulled everything” out of rooms and off properties that seemed as if it could accelerate the spread of the virus. Now, the hospitality industry is trying to figure out how to create a “new normal,” he said. These lines that I read, kept playing in my mind, as I entered the hotel car, my body, a wee bit rigid with fear, to experience the ‘new normal’.

The chauffeur wore a mask, gloves and was seated in a shielded alcove. The vehicle was squeaky clean, with sanitiser, a kit with mask and gloves for me, and although deep down I expected this, the sight of the obvious put my mind at rest. I let out a deep sigh as I allowed the breeze to caress my face for a bit before I rolled up the car windows. It sure felt good to be out and I was determined to enjoy my staycation at ITC Maratha, so what if it was in the same city where I lived?

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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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The night was fraught with anxiety, but the morning spelt excitement at the prospect of an outing, although some apprehension remained. After all, strange though it sounded I was actually stepping out of my home exactly after 7 months.

My reverie was broken by the familiar ‘Namaste’ and I knew I had reached the hotel, as the car rolled into the stately and familiar driveway. Masked up, hands folded I could still see the doorman’s smile reach his eyes.

I stepped into the lobby ‘after a non-invasive thermal screening and stepping into a large tray-like contraption which sanitised my footwear.

My ID proof and health declaration had been mailed the previous day, so at least it was going to be a quicker and ‘contact-light’ check-in. I saw hand-sanitizing stations, masked staff, which boosted my confidence that the hotel took the pandemic seriously. I picked up a sanitised pen from the Reception to sign a form which came out of a UV box after disinfection. I noticed other guests checking in too and was told the occupancy was around 24 percent that day.

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My sanitised luggage was duly Sanitagged’. Getting into a crowded elevator with a long weekend’s worth of luggage in tow, was a frightening thought. My fears were allayed when I saw the elevator. Apart from the sanitiser and cane-sticks to avoid touching the lift buttons, only two persons were allowed at a time, with a mask.

What was in store …

My room bore a sticker —‘sanitised and sealed for your safety’ and had been closed for 24 hours. With relief writ large on my face, I broke open the seal and entered my room. I was completely reassured and plonked on my bed. A bit gingerly at first, but in course of time more confidently, I surveyed my room and the amenities. Everything was individually packed and sealed. The mini-bar was empty but one could request housekeeping for those items.

The familiar Services Directory was missing, but instead, by scanning an app, I could access the in-room dining menu. I suddenly felt safe and comfortable as my anxieties were beginning to ease.

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My inquisitiveness got the better of me and I had Chandan Das, Executive Housekeeper, explain the room cleaning process to me. “All rooms undergo 3 stages of disinfection - with Misting machines using Oxivir and closed for 2 hours,  Steam-cleaning of the bathroom and disinfection of high touch-points and all surfaces in the room with Virex and once the room is ready, an Ozonator is placed for 20 minutes with a set timer to sanitize the room,” he informed.

The swimming pool I gathered was not yet functioning, so naturally I had to relax in my room and through the Magzter app, I could read a host of magazines and newspapers.

My next hurdle was to tackle a meal in a restaurant and I didn’t know what to expect. My imagination ran riot as I entered Peshwa Pavilion – the all-day dining place. The tables are well-spread out, yet each table was separated from the next by a plexiglass barrier. The serving and waiting staff were clad in gloves, masks and shields. The tableware I observed, was wrapped in individual packets for the diners to remove and use.  No paper menu here too, thankfully. Upon scanning the QR code, one could access the menu on one’s phone and place an order. The food arrived completely covered and was unobtrusively placed on my table. The staff was alert and around to assist, but never came too close for comfort. The menu offerings were understandably limited and I somehow missed the lavish buffet spread, which of course is currently prohibited by the government. I ended up relaxing and enjoying my meal.

The staff seemed well-trained, but some inordinate delays were bothering some guests who obviously expected quick service. Executive Chef Mayank Kulshrestha who was around explained to me that everything was being cooked from scratch after orders were placed. “We try and ensure that there is no over-production and preferably whatever is cooked should be consumed. Thus, with each dish being prepared fresh and in the absence of a buffet, it does take more time than what guests are normally used to.”

The new normal

Peshawari, turned out to be a more seamless experience and the cosy seating area with separators, afforded both, privacy and comfort. Service staff in gloves, masks, serving food on long wooden planks slid onto the table, was a first for me, but executed to perfection. The service modalities may have changed but as a diner nothing changed for me. The Barrah kabab was still succulent, the Dal Bukhara creamy and the Angoori ras malai, rich and luscious. The flavours made me nostalgic and for a while I almost forgot we were still in the midst of the pandemic. Both the restaurants currently operational along with the Bar, support contactless payment modes.

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For my other meals, I opted for in-room dining where the food came in a trolley and was placed outside the room after a knock, without the staff entering.

Atul Bhalla, Area Manager - West, ITC Hotels & General Manager - ITC Maratha, explained, “The ‘New Normal’ is led by certifications and promise of good health, hygiene and safety. This is a time guests are evaluating the ‘well-being’ of a hotel. Visual representation of hygiene at all touch-points are key. Several best practices have been imbibed that endeavour to create a better and secure world. ITC Hotels has introduced its path-breaking ‘WeAssure’ initiative that promises near clinical levels of hygiene.”

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All check-out rooms undergo a thorough deep cleaning program with advanced disinfection applications. With these words by Chandan Das, which assured me that the next guest too would get a clean, safe and sanitized room, I checked out of ITC Maratha. I am a bit of a germaphobe and believe health and safety is a requirement, not a perk and ITC Maratha had surpassed my expectations.

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I realised the hospitality industry is well-equipped to handle guests again, as during my stay I even spotted a group of wedding guests. Yes, the lively buzz is still missing, but it is only a matter of time.

Mini Ribeiro is a writer based in Mumbai.
First Published on Oct 22, 2020 05:39 pm
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