The global meltdown around coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to dominate headlines and conversations.
Our industry is feeling the impact of worldwide panic: people are canceling travel plans, avoiding public spaces, and self-quarantining, and operators are feeling the impact.
We're taking a look at how businesses are addressing concerns in some of the heaviest hit places like Milan and Seattle, and how other establishments might proactively respond to get out in front of concerns about the infection.
Italy took the drastic step to quarantine nearly 16 million people in Lombardy, the country's northern region, after nearly 6,400 cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed and more than 365 deaths attributed to the virus had been reported in Italy. The government has mandated that no one enter or leave the quarantine area, which includes the city of Milan, home to some of the best restaurants, bars, and fashion houses in the world until at least April 3rd.
Schools, universities, museums, and cinemas are all being shut down. Bars and restaurants can only be open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and must be able to comply with guests having a distance of one meter from each other or risk being shut down as well.
Due to these rules, famous cocktail bars 1930 (#44 on the 2019 World's 50 Best Bars list) and Nottingham Forest (which has an unfortunately fitting rank of #86 on the same list) have both announced they will be shutting down for the foreseeable future.
Of the 22 deaths in the United States that have been attributed to coronavirus, 19 were reported to have occurred in Washington state. Patrons and operators have noticed the drop off in foot traffic in popular places, and businesses are working on reassuring the public they are following CDC and WHO guidance for preventing the disease from spreading. (You can read our full article addressing best practices to implement in your business here.)
Read this: 5 Ways to Succeed in a Down Economy
Following protocol is one very important aspect in controlling coronavirus. The other side of the coin is communicating your efforts to guests. Pike Place Market in Seattle proactively highlighted the steps they are taking to let visitors know their area is safe in the Instagram post below:
Fellow Seattle operator Olga Sagan, owner of Piroshky Piroshky Bakery (also in Seattle), went on NPR news to discuss the outbreak and how they are responding. She reported to NPR that sales dropped 50 percent this past week compared to the previous year. In response, she is cutting staff to only full-time employees and has had to put off expansion plans until the panic subsides.
Another operator in Washington has publicly posted about their employees travel the last six months to hopefully offset any negative perception about the disease. Asian businesses have been hit particularly hard—unfairly so—because coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China.
After reviewing the websites and social media of a number of the largest chains, very few have made any public announcements to their guests about coronavirus via website updates, blog articles, or social media posts. There have been, however, CEOs and executives who have provided quotes or addressed the infection on quarterly earnings reports. Their viewpoint is grim on the near future and hopeful this epidemic can be contained shortly.
For cruise lines, the U.S. State Department has updated their advisement to include that "U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship."
Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) immediately pointed out that this was an advisory and not any restriction on cruise travel. Royal Caribbean Cruises also posted a full response that can be found on our sister publication, Travel Agent Central.
In addition to cruises, our other sister publication, Hotel Management, has reported on hoteliers' responses to COVID-19. Besides guest safety, their executive teams have noted sagging demand and how this may also affect the incoming supply pipeline with slowed construction and materials from China being unavailable temporarily.
McDonalds has cancelled their worldwide conference ahead of fears of coronavirus and have noted they are cleaning door knobs, countertops, and other surfaces more frequently. Starbucks and other chain have stopped allowing reusable mugs. A tough labor market is not getting any easier with operations having to staff up to help clean on a more regular basis and allow any employees who appear to be sick to get their required time off.
Tilman Fertitta addressed the impact of coronavirus on his restaurant empire on CNBC. The chairman and CEO, whose group operates more than 600 restaurants globally, has stated that the virus is causing his restaurant brands to lose about $1 million in sales per day, with stores located in tourist destinations and urban areas being impacted the most.
Restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You, which operates 130 restaurants in California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and Washington, D.C., addressed coronavirus via an email sent to guests who had signed up for loyalty programs or their In the Know newsletter. They stated in the email that they were "closely monitoring the advice and guidance" from the CDC and WHO; educating employees "on preventative measures provided by the CDC"; increasing the frequency with which employees cleaned hard surfaces in kitchens, dining rooms, bars and bathrooms; "implementing heightened sanitation and hand-washing procedures for all employees; providing guests and employees hand sanitizers, extra soap, and paper towels; and "discouraging all personal contact within" their venues, "including shaking hands." On the guest side, Lettuce Entertain You provided CDC guidance that includes washing hands frequently, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth, and staying home when sick.
Sichuan Impression, which operates three locations in California, has responded to coronavirus by insisting all guests agree to have their temperature taken before entering a store. The response has been mixed, with some commenters praising the move and others criticizing it:
The following website/groups have listed coronavirus statements that can be viewed here:
As one can see, there are not many brands that have listed any statements other than Starbucks. We will update this list as they are submitted or we find their sites updated.
Proactive Practices to Put Into Place
Barry Gutin, President and CEO of Guest Counts Hospitality, oversees four locations of Cuba Libre in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and Orlando, has noted that à la carte business has not dropped off but revenue from corporate groups attending conferences has taken a hit from large trade shows canceling in Orlando. Barry has offered the following advice in addition to the CDC and WHO recommendations:
- Normally, cloth napkins were re-folded and placed back on guests' chairs if they got up to use the bathroom. This practice has been halted in the interim since germs can go both ways.
- Sanitizing menus in between every seating.
- A full review of their crisis communication plan, with updates made as needed. The plan has been distributed to the key members of his staff to ensure everyone understands their role.
- Arranging advanced communication with companies that handle disinfection in case anyone with coronavirus comes into one of their venues. Building a relationship ahead of time could help them get higher on the list to be serviced and back open should the need arise.
- Reminder to respect HIPAA laws and not release any employee or guest medical information without consent
- A strict non-discrimination policy protecting both employees and guests when assessing coronavirus risks
- Helping employees navigate and understand CDC and WHO guidelines
Have any other tips on communication or proactive measures being taken? Please share them by emailing and we'll add them to this list.