Written by: Frank Wolfe, CAE, FIH
Early this morning I was pulled off the beach (in my dreams) by a series of rapid-fire instant messages and emails. For those who have kids, it was like one of those middle of the night calls when they are staying overnight at a friend’s house. Immediately your adrenaline builds, you get instant sweats and you can feel the beat of your heart reverberating through the entire bed frame.
The reason for this interruption was that ONE confirmed case of the coronavirus had been announced in a city where HFTP is participating in several events this month. Only one case of a virus and already we were being asked if we were going to cancel our participation. WHAT? ONE Case? No way!
Now that I am awake and we are NOT going to cancel, it seemed time for me to weigh in on the issue of the novel coronavirus. Although I am not a doctor or a scientist, I do have a background in health administration and education. My dream job in college was to run a hospital, but instead I began working for the Texas Restaurant Association and taught sanitation classes, earned a certification from the FDA and wrote a monthly column about health-related matters in their magazine. So, here are my suggestions based heavily on information from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.
Do not panic about the Coronavirus! For specific travel news, HFTP has added a coronavirus link on the Pineapplesearch.com home page that aggregates travel news from more than 600 sources. If you want up-to-date health news on the coronavirus, check out who.int or www.cdc.gov. Please note that WHO has a Q&A about all the myths flying around social media.
Do not share negative stories about the coronavirus on social media unless you have looked further into them and can confirm their accuracy. Most media are looking for a headline and the real story is either buried or the headline is misconstrued. Please be conscious of stories relaying a narrow, unverifiable perspective.
Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic. Surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly.
Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers. Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Also note: When purchasing, buy only as much as you realistically need. We need to be conscious that our neighbors are also taking prevention steps.
Display posters promoting hand-washing. Seek out such informational visuals from your local public health authority or via the WHO website.
Educate on proper hygiene. Lean on a variety of communication measures to share information on not only hand-washing but proper respiratory hygiene to staff, contractors, guests and customers. One idea is to bring in occupational health and safety officers to give guidance. Also, deliver straight-forward briefings at meetings, as well as messaging on a company’s intranet, to promote proper hygiene. Messaging should be very frank, explaining what is happening and why it is important to “get the facts.”
Follow through with the tools to maintain a hygienic atmosphere. Make sure that staff, guests, contractors and customers have easy access to places to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Ensure that tissues are available at your workplaces for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them. Also, even though it might cause a work pile-up, encourage employees who are sick to either take off or work from home.
Advise employees and contractors to consult travel advice before going on personal and business trips. In many cases, there is no reason to cancel or postpone travel plans.
Finally, help “stop the madness” of panic. There are places where basic supplies are being depleted, people are selling stocks based on rumors and economies are being hurt for no reason at all other than unfounded panic. As a frequent traveler and a member of the hospitality industry, my belief is that now is the time to set an example and help lift the industry up by promoting positive, factual details rather than panic.
Frank Wolfe, CAE, FIH is the CEO of HFTP and an inductee into the International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame and an HFTP Paragon Award winner. He often speaks on hospitality and travel related issues. He is an author, speaker and an advocate of careers in hospitality technology or finance.