NATIONAL REPORT—When you operate a hotel or hospitality venue, your top priorities, along with an excellent overall guest experience, are likely the safety of the people who stay with you. This isn’t a new concept. For example, you’ve probably been cautious about scenarios involving premises liability and making sure you’re frequently checking your location for potential hazards.
Now, there is something relatively new that’s a consideration for hotel operators, however, which is how to deal with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
In the early days of the pandemic, many hotels and hospitality locations were closed. Then, they might have reopened when there were mask mandates, but vaccines weren’t available. Mask mandates were relatively easy for a lot of businesses to deal with because it’s something highly visible that you can easily know if your guests aren’t following.
Plus, since most mask mandates were state or local guidelines, you didn’t have much say in the matter, simplifying things in a business.
Then, vaccines were rolled out. The hope was that people would largely be vaccinated, and the pandemic would slow.
The Delta variant proved that wasn’t going to be the case. Cities and states are now increasingly looking at ways to require vaccines.
What should hotels know about requiring COVID-19 vaccines?
First and foremost, it’s a tricky situation. You are going to have people on both ends of the spectrum who feel passionately about their position. You’re going to have some people who aren’t happy with whatever decision you make. If you decide that your hotel is going to enforce vaccine requirements, you also have to consider the logistics of what this might look like.
With those things in mind, the following are some considerations if you operate a hotel and you’re thinking about whether or not to require proof of vaccine by your guests.
Updated CDC Guidance
First, the CDC guidance during the pandemic has changed rapidly, often leading hotels and similar establishments scrambling to figure out what’s next.
Back in May, according to the CDC in their updated guidance, fully vaccinated people were said to no longer be needed to wear masks or physically distance unless required by state or local law.
Within hours of that announcement, the American Hotel & Lodging Association said the new guidance was creating problems with the group’s CDC-based Stay Safe Guidelines, requiring employees and guests wear face coverings. Then, the president of the AHLA said at that time they would relax mask requirements for fully vaccinated guests.
At that time, he said they weren’t asking hotels to require proof of vaccine status, but guests and staff were being asked to follow the revised guidelines. Unvaccinated guest guidelines continued to include face coverings and physical distancing.
Now, that’s once again changed. If you’re fully vaccinated, the CDC says to prevent transmission of the Delta variant, you wear masks indoors in public if you’re in an area of high transmission.
The President and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association once again responded to the change in guidance. He said hotels in the United States would continue implementing safety guidelines based on the CDC’s recommendations and following state and local law.
Pros and Cons of Vaccine Requirements
Along with changing CDC guidelines, more and more businesses and local governments are requiring proof of vaccination.
You do have to understand the pros and cons if you’re operating a hotel.
First, there’s no universal vaccination certification system in the United States.
However, if you were to require proof of vaccination regardless, benefits include eliminating anxiety and tension on the part of your staff, providing peace of mind to your guests, and you might also see your occupancy levels go up because guests could be more comfortable.
There are pitfalls too.
Without a universal certification system, the burden is on your business and employees to check vaccination records, which can be time-consuming. You won’t have any control over the type of credential a guest shows you, and you may not even know if it’s authentic.
Many guests may also be uncomfortable with digital health records, plus you could be deterring guests who don’t have access to a smartphone if you require digital proof of some sort.
Manhattan’s Public Hotel Announces Requirement for Proof of Vaccination
New York City’s mayor announced at the start of August that if you were going to dine indoors, go to a performance, or go to a gym, you would need proof of vaccination.
Now, some hotels are requiring the same thing. The Public Hotel, which is in the Bowery neighborhood of Manhattan, was the first hotel that announced they would be issuing their own vaccine mandate.
According to their policy, any guest staying at the hotel or visiting the bar and restaurant on-site needs to show proof of vaccination. The hotel also said masks would be required in communal areas, and all staff at the hotel are required to be fully vaccinated. The policy applies to guests and visitors 12 and older, who have to show either their card or digital vaccination proof before they enter.
Other hotels have since made similar announcements.
So, What Should You Do?
If you’re unsure of the right move for your hotel, the first thing you should do is talk to your staff.
First, you want to find out how they feel about vaccinations in general. Many hotels are short-staffed right now, and you may not want to lose your key employees. You also want to discuss how you might implement a policy requiring vaccinations and whether they’re comfortable enforcing that.
Ultimately, it’s not an easy decision for any business when it’s not required by the local government where you’re located. You have to think about the safety and health of your employees and guests, but also how to put into practice something like checking vaccine cards or digital proof of status.
If you aren’t going to require vaccines at this time, you’ll also have to make sure you’re taking other steps to make your guests and employees feel safe.