COVID-19

The COVID-19 (Corona Virus) has reached our shores and is now more than a WhatsApp joke and Facebook meme.  With 61 infections, and serious measures put in place by President Ramaphosa last night, most of us have been flooded with queries about safety and even large-scale cancellations.

Travellers are panicking, tourism businesses are panicking, but what should be our appropriate response here in the Waterberg?

To a large extent, there is growing hysteria, and looking at medical statistics, the Corona virus has not yet claimed as many lives as septicaemia in UK hospitals, or TB in South Africa, but is hammering our economic prospects and tourism industry.   The reality is that this pandemic is something civilisation as we know it, cannot handle and have never encountered.  First world countries are falling over.  At a ratio of 2.8 ICU beds per 1000 people, too many people can die from an illness that should be treatable.  It has the potential to cause the total collapse of our health system, as has happened in Italy.  We don’t want doctors having to choose who lives and who dies.

To support our members, and the community so dependent on tourism, we’ve done some research, spoke to a few health and safety experts and wrote a simple article to help your establishment prepare and handle the corona virus effects.

  1. Know Your Enemy (The Facts)

What exactly is the COVID19 virus?  How long does it live?  Will drinking rooibos tea and sitting in the sun kill it?

Don’t buy into the hype and fake news.  Research the virus from reliable sources and work on FACTS, not assumptions or conspiracy theories.   The following sites provide relevant and accurate information:

http://www.nicd.ac.za/diseases-a-z-index/covid-19/

https://www.who.int/

Also, please do not spread rumours and fake news.  If you’re not sure, don’t repeat it.  And if someone asks you and you are not sure, refer them to the correct health care practitioner, website or information office.

2. Clean House

It is vital to ensure your establishment is hygienic, and your staff not only maintain your professional hygiene standards, but also uphold their own.  Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Ensure staff have been properly briefed about the Corona Virus – what it is, how it spreads, it’s dangers and medical treatment.  By knowing what they are facing, and the seriousness of the infection will they be able to become effective.
  • Speak with your staff about their personal hygiene and enforce personal hygiene standards.  Don’t overlook a dirty appearance, lack of hygiene or any medical conditions.
  • Know your staff’s medical condition – although their right to privacy is paramount.  You have no right to enquire about their HIV or TB status, but ensure you are aware who is currently having health issues, whether it is a seasonal allergy or sore back.  This is not only important to ensure the disease is detected amongst your workforce as early as possible, but also to minimise their risk of infection.  Rather send them home if they are vulnerable than risk them becoming ill.
  • If staff are sick, ensure they receive proper medical care as soon as possible, stay at home and encourage them to be tested for the virus.  The earlier the detection, the sooner and more successful treatment can be implemented.  Brief your employees, contractors and customers that if COVID-19 starts spreading in your community anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home.  They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection.
  • Make sure staff are using the correct antibacterial cleaning materials and are using them correctly.
  • Check if staff are using the correct cleaning techniques.  All the soap and equipment in the world won’t be effective if they are applied incorrectly, with the wrong cleaning equipment in in the incorrect amounts.
  • Ensure staff are wearing protective clothing during cleaning, especially housekeepers.  Facemasks, protective glasses and gloves are vital to ensure there is no cross-contamination and staff keeps safe and healthy.
  • Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic.  For example, surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly, because contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads.
  • Promote regular and thorough handwashing by employees, contractors and customers

= Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled

= Display posters promoting hand-washing –

= Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefings at meetings and information on the intranet to promote handwashing

= Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water. Why? Because washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents the spread of COVID19

  • Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace.  Ensure that face masks and / or paper 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.  Good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of COVID-19.
  1. Getting your business ready in case COVID-19 arrives in your community
  •        Develop a plan of what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 at one of your establishment.

= The plan should cover putting the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others in the workplace, limiting the number of people who have contact with the sick person and contacting the local health authorities.

= Consider how to identify persons who may be at risk, and support them, without inviting stigma and discrimination into your workplace.  This could include persons who have recently travelled to an area reporting cases, or other personnel who have conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness (e.g. diabetes, heart and lung disease, older age).

= Tell your local public health authority you are developing the plan and seek their input.

  •        Develop a contingency and business continuity plan for an outbreak in the communities where your business operates

= The plan will help prepare your organization for the possibility of an outbreak of COVID19 in its workplaces or community.  It may also be valid for other health emergencies 27 February 2020, Version 1.4

= The plan should address how to keep your business running even if a significant number of employees, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business – either due to local restrictions on travel or because they are ill.

= Communicate to your employees and contractors about the plan and make sure they are aware of what they need to do – or not do – under the plan. Emphasize key points such as the importance of staying away from work even if they have only mild symptoms or have had to take simple medications (e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen) which may mask the symptoms

= Be sure your plan addresses the mental health and social consequences of a case of COVID-19 in the workplace or in the community and offer information and support.

= For small and medium-sized businesses without in-house staff health and welfare support, develop partnerships and plans with your local health and social service providers in advance of any emergency.

 

  • Communicate proactively about your efforts with your guests and employees.  These communications might relate to the steps you are taking to protect your customers and employees.  For instance, Singapore Airlines recently sent customers an email detailing the new screening procedures, enhanced aircraft cleaning, and in-flight service changes it has made to promote the health and safety of its customers and employees.
  • Be flexible and generous, even if you are not legally obliged to be so.  Consider allowing customers to cancel bookings and receive full refunds, even if those bookings were originally not refundable.  Where issuing full refunds would not be possible or appropriate, brands should consider giving customers the ability to cancel for a full-service credit usable after the outbreak is over.

For example, early on, Booking.com took advantage of its force majeure rights and established a policy under which affected properties were expected to issue refunds and waive any cancellation costs.    Looking forward, brands can reassure customers by giving customers the ability to change their travel plans without penalty. United Airlines in the US as well as Emirates, for instance, is waiving change fees on all new bookings through March 31.

Focus your marketing efforts on showing how you are looking after the health and safety of your guests.   Brands can’t market coronavirus concerns away.  Instead, they need to demonstrate that they’re taking meaningful action to protect the people they serve. These actions can include:

= Setting and publishing clear policies related to COVID-19.

= Suspending flight routes, services, activities, etc. that may expose customers to increased health risk.

= Implementing new protocols related to hygiene and sanitation.

= Helping customers protect themselves, such as supplying hand sanitizer and prominently posting information about COVID-19 at facilities.

= Making sure employees understand how the company is responding to coronavirus so that they can inform customers and answer their questions.

= Even though these actions may not prevent cancellations right now, they can help maintain trust, build goodwill and help position the brand for gains when the coronavirus is a thing of the past.

 

  • Be careful not to go overboard with promotional marketing.  Although there are still many people travelling, and even some people taking the risk and booking trips now to gain benefits from lower rates and fees, be careful how you approach it.  Overdoing the marketing means people are getting tired or your efforts and feel exploited or wronged because they do not wish to travel during this time.  Rather focus your efforts on market segments who’s travelling patterns are more established, like business or niche travellers.  Focus on your customer service.  Travel and hospitality businesses are experiencing higher-than-average demand for service as customers inundate them with questions and requests. Unfortunately, many are letting customers down because they are unable to deal with these requests in a timely fashion.
  • Focus on your customer service.  Travel and hospitality businesses are experiencing higher-than-average demand for service as customers inundate them with questions and requests. Unfortunately, many are letting customers down because they are unable to deal with these requests in a timely fashion.
  • Although costly, companies should do everything possible to ensure that online and email requests are responded to quickly, and to minimize on-hold times when customers call, because poor customer experiences now could dent their brands leave a lasting impression that hampers their ability to recover once the crisis is over.
  • Empower customers.  Wherever possible, allow customers to cancel or reschedule their bookings online, or remotely.  Don’t look as if you are profiting at your customer’s expense and look for opportunities to make them feel more in control during this difficult time where there seems no control.

 

(This information and recommendations have been sourced from:

https://www.infineca.com/blog/coronavirus-how-travel-and-hospitality-brands-should-respond/

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

and is subject to their copyright).

 

These times are so uncertain and to a large extent, intimidating.  We’ve never been faced with such a sudden and global pandemic in our lifetimes, and therefore most of us feel out of control and fearful.  But now is not the time for fear or uncertainty.  Now is the time to stand and work together, share constructive ideas and give uplifting feedback and support to one another.  Let us not lose hope now or allow the brevity of the situation to overwhelm us.  Waterberg Tourism is committed not only to supporting the tourism industry and our members during this difficult time, but also to continue our efforts to develop and market sustainable tourism to the most beautiful place in South Africa.