When it came to the coronavirus, Enrique Calderon, COO of Grupo Posadas, said he saw the first signs of trouble back in February.
Questions about the Grupo Posadas’ health and safety protocols began to trickle in from U.S.-based clients, who specifically inquired about how the company would handle detecting positive cases of COVID-19, which, at the time, was quickly spreading through Europe.
Shortly after, on Feb. 29, Calderon’s team released Posadas’ first set of health protocols specifically on COVID-19 detection. Then, they began the process of suspending operations at their hotels, which include such brands as Fiesta Americana; Grand Fiesta Americana Hotels & Resorts; the upscale Live Aqua Resorts; The Explorean; and La Coleccion Resorts, among others.
And now, nearly four months later, Mexico’s largest hotel company, which encompasses 180 properties throughout Mexico and the Caribbean, is just starting to resume operations as tourism destinations within Mexico begin to reopen.
Here, Calderon takes us through the company’s enhanced health and safety processes, sheds light on the company’s COVID-19-era initiatives and offers tips for travel advisors who are considering selling Mexico right now.
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As COVID-19 quickly became a threat to tourism in Mexico, how did Grupo Posadas adapt?
Around late February, Marriott was announcing the closing of many of its hotels. We thought, ‘This is going to happen sooner or later, and we better be prepared.’ So, we decided to establish protocols for keeping our employees and our guests safe. We worked with the World Travel and Tourism Council to establish protocols for the ‘new normal’ for hotels, and we also worked with governmental authorities and worldwide health institutions to come up with a set of protocols that needed to be implemented.
We thought, ‘This is going to happen sooner or later, and we’d better be prepared.’
Some of our employees asked to be part of small team that would continue taking care of the hotels while they were closed. These employees lived in the hotels for two weeks, and every two weeks we would change the staff task force. Since April, we’ve also decided to donate accommodations to doctors; we have had more than 500 medics and nurses staying in our hotels since then. We wanted to help, and it was a good time to put our protocols on display and see if they were working. A number of employees volunteered to attend to the doctors, and since then, there haven’t been any employees contaminated with COVID-19.
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You also established a partnership with 3M (which has a line of cleaning products), and have been working with the American British Cowdray Medical Center.
Yes. [The organizations] have reviewed the protocols we have, they’ve trained us, and we are working to receive a certification from them designating that we have hospital levels of sanitation.
Tell me a little more about some of these new protocols, which fall under your “Travel With Confidence” initiative.
Guestrooms are cleaned by hand, and we spray the whole room [with a fogging technique], including the air conditioning tray. Everything is completely sanitized. When we finish the process in all the rooms, we also sanitize the whole hallway. All the disposable items in the room are taken in a sealed, separate bag that is not mixed with other people’s trash.
In the public areas, the pool areas are going to be open, but the water of the pool has a special treatment. We will implement social distancing between each person in the pool. Restaurants are going to have distancing between tables, and there will be a reservation system to control the number of people in the restaurants. Room service has been modified, along with food delivery.
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Are areas designed specifically for kids treated differently?
Kids’ clubs remain closed. The same activities will take place, but outdoors in big areas. All the materials children use will be sanitized; when they finish one game, we’ll clean it to be used by another kid. There will be personnel watching the kids at all times.
If a fever is detected, or if a guest is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, what processes are in place to remedy the situation?
We are offering the same controls for our guests as our employees. At the entrance of the hotels, we will measure temperatures. For employees, we have a book where they can register how they feel every time they come to work.
We will also have instant tests available in case an employee or guest starts feeling ill. If he or she has [the virus], there’s a protocol that involves the local authorities. We’ll put him or her in isolation. The infected person can choose to go to the hospital, or they can stay in the hotel for two to four weeks. We have a special area in each hotel — which is the most isolated area on the property — in case we need it for that.
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What advice would you give travel advisors who are hoping to sell your properties to their clients?
We have published all the protocols that we have, and we have also made a video where travel advisors can see the level of detail of the disinfection of the hotels. What I tell travel agents is what I tell everybody: There are a lot of people locked down in their houses unless they go to the supermarket, which is not a safe place. And now, the airports have a lot of health measures in place that weren’t there before. With the protocols we’ve implemented, the client’s hotel guestroom will be the safest place they can be.
With the protocols we’ve implemented, the client’s hotel guestroom will be the safest place they can be.
The strongest message for agents is to encourage their clients to start planning their trips today. If you start booking now, you will get a good bargain. The rates depend on supply and demand, and right now, there’s more supply than demand. So, there’s a lot of flexibility.
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Your hotels are in various phases of reopening, which will continue from now until Aug. 1, 2020. What are your forecasts for summer bookings?
Right now, we’re in the process of reopening our hotels by working hand in hand with the federal, state and local authorities. There are certain destinations that are allowed to reopen accommodations with caps in occupancy that range from 15-25%, as is the case in Mexico City. In certain smaller cities in Mexico, the cap is 40-50%. Across resorts, it’s about 25%.
For our city hotels, we’re expecting to have about 15% occupancy this month (June). For July, we’ll be raising that to 30%, and hopefully by September we’ll be reaching 45%. For our resorts, we are also looking at a soft month for June, with occupancy levels at less than 10%. We’ll still see some softness in July (about 30%), but August will be stronger as people become more confident to travel. Hopefully by November, we’ll be at 65%.
It’s probable that 90% of the rooms we had in September of last year will be reached this year. It all depends on the cancellation ratio decreasing substantially, increased airlift frequency and more. If people begin getting scared, bookings may be delayed for another three to four months. In terms of July and August bookings, we are seeing more families. Then, it switches in September to more adults-only bookings as kids go back to school.