Hotels serving as Covid-19 quarantine stations likely to survive

The hotel industry, like others, has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic which caused many to shut down after the Movement Control Order was imposed on March 18.

To stay afloat, some hotels became quarantine stations for persons under surveillance (PUS) while others offered working spaces for those who were bored working from home.

Swiss-Garden Hotel Bukit Bintang general manager Danny Koh said the hotel had taken in more than 10,000 PUS since March.

Although it has been a different kind of experience for him and his team, it was better than not doing anything.

“PUS have been checked in since March although we took a break in July (after the government allowed home quarantine). We resumed accepting them in August.

“We foresee our hotel being used as a quarantine station at least until the first quarter of next year as it’s unlikely to have any new source of revenue during this period,” said Koh.

“There have been no pay cuts or staff being forced to take unpaid leave and we have been able to make a little profit too,” he said.

But just like his counterparts will attest, Koh admits playing host to guests who have to be cooped up in their rooms for 14 days can be challenging.

“Once we had a request for vegan food from a PUS who is a chef. So we asked him to provide us the recipe and we made what he wanted.

“We also had a guest who ordered an exercise machine and wanted it to be installed in his room and our staff member who was in full PPE suit helped assemble the machine.”

Koh said PUS had a different stress level from normal hotel guests.

“We try our best to make their stay as comfortable as possible while adhering to strict SOPs. We only entertain requests if the Health Ministry approves,” Koh said, adding some guests brought their own cooking devices which have at times damaged hotel property.

While his staff have had their share of ups and downs dealing with the requests from PUS, Koh said the hotel also marked a momentous occasion with the birth of “their first baby” on Dec 3.

“It was the mother’s last day of quarantine and but she went into labour before checking out.

“The ministry’s doctors and officers stationed at the hotel handled the birth. The mother and baby were rushed to the hospital after that,” said Koh.

With the government announcing that the quarantine period has now been cut to 10 days, Koh said many of the PUS at his hotel are eager to check out.

“Everyone is rushing to be tested and we are awaiting more information from the government on the processes and procedures, including refunds.”

Koh also admits besides the ability to sustain the business, the hotel staff can now multitask.

“Previously, the front desk only handled check-ins and check-outs and those in the food and beverage department only handled food.

“But now everyone in the hotel knows how to make beds and pack food … they all can multitask,” he said, adding the most important lesson this pandemic has taught them is to not take things for granted.”

Malaysian Association of Hotels chief executive officer Yap Lip Seng said while the hotel quarantine programme has helped selected hotels stay afloat, only a small number are benefiting from the scheme.

“Entry points in the country are in KL, Selangor, Johor, Sarawak. Hotels in other states are not really gaining from the programme.

“We estimate that only 50 to 60 hotels took up this offer,” he said.

Yap said when the quarantine programme started, 1,000 to 1,500 people were returning to Malaysia every day and the numbers have dropped to about 300 a day and the demand is no longer high.

On hotels offering work-from-hotel packages, Yap said it was a measure taken to sustain the current workforce.

“The income is just enough to sustain the staff but will not be able to generate enough revenue for hotels to survive.”