India’s favourite beach destination is now open! On July 2, 2020, Goa reopened to domestic tourists after four months, a day after the state’s tourism minister Manohar Ajgaonkar made the announcement. This set the stage for Goa’s 250 state-recognised hotels to reopen for business, but it is easier said than done, especially when India’s COVID-19 curve refuses to flatten. Goa’s new normal will be about offering a sense of normalcy to a traveller’s stay, and that’s exactly what hotels across Goa aim to offer its guests but without compromising on safety. LF got in touch with a few from this approved list to understand how they plan on welcoming guests.
Hotels are changing their modus operandi based on the state government’s standard operating procedures (SOP) and norms put forth by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the hospitality industry:
• Promote social distancing
• Entrance to have mandatory sanitiser dispenser and thermal screen provisions
• Use of safety kits
• Masks or face covers and gloves mandatory for hotel staff
• Effective use of digital methods for check-in and check-ut
• Frequent sanitisation of common touch points at common areas
• Set up a rapid response team
• Hand sanisiters at public areas
While they aim to focus on ‘safety for guest at all time, at all places’, Ajit Abraham, general manager of Yu Hotels, a boutique property in Candolim, says the first step has to be taken from the guest’s end. “All the guests, who book the hotel through any source need to carry a COVID-19 negative test report with them to access the hotel. Prior to check-in, that’s the first document requested by our PPE-clad front-desk representatives,” he shares. This is in line with the tourism department’s rules, which requires ‘submission of COVID-19 negative certificate issued within 48 hours prior to date of arrival by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) authorized lab in the location of their origin’ or getting tested at the border and staying at a state-run facility until results arrive. In case a traveller tests positive on arrival, they will either be sent back or will have to undergo treatment in Goa.
Bigger hotel chains have launched extensive safety programmes, monitored either by an in-house advisory board or a third party audit team, to build confidence among guests such as We Care by Marriott, We Assure by ITC and Rest Assured by Lemon Tree Hotels. Smaller chains and standalone hotels are focusing on staying true to the government guidelines and training employees to ensure social distancing and safety norms are followed. The ultimate goal is to provide a safe and seamless experience, from check-in to check-out.
Employee safety first
Brands under Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) present in Goa - Taj, Vivanta and Ginger – are going above and beyond the call of duty to re-strengthen their Tajness initiative, a mark of assurance of the brand's authentic Indian hospitality. Vincent Ramos, Area Director – IHCL, Goa and General Manager – Taj Hotel & Convention Centre, Goa, says, "Safety protocols have been developed in accordance with the norms laid down by World Health Organisation (WHO), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Government of India, keeping the well-being of not just the guests but also our associates."
Additionally, hotels will encourage guests to go digital as much as possible and opt for express check-in and check-out to minimise human contact. At ITC Grand Goa Resort & Spa, all guests need to sign a self-declaration form, which includes their recent travel history.
At Radisson properties in Goa, in-room amenities will now include a travel-size hand sanitiser in addition to linens washed at high temperature for optimal disinfection, TV remote controls in individually sealed protective bags and improved air purification facilities, according to the safety program e-brochure on its official website.
Common recreational areasRecreational areas such as pool and gym at Yu Hotels will be sanitised at regular intervals and disinfectant wipes will be available for all guests, informs Abraham. Talking about Jacuzzi, which will be operated on request, he says, “The Jacuzzi water gets bleached after a guest uses it and the surface along with the railings are sanitised time to time.”
A new dining experience
Changes to expect on your next Goa tripOf the 250 hotels in Goa granted permission, only a few have resumed business, mainly because there have been only enquiries but no bookings. A few are busy implementing safety programs; many smaller hospitality businesses are still waiting for other restrictions to be relaxed, if not lifted, and more clarity for operations – total capacity, for instance.
Even though Goa is actively trying to lure back the tourism business, section 144 has been imposed across Goa due to the sharp spike in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks. The state government has put restrictions on indoor and outdoor gathering of five or more people, which has left the hospitality industry with limited services to offer. In addition to this, there is the night curfew that restricts people’s movement from 8pm to 6am unless it is for medical emergencies or essentials. And restaurants - the few which have managed to reopen - are open for limited hours only. With so many restrictions, the number of tourists is expected to remain low.
The salesperson of a family hotel in north Goa worries about how they will recover losses suffered in these four months of the lockdown. During a phone conversation with LF, he shares, “Expecting tourism to pick up in a scenario like this is far-fetched. We are short-staffed since many have gone back to their hometowns. Plus, most of our guests are from metropolitan cities like Mumbai. We all know how their situation is.” But as our conversations nears an end, he says they are hopeful that things will fall into place eventually. “They have to. This is our new reality, there’s no going back anytime soon.”
Images: ITC Grand Goa Resort and Spa, IHCL and Shutterstock