Hotels' mercy mission is no grab for profits
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Hotels' mercy mission is no grab for profits

special report: Help to battle virus comes from an embattled source, writes Dumrongkiat Mala

main photo Many hotels in Thailand such as the Palazzo Hotel in Bangkok have turned into field hospitals.
main photo Many hotels in Thailand such as the Palazzo Hotel in Bangkok have turned into field hospitals.

In every crisis, there are always helpers from all walks of life. During the Covid-19 saga, one of the unlikely helpers was one of hardest hit -- hotels which have recently joined hands with the government to convert their space into state quarantine shelters.

The state might have offered them money to use their space and services, but hoteliers joining the scheme viewed it more as a mission to help the country in its fight against the virus and help retain their staff.

"It's not all about money. We also want to take part in a process to bring normalcy to the country because the rate that the government pays us can only offset some operating costs. It cannot cover all the cost, but at least we can keep hiring half of our staff," said Thienprasit Chaiyapatranun, executive director of the Patra Hotel.

The Patra Hotel in Bangkok is one among hotels across the country that have joined the state scheme to turn their spaces into quarantine facilities. These venues have been used for Thai returnees or travellers entering the country to stay for 14-day quarantine.

Since April 4, his hotel has turned its 245 of 297 rooms into quarantine shelters. Mr Thienprasit said his hotel normally charges 1,500 to 1,600 baht per night, including breakfast, but the government is only paying 700 to 1,000 baht per night with three meals.

"I think all hotels are going into that mode of, 'how do we support the government so we can get rid of this', then we can all go back to some form of normality," he said. "It's not about the financial side of things. It's about doing what we can do to help and if that means assisting the government with quarantine then we'll do it."


Many hotels have offered their space. Yet the Public Health Ministry will choose hotels that meet certain public hygiene criteria. Under the scheme, hotels must provide a single room, including three meals a day, drinking water and toilet amenities.

The criteria set up for hotels joining the scheme are that they must have over 100 rooms, an up-to-date hotel licence, safe building structure, no carpets, isolated air conditioners, a waste management and wastewater treatment system, and, above all, a friendly community.

Chavanuch Thangsumphant, an executive at the Ambassador Hotel -- another hotel that has joined the initiative -- told the Bangkok Post the hotel needed to prepare rooms, facilties and staff to meet safety hygiene standards as prescribed by the Ministry of Public Health.

Ms Chavanuch said checkpoints have been installed to monitor for signs and symptoms upon check-in. All guests, employees and suppliers, when entering or leaving the hotel, have to be scanned to check their body temperature. Everyone must use hand sanitiser. Also, public areas and "touch points" are cleaned frequently.

The hotel has transformed one of three buildings to serve state quarantine purposes. Since April 11, it has turned 380 from 1,000 rooms into isolation spaces for returning travellers.

All precautions taken

Meanwhile, staff working closely with people in quarantine have received training in coronavirus prevention based on guidelines issued by the Ministry of Public Health. They have to wear surgical masks, face shields, shower caps and gloves.

"We are treating it exactly how it needs to be treated. We need to act with caution. The most important people to us are our staff and making sure they're safe is our priority," she said.

Ms Chavanuch said all rooms are disinfected before people arrive and are disinfected again when they leave.

"All the rooms are prepared according to exacting safety standards. We've been inspected by government officials and they are satisfied with our standard," she said.

Surapong Techaruvichit, an adviser and former president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said converting hotel space into quarantine centres is one way the battered industry can fill some rooms and get much-needed revenue in tough times.

"There are no tourists at this point. It is possible the situation could extend beyond April if the outbreak remains uncontrollable, so I think all sectors need to work together to get this problem under control as quickly as we can," he said.

Of the 32,564 hotels registered in Thailand, some 95% have been hit financially by the pandemic.

Many have zero income, according to the THA. "Turning themselves into quarantine centres would help bring in some cash flow, although it might affect their image in a long run," Mr Surapong said.

The Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Defence have approached many hotels, asking them to join their scheme to provide isolation space for Thai returnees. So far, about 130 hotels with 16,000 rooms have offered to function as state quarantine facilities, according to the Health Service Support Department.

"There has been a good response from hoteliers," said Tares Krassanairawiwong, director-general of the Health Service Support Department.

Hoteliers sought different fees. Some based it on the number of occupants or the number of rooms used, and others would charge only for food, he said.

The Public Health Ministry would pay for the accommodation of returnees at hotels and the Defence Ministry would help sponsor it later, he said.

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