Imagine being able to ride a bike down the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard without fear of oncoming traffic. That was the scene mid-June … before visitors from nearby states began driving to the entertainment capital of the world in search of a respite from COVID-19.
Las Vegas is now open, but it is far from business as usual, and it will take some time for large convention business to return. While flights are limited, visitors are coming nonetheless, and we are welcoming them with open arms . . . albeit from a socially acceptable distance.
Interested to see how our hotels and casinos were managing operations amid the new normal, I took a stroll down The Strip early last month and paid a visit to several properties. I am impressed by the safety protocols in place. Entrances sport ample supplies of hand sanitizer and disposable masks that guests are encouraged to use if they did not bring their own, as required by law. All frontline workers are wearing masks or gloves—many are wearing both. Front desk and concierge attendants, restaurant hosts and casino dealers are separated from visitors by plexiglass partitions, and there are visual reminders throughout each area to please respect six-foot social distancing guidelines. Management even set limitations of five persons per elevator to distance guests and workers from each other.
Some properties are placing welcome packages in rooms that include two masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Informational cards are being placed on beds, desks and in bathrooms notifying guests that all surfaces and softgoods—from throw pillows and coverlets to TV remotes and guest tablets—have been disinfected. While these processes typically happen behind the scenes, it is evident in casinos that chips, tables and machines are also being sanitized regularly, and casino floors are reconfigured to cut down on contagion. Implementing these procedures is putting players’ minds at ease and enhancing the overall Las Vegas visitor experience.
That’s the good news. However, despite these important safety precautions, I saw many travelers ignoring safety precuations. With COVID fatigue setting in, the last thing resilient vacationers wanted to be reminded of was the pandemic they were trying so desperately to escape. Rather than heeding elevator capacity limits for social distancing, I witnessed guests packing into cars like sardines, and large groups of partygoers congregating in lobbies with only 10 percent wearing masks properly (most were being worn on chins). While these visitors probably felt safe within their cloistered groups, they were putting hotel and casino employees at risk nonetheless—especially housekeepers who touch towels, linens, soaps and other personal items used by guests. Perhaps that’s one of many reasons why Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak issued a mandatory face covering policy for all Nevadans and visitors beginning June 24.
While wearing a medical mask will help limit the spread of some respiratory diseases, the World Health Organization warns that using a mask alone is not guaranteed to stop infections. That’s why we as an industry must do even more to keep our employees safe—especially when we know there will still be guests trying to break the rules.
LEADING THE CHARGE ON SAFETY
Thankfully, Nevada has always been ahead of the game when it comes to employee safety. In 2018, The Culinary Union asked Las Vegas casinos and hotels to supply 50,000 of its 57,000 guest room attendants with panic buttons that would enable workers to notify security if they are in uncomfortable or threatening situations. Immediately, many of the local properties began working with their union partners to develop pilot programs that explored how technology could enhance employee safety. At that time, I was working for MGM Resorts as executive director of hotel operations for ARIA Resort & Casino and was on a committee to select the property’s employee safety device (ESD) technology. It was there that I received an in-depth education on the various panic button solutions in the market, such as React Mobile, that leverage the latest Bluetooth, GPS, and IoT technology to provide an instantaneous way of calling for help and, being cloud-based, require no hardware or cabling.
By 2019—a full year before leading hotel companies made commitments to the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s 5-Star Promise to roll out panic buttons in 2020—nearly all Las Vegas housekeepers were equipped with these critical safety devices. Amidst the ongoing pandemic and recent civil unrest, this puts Las Vegas property owners and operators in an enviable position because they already have versions of the technology in place to protect their people.
Already being equipped with safety devices means that many Las Vegas hotel and casino workers can:
- Dispatch real-time emergency alerts and receive help in minutes to their exact locations;
- Summon security should a fight or riot break out on premises;
- Notify management if it sounds like a guest, who is coughing uncontrollably, is in distress; and
- Call in first responders if there is a virus outbreak.
I am a big fan of this technology. As employers, the operators of these enormous properties must perform due diligence to keep their people safe; security cannot always be everywhere. This extra layer of security is critical on so many levels.
CONTACTLESS TECH IS KING
Las Vegas is a hospitality-based destination; a mecca for some of the world’s largest meetings and conventions, with 10.8 million square feet of meeting, event and tradeshow space. To maintain traveler confidence that our facilities are safe, we continuously add new health and safety measures that keep this a fun and stress-free environment. The contactless technologies we put into play today will determine how rapidly group business returns in 2021.
Many Las Vegas properties today are featuring a touchless arrival experience. Whether the application is mobile check-in, mobile key or kiosk, each offers an extra layer of protection by removing staff interaction when needed. Any time you have travelers checking into 4,000 hotel rooms, there will be friction points—especially in the arrival experience where long lines are prevalent. It is here where investment in contactless technologies will streamline guest service, drive satisfaction, boost traveler confidence and distance workers from visitors to keep them safe. While technology should never replace service, in today’s new world, it is proving to be essential and in high demand.
Any tool that can place distance between staff and guests has relevance today. In rooms, many properties are featuring guest-use tablet computers because they are easy to clean and proven to drive guest engagement. Not only do tablets replace germy informational collateral, but depending on the sophistication of the device and its integration to other in-room equipment, they may also replace the need for guests to touch the phone, TV remote, thermostat, light switches, drapery pulls and other surfaces. In restaurants, I am seeing a move to adopting QR- code technology whereby guests scan the code to upload a menu to their phones, eliminating yet another touchpoint. Back-of-house areas are adopting new technologies as well. I am seeing more and more properties taking employee temperatures before shifts begin, and time-and-attendance solutions are aiding with employee scheduling and staggering shifts to minimize staff congestion. In the front of the house and public restrooms, electrostatic cleaning technologies are in use to ensure best practices for cleanliness of all surfaces and high-touch equipment like bell carts.
In June, the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) announced a new award program recognizing technology companies for innovations that will lead hospitality and travel industries forward in today’s post-pandemic era. Driven by the UNLV Lee Business School and the Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation, the $1 million “Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship” aims to speed entrepreneurs in the development of innovations necessary to rapidly address the urgent problems facing the hospitality, entertainment and travel industries—including employee safety—resulting from COVID-19. Committee member judges include (but are not limited to): Mark Davis, principal owner and managing general partner of the Las Vegas Raiders; William P. Foley II, chairman of Fidelity National Financial and owner of the Vegas Golden Knights; Maurice J. Gallagher Jr., chairman and CEO of Allegiant Air; Bill Hornbuckle, acting CEO and president of MGM Resorts International; and Wolfgang Puck, CEO of The Wolfgang Puck Group. (For more information on this program and a full list of committee members, visit www.leeprize.com.)
A recently released study from Oracle and Skift reports that 51 percent of people surveyed in North America and Latin America plan to book trips in the next six months, and 38 percent of those in Asia Pacific and Europe are doing the same. In response, 70 percent of hotels already are or are planning to adopt contactless technology for check-in, food ordering, concierge services and more. I am so proud that our Las Vegas hotels are leading this charge with most properties already making these must-have investments.
While contactless experiences are important, I believe hoteliers should focus first on implementing systems, processes and devices that keep their workers safe. Only when we have staff safely back to work will they be ready, willing, and able to extend service excellence to guests.