TORONTO — A typical request made by a hotel guest when calling down to reception used to be for such mundane items as an extra towel or more shampoo. But now, during a global health pandemic? You can add PCR testing kits to the list, too.
With many countries, including Canada, requiring pre-arrival negative test results for COVID-19 from all travellers, testing has played out in recent weeks as a hot-button issue in the travel industry. Destinations like Jamaica and Quintana Roo in Mexico announced back in January ramped up testing efforts across hotels and resorts to accommodate Canadian and U.S. travellers. Tour operators are also making moves to support this new requirement, with Kensington Tours announcing last week that it’s now managing in-destination COVID-19 testing for all clients, whether that means arranging private transport to local clinics or procuring a mobile testing team to conduct testing at hotels.
Most recently, Accor made headlines when it announced on March 12 that hotel guests in Canada and the U.S. can now purchase PCR testing kits thanks to a new partnership with x.labs. As such, any guest can simply walk down to reception to buy a kit and self-administer the test in the comfort of their own room, before boarding their flight back home. Though Accor is not involved in the testing process (it’s being directly managed through x.labs and its Telemed and testing partners), x.labs has dedicated a support team specifically to Accor available by phone and email, as well as comprehensive documents and videos, to assist guests with their questions and concerns.
It’s definitely an added value for Accor guests, taking away the uncertainty of how, where and when to take the COVID-19 test required to re-enter their home country.
In a follow-up interview, Andrea Torrance, Senior Vice President, Guest Experience at Accor North & Central America, tells Travelweek that while the x.labs partnership is currently limited to Canada and the U.S., there is “always the possibility of extending the program” as x.labs continues to expand its testing partner solutions.
“In the interim, other hotels within our global portfolio have explored local and regional partnerships in order to offer solutions for guests in need of testing,” she adds. “Making it easier for guests to travel safely and healthily is a critical step in rebuilding traveller confidence, which will benefit the industry as a whole.”
As the travel industry has seen throughout the pandemic, it doesn’t take very long for a trend to catch on, as was the case with flexible booking and cancellation policies and COVID-19 insurance. With this in mind, Travelweek reached out to other major hotel chains to ask whether they will be offering similar testing options for guests moving forward. Here’s what they had to say:
Vito Curalli, Executive Director – International and Industry Relations, Hilton Worldwide Sales, tells Travelweek that at this time, COVID-19 testing is not being offered on property to general hotel guests. However, earlier this month, Hilton did unveil a new initiative that provides event planners with COVID-19 testing and health screening resources for event attendees.
“Event planners have continued to look to hospitality industry leaders for solutions that help simplify the complex task of organizing in-person or hybrid events in the current environment, particularly as it relates to COVID-19 testing and health screenings,” he says.
As part of the Hilton EventReady with CleanStay program, event planner partners who book or have booked an event at any U.S. property will gain access to a list of third-party providers that can provide a variety of COVID-19 testing and health screening options, including: handheld temperature check devices; personal health screening checklists; COVID-19 self-testing options; and COVID-19 same-day, on-site testing.
Similar resources are currently being planned to expand to other regions soon, including Canada.
More information can be found in the Wellness section of the EventReady Playbook.
INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP (IHG)
A similar approach is being taken by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), with the company rolling out testing options for meeting planners earlier this month.
Ginger Taggart, Vice President, Brand Management – Global Crowne Plaza and AMER voco, says that the company’s ‘Meet with Confidence’ program, originally launched in 2020, has evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of meeting planners and bookers and to welcome back groups and meetings in a safe and efficient manner. Part of the program’s new enhancements includes a partnership with Wellness 4 Humanity, a company that provides on-site rapid COVID-19 testing.
Wellness 4 Humanity is already expanding its offerings into Canada, which will be available at IHG’s hotels that join the ‘Meet with Confidence’ program.
When asked what benefits she foresees from a program like this, Taggart cited results from a recent IHG study that found 40% of respondents who travel for business said that they miss face-to-face meetings.
“We know people miss creating meaningful relationships that come from face-to-face interaction. Business meetings and leisure travel will take time to come back but we are confident it will,” she says. “In the meantime, we are putting all the right procedures and programs in place to ensure our guests have a clean and safe stay experience, whether they are travelling for leisure or business.
“Rapid on-site testing allows for meeting attendees and guests to have an added peace of mind that they are in a safe environment.”