By Daniel Llanto

In preparation for the anticipated shift to a less stringent general community quarantine (GCQ) for June 1, the Department of Tourism (DoT) instructed anew hotels, resorts and other tourism establishments to observe health and safety protocols when they re-open for tourists.

Memorandum Circular 2020-002 signed by Tourism Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat spells out the “New Normal Health and Safety Guidelines for Accommodation Establishments,” which cover guest handling, rooms and housekeeping, food and beverage (F&B) service, kitchen sanitation and disinfection, public areas, hotel transport service, engineering and maintenance service, business practices and management, suppliers of goods and services, management of symptomatic guests, notification and referral of such guests and other reportorial requirements to the DoT.

The safety protocols include on-line payments, double occupancy rooms and no handshakes.  Based on the DoT memo, guests would be required to complete a health declaration form upon check-in and “encouraged” to pay for bookings on-line.

Their body temperature would be checked “using a thermal scanner at the hotel entrances by qualified health or medical staff or trained hotel personnel. Those with fever or flu-like symptoms will not be allowed to enter the establishment” and be referred to the proper medical staff or establishment.

Hotels are now required to provide sanitizing mats “at all entry points,” which guests can use to disinfect their shoes. Hotel staff would no longer be required to show guests to their rooms after check-in unless strict physical distancing is followed.

Hotels are also required to provide a medical kit and protective personal equipment (PPE) at the reception which includes: disinfectant wipes for surface cleaning, face mask or shield, bio-hazard disposable waste bag, alcohol or alcohol-based sanitizer, tissue paper/napkin/paper towel and disposable gloves.

Establishments must clearly mark on the floor the 1-meter distance between guests when forming a queue.

Instead of a handshake, reception and front desk officers can greet or welcome guests with the “Mabuhay Gesture” (right palm placed over the heart) or contact-less forms of greeting.

In a Viber message, Hotel Sales and Management Association Inc. (HSMA) President Christine Ann Ibarreta, said, “We are grateful to the DoT for issuing the new guidelines, and we hope through a regular review of these rules and as more hotels re-open, we can help the agency further improve or refine them.”

Ibarreta added that the HSMA is “especially thankful to Sec. Romulo-Puyat who heeded our appeal and allowed the full operation of our hotels.” Earlier, the DoT planned that only 50 percent of a hotel’s guest rooms be open.

The DoT memo also allows up to double occupancy bookings. “Couples or family members who share the same household may be allowed in double or twin occupancy rooms. A distance of 1 to 2 meters between beds is highly encouraged.”

Ibarreta said, “We clarified this rule especially since we have member-resorts which offer family rooms. There are families who live together under one roof and want to stay in only one room.”

She added that the DoT also promised to review the rules covering recreational areas, like gyms and swimming pools, which allow hotels to open them. But she noted, “We are not allowed to accept leisure guests for now.”

Hotels will also provide each guest with a “sanitation kit…which may include alcohol or alcohol-based sanitizers, disinfectant sprays, face masks, disposable gloves and rags.” A separate trash bin for the disposable PPEs shall be provided each room. Turndown (of bed linens) service is also highly discouraged.

The DoT requires each room to be thoroughly disinfected using bleach solution before a new guest occupies it. Hotels are highly encouraged to use “enhanced technologies, such as electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectants, HEPA filter, or germicidal UV lighting system, at least once every two weeks.” DoT also “highly discourages” minibars and other complimentary in-room F&B except bottled water.