The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, and the government’s quick action to virtually close the city’s borders, caused systemic changes to the daily lives of many Hong Kongers. So used to being a hub and destination for millions of domestic and international travellers, this overnight isolation saw businesses struggling to service international operations, and individuals battling to visit family overseas. Suddenly, travelling for pleasure, seemed totally out of the question.
During the initial phases of the pandemic, before quarantine was imposed, Executive Director and CEO of The Chinachem Group, Donald Choi, made a suggestion to his management team at Nina Hospitality.
“We noticed that there was a lot of demand from citizens returning to Hong Kong and choosing to isolate on arrival in a hotel. So I asked our leadership if we could turn one hotel into a specific destination for those coming home.”
And there was more to this than simply marketing it as a quarantine package, Donald notes. “Not only did hardware need to be redesigned, for example to separate ventilation systems, and create independent zones for guests and colleagues, but our back and front of house teams needed to be specially trained. Because the most important thing was for everyone to be safe, both our employees and our guests.”
No-one within Nina Hotels could have predicted, that two and a half years later, they’d be a key cornerstone of the government’s Designated Quarantine Hotel (DQH) programme, now operating 2,975 rooms across four hotels, hosting travellers arriving into the city.
This ultra-formalised and regulated scheme has meant significant additional adaptations to the normal running of the properties. For example, hotels were never designed to serve exclusively room service meals, three times a day, simultaneously. And when you take into account individual tastes, a choice of eight separate set menus, and numerous dietary and religious requirements, you begin to get a taste of the logistical challenges involved.
But its making people feel at home that motivates every Nina team member on a daily basis. When isolating for up to 21 days at a time, guests have no direct contact with any other persons. Therefore its imperative that other forms of connection must be made and maintained by the hotel, whether it be a friendly call from the concierge team, a surprise sundowner drink, games and puzzles, or impromptu tasty treats such as egg custard tarts.
Commenting on these gestures, quarantine guest Jeremy Weltmann explains “it’s a strong message that there was always someone behind the door taking care of you”.
The support of employees has been critical to the success of this initiative, and Donald Choi, reflecting on adding more Nina Hotels to the DQH programme, stated, “Our colleagues in our hotels have been motivated by a vision of serving the community. So, when we increased our number of designated hotels, its because we all believe this is a way to serve the public better. And obviously, because of our training, and because of our extra provisions on personal safety, healthcare and so on, we have removed any anxiety from working in a quarantine hotel.”