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How the COVID-19 Pandemic Affects the Hospitality Industry

By Sheri L. Hernandez, Ed. D.
Program Director, Hospitality Management, American Public University

As the world confronts the uncertainty and fears surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic, the hospitality industry faces an evolving situation that currently is on shaky ground. Nevertheless, there are many organizations that are making an effort not only to keep their employees working and their guests healthy; they are also doing what they can to help their communities.

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The extent to which the travel, hotel, food service and cruise line industries will be affected financially remains to be seen. Obviously, grounded flights, canceled conventions, quarantined cruise ships and the closing of major amusement resorts will have a negative economic impact not only on those businesses but also on the nation’s economy.

It may seem as if every five minutes, another company sends out a public announcement on how it is being proactive by requiring hand washing, letting employees work from home and sanitizing common areas more regularly and completely than was done previously. The idea is to do whatever we can to stop or slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Nobody Wants to Look Back at the COVID-19 Pandemic and Think We Should Have Done More

A remark I heard recently noted that until we reach the end of this COVID-19 crisis, we really won’t know if the steps taken were overreactions, but we will know if we did not do enough. Nobody wants to look back at the pandemic and think we should have done more.

Schools in many states are closed indefinitely. Colleges and universities are going to online learning and borders are closed. Passengers are being screened and quarantined upon return to the U.S., and restaurants, theaters, sporting events and non-essential businesses have shut down. No one knows when they will return. This uncertainty affects individuals, businesses, and entire industries financially and emotionally.

As governments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to monitor the situation and issue guidance. Major hospitality industry organizations are, too. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), the trade group that supports the $660 billion annual lodging industry, is providing up-to-the-minute facts and guidance for the lodging industry on its coronavirus updates page.

Working to Flatten the COVID-19 Curve

The lodging industry is no stranger to ways to prevent the spread of illness and disease. The AHLA continues to work with its membership to do its part to flatten the COVID-19 pandemic curve. The AHLA is also providing the membership with resources such as local mitigation strategies, updates on cases, and advice for management to keep employees and guests as safe as possible during these uncertain times.

The restaurant industry is also affected by the global pandemic. Some states have ordered restaurants and bars to stop in-house dining while still allowing curbside delivery and to-go orders to be filled. This helps support the social distancing that is required at this time and keeps workers employed. These actions give the public some semblance of normalcy and helps employees continue to earn a paycheck.

How Is Coronavirus Transmitted?

Although there is no proof that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food, the COVID-19 virus can remain on surfaces such as plates and preparation tables. Despite the food service industry’s strict health and hygiene standards, there is still a risk of transmission through social and surface contact, though the risk is deemed to be low.

The FDA has issued guidelines for food service and food processing organizations and at the time of this writing, takeout food is still considered to be safe as long as precautions are taken. Every day, new studies provide clearer information on how long the virus can survive on different surfaces, but there has been no proof that the virus may be transmitted through food.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) seeks to help the food service industry through this difficult time. The NRA is providing information and resources to minimize the impact on the industry’s 15 million or so employees and keep the public they serve safe. The NRA is also providing timely guidance based on CDC recommendations and resources, so the industry can keep the public and their employees safe as the situation continues to evolve.

As a consumer, you may want to support your favorite restaurants by purchasing gift cards or by ordering takeout or delivery to help keep them operational. Government programs are being planned to provide resources like interest-free loans and tax-deferred expenses. Similarly, independent companies like Grubhub are suspending commission fees for deliveries to help reduce the impact that restaurant closures will have on owners and employees.

Even as many business owners and organizations struggle and face uncertainty beyond their control, many organizations are stepping up to ensure people take care of one another. Many school districts are providing free meals to any students who need them.

Also, Uber Eats is waiving delivery fees for independent restaurants. Many distilleries, large and small, have changed their production from spirits to making hand sanitizers to provide an in-demand product to their home communities or to donate to their local healthcare systems to fill an urgent need.

Although the future remains uncertain, the hospitality industry will continue to adapt to meet the needs of guests and employees as best as possible.

Health and safety are always at the forefront of a hospitality organization. One thing is certain: Professional organizations, owners, and employees will keep the welfare, health, and safety of their guests at the forefront. Restaurants and bars may be closed for now, but with the precautions put in place, here’s hoping that they will be back soon and even stronger as a result of the lessons learned.

When we do get to the point that we are looking back on the COVID-19 pandemic, we won’t say we should have done more.

About the Author

Dr. Sheri Hernandez is the Hospitality Management program director for American Public University’s School of Business. She has extensive knowledge of restaurant operations, food safety, purchasing and training. Dr. Hernandez combines her skills as a restaurant manager with her career experience in financial commodity risk management, consulting, and purchasing to enable her to educate her students with a customer-focused, yet financially sound approach to hospitality management.

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