27 Apr 2021 3032
PortoBay Hotels & Resorts PortoBay Hotels & Resorts

‘We do everything we can to keep our guests safe’

Right at the start of the pandemic, Virgílio Silva was invited to take over the management and implementation of the PortoBay group's Health and Safety policy, to better adapt processes and behaviours to the demands that Covid-19 had brought. With twenty years’ experience here in a variety of roles, he is our next PortoBay Insider. Find out in more depth what we are doing and what our commitment is in this very important area.

IN: What has PortoBay been doing to offer its guests the greatest possible safety?

Virgílio Silva: Essentially what it has done over the years is to meet international health and safety standards which has produced very high satisfaction rates from our customers in this particular area.

Even before closing our hotels in March 2020, we immediately followed the guidelines received from national and international health authorities, introducing mechanisms and adapting our existing work processes to the new and demanding standards required.

Over the next three months, we did our homework by investigating the various aspects of how, as we reopened our hotels, we could provide as much safety as possible to our employees and our guests during their stay.

Have there been any structural alterations?

One was very visible: we had to start concentrating our smiles in the upper half of our faces.

More seriously, the beginning of it all was the drafting of a Contingency Plan, covering each risk situation and how to solve it. As this is quite an extensive document, we created a simplified protocol from it for our guests and employees - ‘Together we care’ - covering the essential aspects on how to get along with each other safely, to avoid ever having to activate that Plan.

We had to reorganise common spaces to ensure the necessary distance, remove some pieces of décor that might involve some risk, relocate the hand disinfection stations. Some services had to remain closed to comply with the health authority guidelines.

We also had to rethink the way we communicate with our guests, and remove paper as much as possible. We moved a number of processes online - detailed internal information about each of our operational units, minimising check-in and check-out times by moving formalities to a virtual environment, putting restaurant and bar menus online, and so on.

Signage was also revised in order to meet new communication needs, and became essentially graphic to minimize language barriers. ‘We do everything we can to keep our guests safe’.

And what about the hotels’ daily routine?

We tested the cleaning and disinfection procedures and the products we use in order to validate their effectiveness. Our standards already matched the new requirements, so here we only had to make a few tweaks.

In the common areas we increased the frequency of the daily disinfection and cleaning routines, adapting them to each space, in order to eliminate the possibility of transmission through contact between surfaces. As these are shared areas, we had to look more carefully at our décor, at the types of the materials used, and we discovered that some very beautiful things can complicate the effectiveness of this work. In these cases we looked for other ways to achieve safe results. Or other equally beautiful things.

In the restaurants and bars, while on the one hand the distance rules initially put some constraints on us in terms of space, it was gratifying to see how the teams themselves took a better look at those places and managed to discover new areas to provide service at the level we were used to, without compromising safety.

For the available options that could involve more risk, such as buffets, we rethought our service models and introduced procedures so that meals could remain moments of pleasure, and we eliminated factors of concern.

The same applied to gyms, spas and pools; we respected the same precautions on respiratory etiquette, distancing, cleaning and disinfection efficiency, and we cancelled activities where body contact may occur - almost inevitable in spas, but possible if these rules are strictly followed.

How do we check that we are doing everything correctly?

Our hotels are regularly audited by SGS, an international consulting firm with an excellent reputation and long experience in biological risk assessment.

The audits cover a wide range of parameters that need to be checked, leading to corrective measures where necessary. SGS has also proven to be a valuable partner in this work by advising us on solutions to the few issues that have been identified, as well as suggesting opportunities for improvement in biorisk management at our hotels.

Currently, PortoBay groups hotels in Portugal are certified for best practices in biorisk management, such as COVID-19.

Have the teams been trained?

Before the reopening, all our staff received training, both general and specific to each operational area. However, being aware of the need for practices and behaviours not to be limited to working hours, the training also focused on the extreme importance of extending the scope of this care to everyday life outside the hotel.

Subsequently, based on the experience we gathered in different situations that occurred in the various hotels, the evolution of the pandemic and the guidelines and recommendations from government and scientific authorities, we reinforced this initial training through specific sessions to clarify doubts and possible changes in procedures.

Interestingly, during the various training sessions I sensed an increased interest in learning from my colleagues while asking questions during and after the training sessions. Changes to procedures involved some additional work and even some discomfort in having to work for several consecutive hours with a surgical mask, but these were accepted as an insignificant price to pay for being able to work safely, and to provide safety for others as well.

What has this challenge meant for the teams? And for you?

For the teams, I think the key was to overcome their fears about the possibility of being infected while at work. So an important component of the training before returning to work was transparency in explaining the different risks that COVID-19 posed and the best ways to avoid them.

Fortunately, in the very few positive cases that were identified at our hotels, mainly from guests but also from some employees, all of them external in origin, there was no contagion for the people who were in close contact with those cases. After a certain point, there was a noticeable feeling from the teams that the safest place to spend their day was probably their workplace, as they realized that the protocol they were following kept them safe.

Although in 40 years of experience in this sector I can say that I have done a little bit of everything in hospitality, once again it has been proven, I would say unfortunately in this case, that there is always something new around the corner. Perhaps more than other challenges I have faced in the past, this is one that is equally significant in professional and personal terms. Everything that I have had to learn and practice became important for the whole 24 hours of the day, in a way I never felt before in other phases of my professional life.

After all, the focus of my work had always been to provide moments well-spent in pleasant surroundings. Suddenly, I had to put the lives of guests and colleagues first, and find ways to prevent the hotel from becoming a risky place.

Finally, have you got anything new you’d like to share?

Yes, obviously we have been keeping an eye on developments in our guests' home countries. And we realise that as the borders reopen it is expected that on their return home travellers will have to provide proof of their health status via a COVID-19 test. 

We have therefore established partnerships with hospitals in each of our destinations so that, if necessary, our guests can take this test, preferably without leaving the hotel. Bookings can be made through our reception desks so that the test can be done on the most convenient date for the requirements of each country, with medical personnel coming to the hotel to carry out the test. The results are sent by e-mail a few hours later, in time for your onward journey.

We will soon be giving full details about this programme through the communication channels with our customers.

Upcoming insiders . ..

This conversation with Virgílio Silva is part of the new section of the IN PortoBay blog called "PortoBay Insiders”. The aim of this section is to help readers get to know the faces behind the hotel group. Stay tuned for the upcoming ‘PortoBay Insiders’ !! To always stay up to date with news subscribe here. .. so that our articles reach you.
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