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Hospitality groups make nascent efforts to vaccinate industry members

The hospitality industry across the world has been petitioning local governments to prioritise Covid vaccines for its members. A few groups, such as Marriott International and The Leela Group, have also announced support for their staff in the form of vaccination drives and financial cover.

Since countries began rolling out Covid-19 vaccines, the global hospitality industry has been clamouring for governments to recognise its members as frontline workers and prioritise vaccine access for them. This has so far been met with middling success for various reasons, including unequal distribution of vaccines and fresh spikes in Covid cases since the beginning of 2021. 

Global efforts to vaccinate hotel workers

In February, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced hotel employees should receive an early Covid vaccination due to their close proximity to guests. While the federal body did not make its recommendation mandatory for states, it elevated hotel employees to a category below frontline workers, which granted them access to the vaccine under Phase 1C of the country’s Covid vaccine distribution programme.

The government of the state of New York has announced hotel staff will get vaccinations on priority. (Photo: Unsplash) (Image for representational purposes only.)

In response to the news, American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) President Chip Rogers said the move added “another layer of protection” to employees working with international and domestic customers. “Travel and tourism are critical drivers of the American economy, and while travel demand has hit record lows, ensuring hotel employees are prioritized during the vaccine rollout will help keep both employees and guests safe when it becomes safe to travel and resume meetings and events once again,” he said in a statement. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, hotels across the US have opened their doors to healthcare workers and first responders, and offered unoccupied portions to local governments to use for Covid vaccine distribution. The US, India and Brazil have seen the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world.

Nevada was one of the first states in the US to prioritise vaccinations for members of the hospitality industry.

In January, the government declared casino and resort workers part of the fourth category of workers eligible for the vaccine through its “frontline/essential workforce lane”, and in March, the state’s Clark County opened up vaccines to staff at hotels, resorts, casinos and restaurants in Las Vegas. Caesars Entertainment Inc., the largest casino owner in the world, has launched a vaccination drive for all its company employees on the Las Vegas strip. MGM Resorts, the largest employer in Nevada is also offering Covid-19 vaccines to its workers at its MGM Grand Detroit hotel-casion, reports AP. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, leisure and hospitality employees make up a quarter of the state’s total private workforce. 

Shortly after the CDC’s directive, New York mayor Andrew Cuomo in March announced that hotel staff would be prioritised as essential workers.

The state has been among the worst affected by the Covid pandemic in the US. “Hotels in many parts of the state serve as quarantine areas for Covid positive persons to isolate from their families. In turn, the staff at these facilities are being exposed to Covid regularly,” Cuomo’s office wrote in a statement. “Given the overall increase to the state’s supply and the essential health care service that these hotel workers provide, the Governor is granting localities the flexibility to add hotel workers to the 1B vaccine prioritization group,” it added.

In late April, the government of Western Australia made it mandatory for all workers in quarantine hotels to get vaccinated by May 10. This applies to security personnel, cleaners, and hotel staff who have contact with guests and guest’s rooms, medical and health staff, reported Reuters.

The Pfizer vaccine has been made available to workers in quarantine hotels since late February. Health Minister Roger Cook said that the state’s vaccination programme has “included pop-up clinics, setting up a dedicated call centre, providing information sessions for hotel quarantine workers and making phone calls to security personnel.” 

The Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) has been petitioning the Indian government to classify all tourism, travel and hospitality staff in the country as frontline workers and to put in motion a policy that allows them to be vaccinated irrespective of their age.

However, India’s vaccine rollout has been slow to progress with many states facing vaccine shortages as of April 29. While vaccine distribution began in January, essential workers were the primary beneficiaries of the first phase, followed by citizens above 60 years old and those with comorbidities above 45 years. Indians between 18 and 44 years of age will be eligible for the Covid vaccine from May 1. 

Hospitality groups pitch in to encourage Covid vaccinations

Staff at the newly opened The Leela Palace Jaipur have been vaccinated as part of The Leela Group’s Covid vaccination drive. (Photo: Courtesy The Leela Jaipur)

A few hospitality groups have been extending support to their staff to encourage them to get vaccinated. In March, Marriott International Inc announced its employees in the United States and Canada would receive four hours of pay for getting the Covid-19 vaccine. The company added that while it was encouraging employees at its properties to get vaccinated, it has not made it mandatory.

In April, The Leela Group announced the launch of a vaccination drive for associates and members of their immediate family. It has also committed to covering the costs of vaccination for its entire workforce.

According to the company, all associates at The Leela Palace Jaipur and over 60% of the eligible associates at The Leela Palace Chennai, The Leela Goa, the soon to open The Leela Gandhinagar and its corporate office have been vaccinated so far. “The safety and wellbeing of our guests and associates is important to us. We are looking at partnering with health care providers across cities in which we operate to facilitate a Covid vaccination drive for all our associates in a phased manner,” says Anuraag Bhatnagar Chief Operating Officer, The Leela Palaces Hotels and Resorts.

Srikant Peri, General Manager, Hilton Shillm Estate Retreat & Spa.

On March 9, Chalet Hotels Ltd announced it would provide complete vaccination cover for all its employees. The company counts several high-end hotels in India’s top metros under its umbrella from the Marriott Group and Accor. Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa, located between Mumbai and Pune, has vaccinated all of its workers who have been eligible for the jab so far, the hotel’s general manager Srikant Peri tells us. It has also extended its efforts to eligible citizens at Shillim village. “Travel and hospitality are vital to the nation’s economy and its employees should certainly be considered as frontline workers. The government needs to give us adequate recognition and put our associates in the priority category of vaccination in the next extension of categories,” he says. “Vaccinating all team members against Covid-19 would instil trust in travellers in the extensive safety protocols being adopted by the hospitality industry. This would drive the business curve upwards and enable a faster recovery,” he adds.

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