How COVID-19 has affected small businessesGwendolyn Torres
We are past the one year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown in the Philippines and as a small, family-owned & operated boutique hotel, I wanted to share what the year has been like for us. I'm hoping some of you read this and keep up the fight against Covid. We are not done yet, but all of us... our collective efforts count.
This story is a personal one... one some of you might relate to. Perhaps some of you need to hear it because you are losing hope. I was there... at a point of lost hope, but this is a story of pushing forward, finding your way, trusting in others, fighting for others...
And then all of a sudden, on March 15, the announcement was made about lockdown (we hesitated to call it lockdown at the time... so many governments called it different things). We had only days to cancel all reservations, cancel all event bookings, issue Certificates of Employment for our employees, create chat groups that would allow us to keep in touch just in case there were emergencies or we needed to get a hold of each other and figure out if our employees would be paid during this lockdown... for how long? What kind of assistance would be given by the government? My emails and calls to HR to figure things out were constant the first few weeks. I could feel the fear and frustration in the company chat group. I had to balance out their needs with our limited resources not knowing how long business would be affected.
I had an employee who was all alone here and her family in the province. I had to decide quickly if I should just let her go home, pay her for the rest of the month (with no output) or risk her being stuck here for months, not seeing her family. I decided on family first. "Go home to your family... I highly doubt this will last only a few months."
The next few weeks would be a blur for an entrepreneur like myself managing a family business and my own. What to do? What to expect? How do you calm people's fears when facing my own? I am sure many faced the same, if not more, than myself.
Within days of the lockdown, March 19, I found myself with a fever: 37.5, which was one of the early symptoms of Covid circulating around at the time. I put down the thermometer in grief wondering what I could possibly do to save the businesses and now... I was sick... How do I tell my senior mother and my grade school daughter?
In tears, I told them: "I need to go to the ER. I have a fever and I'm not sure what this is, but I need to make sure you guys are safe."
I went to 2 hospitals: the first one confirmed I had pneumonia, but could not admit me because the hospital was full and their Covid tests were only for those admitted. The second hospital looked at my pneumonia results, administered a test and then sent me home because the hospital was full again and they couldn't admit me. I saw elderly coughing and wheezing being turned away.
Our hotel was empty at the time. We were prohibited from operating at the time. So instead of going home where my senior mother, elderly kasambahay and grade school daughter would be exposed, I secluded myself to the topmost room of our empty hotel and instructed our caretaker not to come near me or enter my room.
The next week would have me passionately calling doctors, lawyers, government offices telling them that we could use hotels for quarantine facilities like I was doing. We just need protocols set in place. As a patient, I observed every little thing that we did in the hotel while I was a guest and wrote them down as protocol. Working with government, doctors and lawyers, I ran these protocols by them and asked if we could operate to test this model out. We were allowed. By April, just two weeks after lockdown, we were operating as a quarantine facility for essential workers. I warned them on the first week that I was in the farthest room quarantining and waiting for my test results. I did not leave my room and everything was brought to my door.
Test result came out negative on day 7, but my doctor and I were concerned that the test was a false negative given it is new and those administering may not be experienced yet. So I quarantined another 7 days just to make sure as he treated my pneumonia. The last 7 days, I spent coordinating with staff regarding protocols and new fee structure to accommodate quarantining guests.
I had no time to feel sorry for myself. I had no time to grieve over the possibility I might have Covid. Every thought was devoted to how to move forward. How to keep the jobs. How to serve those in need. And while I struggled to communicate with some team members who were too afraid to work, we worked with those that would. Rewarded them with additional compensation for their courage and loyalty. These times were trying for everyone. It tested resolve and resilience.
We made it through 2020 as a quarantine facility for essential workers. Then 2021 came and things changed again with the new strain. Again, we reassessed our protocols, worked with the government and upgraded our certification to Stringent.
After almost 1 year as a quarantine facility, we have found that these protocols have worked to keep the staff and the guests safe. For those in the hotel industry, we highly encourage you to follow them as we have, even if you are now accommodating staycations. For those beginning to travel, remember that these protocols are set in place to keep the staff and yourselves safe. We are in this together:
- Mask & face shield when around people. Stay socially distant. No touching.
- Guests are advised not to leave their rooms and congregate in common areas.
- PPE's for housepersons entering rooms and drivers transporting guests. Make sure those PPEs are disinfected after every use. Provide a shower facility for workers so that they may disinfect prior to going home. Minimize all contact with guests.
- Disinfect circulation areas where foot traffic occurs regularly. Rule of thumb: Train your staff to disinfect like a stalker. Watch where people are and mist or/and UV light as needed.
- Implement touchless check in, check out and payment systems.