Hospitality Business Magazine

Safety paramount as Swiss-Belhotel International leads vaccination policy

With its Australian and New Zealand hotels operating at just 10 to 25 percent capacity right now, Swiss-Belhotel International is planning to follow the government’s lead, requiring staff and guests to be vaccinated.

“The health and safety of our guests are paramount and we are implementing a 100% vaccination requirement to stay with us and work with us,” says Kiwi Swiss-Belhotel International chairman and president, Gavin Faull.

Swiss-Belhotel International chairman and president, Gavin Faull.

The international hotel management chain operates 145 hotels for various owners in 20 different countries with its four New Zealand hotels and one Australian hotel in Sydney the first to adopt a vaccination passport policy, likely from early December.

There are still a few grey areas being ironed out legally. “We’re still in the process of obtaining legal assistance and there are more and more communications coming from the government,” says Gavin. “We take what they say and apply it. I imagine they will have to legislate it. There will be a litmus test.”

“This is a world first for us,” says Gavin, with all of the chain’s other hotels around the world already operating without vaccination only policies. “We are hoping to be operating in Sydney and New Zealand by the early December.”

There have been many logistics to work through and challenges to overcome to become one of the first operators in this country to introduce vaccination passports, the technology for which is not yet available in New Zealand.

There were two major hurdles to overcome, says Gavin. “One was getting people, staff, to understand that we had to do this. The uptake was a bit slow, but when the government put pressure on, we did.”

Several staff resigned rather than be vaccinated and replacements were now being sought. “You just make it happen with staff relationships,” he says. “Staff have been very co-operative once it’s been explained to them why we’re doing this,” says Gavin.

Swiss-Belhotel International Pounamu, Queenstown.

Swiss-Belhotel International employs 10,000 staff across its hotels throughout the world, spanning from Switzerland, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.

With latest research revealing that booster shots will be required after six months, Gavin says the mechanics of the passports is still being worked on.

“We will wait to hear what the authorities tell us, but we’re doing this for the safety of everybody,” he says. “We had to move with the opinion polls, what we see on the TV news, what’s coming across in our Zoom calls every day.”

He’s hoping the new policy, if able to proceed, will be self-policing. “It depends how guests co-operate, but I would expect they will scan to enter and our staff will have to ask for proof before service in our restaurants and bars.”

There will be a cost to administer the new system and monitor doors and entry points at a time when hoteliers are really hurting, says Gavin. It would be just another requirement that hotels need to adhere to – “another layer of bureaucracy”.

“We just have to start getting out there and running our economy and start getting some economic confidence and business confidence back,” he says.

Strict new hygiene and safety standards are already in place and Swiss-Belhotel International’s New Zealand and Australian properties have independent air conditioning systems in all of the rooms as an added layer of ventilation safety.

“We are very careful about all of our air filtration systems and we don’t operate any central air conditioning systems in New Zealand and Australia,” says Gavin. The company’s overseas properties operate centralised systems, but he says management goes to great lengths to ensure optimum safety.

It’s been an extremely difficult 20 months. Occupancies are not strong at present coming out of the worldwide tourism crisis, however, the Middle East is still “very strong” for Swiss-Belhotel International.

Malaysia has just re-opened and that market is very strong too, says Gavin. Indonesia is operating at about 60 to 70 percent occupancy with the Philippines at 60 percent. “We’ve had to cut costs and inject funds into our resources,” he says.

Auckland-based Gavin’s role normally entails travelling worldwide around the company’s 10 regional offices for 11 months of the year. It’s been a tough road for the entire team.

“I spend six to eight hours a day on Zoom and I talk to every office every day, starting at 3.30pm with New Zealand, then Australia, Hong Kong, Vietnam and the others, finishing with Dubai about 10pm,” he says.

“Our team is working very well together. The attitude is good. Anyone who didn’t have a good attitude has dropped off long ago,” he says.

Swiss-Belhotel International is about to open its fourth New Zealand property, Swiss-Belboutique Napier, with two in Queenstown and one in Auckland. “We are looking at opening two or three more in New Zealand too.”