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[Herald Interview] Hotels prepare for post-coronavirus era

Park Hyatt Seoul General Manager Samuel Dabinett (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
Park Hyatt Seoul General Manager Samuel Dabinett (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Touch-free services may be the key focus for hotels in the post-coronavirus era, according to Park Hyatt Seoul General Manager Samuel Dabinett.

Luxury hotel Park Hyatt Seoul shut down in March after a guest confirmed with COVID-19 visited the hotel. After a nearly two-month break, it reopened in June, changing some of its service manuals in pursuit of contactless service.

During the break, the hotel developed a new QR-code for its compendium, allowing guests to access all the information regarding the hotel on their phones, instead of using paper shared with others. Italian dining restaurant Cornerstone has stopped its morning buffet service, changing to an a-la-carte menu.

“I think the fundamentals have not changed. What we do every day has not changed. We are still here to provide great experiences for our guests. But of course, COVID-19 requires some additional practices and protocols that we have implemented,” the general manager said.

Also, the Hyatt hotel franchise is in the process of rolling out using mobile technology to get into the hotel rooms with radio-frequency identification technology using The World of Hyatt app. Park Hyatt Seoul hopes to implement the new digital key service by next year.

“We are looking at how we can reduce the amount of touch points. So every time you get a bill at a spa or restaurant we are looking at how we can make that digital,” he explained.

Dabinett, who took the general manager position at the hotel since June 2018, highlighted the shutdown gave the hotel and its employees an opportunity for a refurbishment.

“Never would you hear of a time when a hotel shuts down. It was a very unique time for us to repair a lot of things that we had pending,” he said. “We had already been focusing on shutting down the hotel. It was a very unstable time in terms of COVID-19.”

According to Dabinett, there were guests from overseas coming straight into the hotel for self-quarantine, before the government brought in mandatory quarantine measures for foreign entrants in late-March, the general manager said.

“We recognized this. Honestly, it was quite risky. We do not regret that decision at all,” he said.

Lately, staycation guests take up most of the hotel’s occupancy rate as corporate travel has nearly disappeared. Before the pandemic, Park Hyatt Seoul had a strong business travel portfolio.

“Of course, the business has changed. But, during the summer season, we generally see a lot of hocance (a Korean neologism referring to a staycation at a hotel),” he said.

“People want to get out of the house, have a different experience. To be honest, that has not really changed. It has become more popular because people cannot travel.”

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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