Married to an Aussie for nearly 40 years, it’s given me a more informed perspective on how Australia, and New Zealand for that matter, have faired during this pandemic. Without getting into the statistics, which you can look up on Google on your own time, it’s plain to see that many countries in APAC have handled this crisis commendably when compared to those nations in other parts of the world. And therein, hoteliers should look Down Under for guidance on what’s next for their properties.
Let’s take a step back and consider two big events in Australia’s history that will perhaps give more context for why Australia has done so well, even when compared to other Commonwealth nations that have a similar system of governance as passed down from the British Empire.
Firstly, Australia has always been a land of ‘scarcity breeds ingenuity’. Even before the terraforming efforts from early European settlers, the continent has been always been hostile to stable living conditions. It’s over four-fifths desert, with the farmable areas constantly shifting between floods and droughts (now exacerbated by climate change), and home to some of the most poisonous animals on the planet.
Amongst many other factors, this is perhaps one of the leading undercurrents to explain why Australia was the first nation to give women the right to vote in federal elections in 1902. And no doubt this attitude of constantly shifting one’s mindset to adapt to the times has played in a role in how well the country has responded to this crisis.
Second to consider would be the cane toads. While most of you may recall the joking reference to this event in a classic episode of The Simpsons, it is perhaps the pinnacle of examples of the dangerous effects of bringing invasive species into new ecosystems where no natural predators exist. If you think murder hornets are bad, look back to the intentional introduction of a handful of cane toads from Hawaii to the Australian mainland in 1935 as a means of improving the sugar crop. There are now millions of this pest, predominantly in Queensland, and no clear way to eliminate them.
As this introduction occurred several generations ago, it has influenced Australia’s policy towards the environment and, importantly, its people’s understanding of the importance of quarantine. Until recently, arriving in Australia via airplane would entail some form of disinfecting spray prior to disembarking as well as a more detailed questioning of your previous travels at customs. This has meant that, overall, Australians were predisposed to having a better comprehension of the benefits of lockdown heading into the pandemic.
Those two historic presets aside, one policy that Australia has enacted is one that every hotelier should consider when mulling over how to strategically reposition a property for the post-Covid world. In broad terms, they require all incoming travelers to quarantine for 14 days at a designated hotel, all at the traveler’s expense for a flat fee of $3000 per adult and with no direct contact to the outside world during this time. Travelers are required to get two Covid tests during this time, with refusal to get tested resulting in a second 14-day stretch of isolation.
With the push to get the engines of international commerce churning again, this model may be adopted by other nations as a means to accommodate international arrivals and help get hotels some revenues while still not inviting new localized surges of coronavirus cases. Particularly as many properties situated in larger urban markets (and popular arrival points for international travelers) are in dire straits when it comes to servicing debt, this ‘quarantine hotel’ proposition may present a path to solvency when faced with no other viable options for generating enough revenues to keep the doors open.
Still, it’s a double-edged sword. Being known as an isolation center comes with a hefty amount of reputational baggage that’s almost irreversible in the public’s eye. That is, once you make the decision to start harboring quarantining travelers for a fixed fee in order to attain some more cashflow, you may end up shutting your property off from other sources of revenue because all other segments will come to view your hotel as a place with an increased likelihood of infection.
In most cases, this represents a binary switch and not one that should be considered lightly. While it may come to pass that we get out of this without having to adopt the Australian model on a global scale, this is one possibility that you should be aware of, and certainly there are other lessons you can learn about hotel management in the post-Covid world from Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and other APAC nations that have kept their numbers lower than most.