Nicolas Kyndt, Geneva-based global vice president for SGS, about the Clean & Safe Protocol
In June 2020, HRS and SGS launched the groundbreaking Clean & Safe Protocol. The initiative provides global corporations and hotels with a universally-understood labeling display that quickly conveys enhanced hygiene practices at individual properties. As the managed travel industry begins to re-emerge from Coronavirus pandemic, 86% of corporate travel decision makers are saying that lodging with a revised Covid-19-driven hygiene standard is a number 1 priority, such information is crucial to reassuring both corporate hotel departments and business travelers that it’s safe to get back on the road.
The Clean & Safe Protocol in Partnership with SGS
Two months after launch, the industry clearly has embraced the Clean & Safe Protocol. More than 50,000 hotels worldwide have gone through the protocol, earning labels that appear in the online booking systems used by 35% of the Global Fortune 500. As September gets underway, companies are commencing the redefined hotel procurement process for 2021, focusing on traveler duty of care just as much as rate bundles, flexibility and amenities. The world’s three largest public hotel companies have signed on to the protocol, and chains like Radisson are publicly touting their participation as well.
Groundbreaking innovation for the hotel industry
SGS brings unquestionable value to this equation. HRS spoke with Nicolas Kyndt, Geneva-based global vice president for SGS, about their expertise in inspection and hygiene and their choice to get more deeply engaged in the hospitality vertical.
Thanks for taking some time to talk with us Nicolas. Might you give an overview of SGS’ history, global footprint and the kind of companies you have worked with in the past?
Nicolas Kyndt: SGS started as a grain inspection company 148 years ago. Today, SGS has 2,600 laboratories and offices in more than 150 countries, with more than 89,000 employees. We have a diverse global client base, which includes corporations and governments. Fundamentally, we try to help organizations meet local regulations, but are seeing more companies getting into voluntary initiatives to go the extra mile.
As for me, I work in the Environment, Health & Safety division, where our mission is to protect people at their workplace, when traveling, at home, wherever they are. And that certainly includes hotels, where we’ve made significant investments and inroads in recent years.
You mentioned that SGS works with governments and institutions. Tell us how their requirements have changed and how SGS has worked with those organizations in light of COVID-19?
Nicolas Kyndt: Early in the crisis, as early as mid-March, SGS was contacted by a number of tourism boards and hotel associations who said “We need to help our members, we need to help our hotels. Can SGS help us create protocols to help bring guests back and reopen those businesses?”
It’s important to note that SGS has already been extensively engaged in the hospitality industry; has been for decades. We’ve worked with tour operators on their health and safety programs for years. In 2019, SGS performed over 15,000 hotel audits around the world – to check hotels before tour operators sent their guests there, looking at food safety, water safety, building safety, security, etc. We’ve also worked for hospitality clients, handling many requests to equip hotels to improve indoor air quality.
To address the pandemic, SGS partnered with medical experts, hygiene experts and cleaning experts to develop and share knowledge. We helped organizations raise awareness, educating them by staging webinars and training sessions such as “What should a hotel do to properly clean their hotel?” and “Measures for Social Distancing.”
Beyond those steps, today we are assisting hotels around the world by testing their water for Legionella Disease, which is big risk now that hotels have been closed for a long period of time and water hasn’t been cycling through the pipes.
The current crisis won’t end with COVID, but will push the importance of hygiene even more in the future.
Have there been any specific learnings, particularly in the last six months, as you’ve been reframing how you work with your hospitality clients and institutions? Any new thresholds when it comes to how you provide certifications and assurances for properties?
Nicolas Kyndt: It’s clear that hospitality Industry takes this topic very seriously. There is a clear willingness to engage and apply the right measures to make the hotel or their facilities safe.
Initially, there was anxiety to receive feedback, not only with the inspection itself, but also when it comes to drafting and creating the protocols and the processes for them to share internally with their difference franchisees or hotel brands within their respective portfolios. Many of these entities quickly learned that they needed external support, as this challenge was obviously something new, they didn’t know well, and they knew they needed to be better prepared.
We have a unique vantage point at SGS, as we are covering a wide range of different sectors. The hotel industry has probably been the industry which took this pandemic and the required measures the most seriously. We’ve seen huge demand, as their guests need to be reassured that when they spend a night in the hotels that the place will be safe and that it will be their little heaven after being out there the whole day and being exposed.
Travelers want to make sure when they go into their room, they can trust that they’ll be able to relax and be safe. That question of trust is extremely important and building that trust is where we are helping our clients.
As you offer recommendations and counsel hoteliers, what has their reaction been when you give them your reports? What kind of reaction are you seeing?
Nicolas Kyndt: Most hotels were better prepared for COVID than we initially imagined. I think most of them drafted their own approach at first. Of course, when you talk about large organizations, they typically have a structure in place. We were pleased to see similar structures in place with smaller hotel groups and independent hotels. In most cases, they’ve been following the guidance that is provided by governments and regions. They usually have something already in place, which is always a great first step.”
Once they learned about our partnership with HRS, their reaction was very positive about what we collectively are trying to accomplish. They feel that they’re being taken by the hand to go through the protocol, with an end goal that serves them in their goal to see corporate volume return when companies get back on the road. Hotels have been receptive to our suggestions, and generally willing to do more.
What would you say to travel buyers on the state of cleanliness and hospitality?
Nicolas Kyndt: A lot of people are really waiting to get back on the road and meet clients, but there is also a natural apprehension from some business travelers. That’s why the program HRS has put forward makes so much sense for corporations, as it provides a minimum level of insurance that the hotels they recommend will be a safe place for their staff to stay. This is really the key.
Travel managers need to take steps to give travelers confidence that if and when they travel to a particular destination, guidance and advice are in place to help them minimize their risk of being infected. The ramifications are real – in case of infection, once a traveler comes back home they will have to put themselves into a self-quarantine, for two weeks, three weeks. So the impact on the staff, the impact on the resources could be dramatic.
The way to avoid that is to trust programs like the Clean and Safe Protocol from HRS, which allows programs to short list those hotels that have taken the pandemic seriously and enhanced their hygiene protocols. The fact that HRS is backed up by an independent, globally-credible company like SGS gives companies this level of trust. As the corporate hotel procurement “season” for 2021 kicks off in earnest this September, it’s more important than ever. We truly share a mutual goal with HRS here – keeping business travelers safe – and we’re pleased to be a part of this successful initiative.