Hotel becomes home during COVID-19

By Rebecca Castellano
U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart

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By the time the DOD stop movement order hit the Stuttgart community on March 25, the Stuttgart Army lodging team had been preparing for over a month to combat COVID-19.

“We took note of what our counterparts around the world were experiencing and began to prepare for the worst in early February,” said Stuttgart Army Lodging Manager Chris Morris.

As the first cases of COVID surfaced within the community, employees took on new duties on top of their regular requirements. Michael Marzett, a member of the supply team, began delivering groceries to isolated guests and staff as well as waiting in line at several stores to secure needed supplies.

“I basically drove around to any store within a 20-mile radius looking for face masks, gloves, air purifiers, anything we may need to ensure that our employees and anyone who walked through our door would be safe,” said Marzett. “And I didn’t mind, because it needed to be done.”

While the supply department was ensuring the hotel had what it needed to maintain operations, Michal Meth, a front-desk employee, developed a new “touchless” check-in system to limit risk of contamination.

“When someone arrives, they come to the front desk with their ID card and a copy of their orders. They show us, we verify the card on file is theirs and we have a packet waiting in the room for them,” said Meth. “Basically, everything they need to know is in the packet and they can review, sign it and then email or IMessage it to us. It is less face-to-face interaction and it eliminates the need to touch the same things.”

Morris praised his team’s creativity and ingenuity in the face of an invisible enemy.

“What kept our operation mission capable was a combination of the courage and strong desire to serve of each and every member of the hotel staff,” said Morris. “They didn’t need to be motivated, they wanted to be here.”

As most of the community switched to teleworking in early March, the hotel staff continued to provide lodging for displaced community members. In total, the team logged more than 720 hours of over-time since the start of COVID.

Between March and April, 18 employees had to quarantine, several with a confirmed case of COVID. Despite the risk of contamination, Meth said she never considered staying home as an option.

“It was a no-brainer,” she said. “So many were going out sick. I knew management and my fellow-employees were working around the clock and I just wanted to alleviate stress and help out where I could.”

Housekeeping supervisor Ümmü Kanis said clear communication from management helped her feel safe at work.

“Management gave us all of the information we needed. They gave us everything necessary to protect ourselves and the guests. And they were always checking on us and making sure we were ok,” she said.

Kanis explained that while COVID limited their ability to clean rooms every day, they delivered towels and supplies, using gloves and masks, and wiped door handles from the outside after each interaction. The housekeeping staff did their best to answer questions and explain procedures so their guests would feel protected.

“We want them to feel at home while keeping them safe. It lets them know that they’re in a good community, where we take care of each other,” said Kanis.

From delivering extra cookies with COVID memes attached, to increasing wellness checks on quarantined guests, the team found new ways to deliver hospitality in socially distant times. Hotel Operations Clerk Amy Robida said it was their mission to be a place guests could go for clear guidance to help them safely integrate into the community.

“We’re the first people telling them how quarantine works and they’re spending that time with us,” said Aimee Robida, the hotel’s operations clerk. “We really are the frontlines for people who are traveling during this crazy time.”

Robida believes that the staff executed that goal perfectly and bonded over their shared experiences.

“It’s amazing what our team did and accomplished,” said Robida. “I think the people who were a part of the lodging team during COVID have a special bond now, and we’ll be a tight-knit group after all that we’ve gone through together.”

The staff will use that bond and all that they have learned in their next challenge – a very busy PCS season.

“Now with people traveling again, we have to be even more careful because the threat is still there,” said Robida. “But again, we’ve been preparing for this, we knew this was coming and we’re ready to handle it.”