The question on everyone’s lips is: “How do I manage a high-paying customer who refuses to comply with COVID-19 regulations?”.
Many members of the industry worry that enforcing the regulations with non-compliant travellers is a contravention of hospitality, and that they risk angering and alienating their clientele.
As an industry, we need to start with a shift in perception. Hospitality has never meant giving a guest ‘whatever they want’ regardless of the law, or the limitations of a business.
Being a part of the hospitality industry means being generous, friendly, welcoming and entertaining. However, there is still room in that definition for us to protect our staff, our businesses, and – importantly – our travellers.
COVID regulations are not something that individuals can choose to ignore just because they don’t want to comply. They are laws laid out by South Africa’s Disaster Management Act, and it is illegal to be found in contravention of them.
Ask yourself, “In the past, if a traveller arrived and wanted to partake of illegal substances, would I have allowed it? If a traveller wanted to steal from me, or other guests, would I have allowed that?”.
Enforcing COVID regulations should be viewed in the same light as enforcing any other law. The non-compliant guest is engaging in dangerous and illegal behaviour.
This behaviour puts your staff and other travellers at risk, which puts your business at risk of litigation if you allow it.
Placing your business at risk
Lucien Niemann, executive director of Africa Rescue & Africa SAFE-T, explains that both the business and the traveller will be held liable if regulations aren’t followed. “This is non-negotiable. Unlike the Tourism Business Council of South Africa’s recommended protocols, these regulations are law. Not enforcing them is the same as inviting a guest to do cocaine if they prefer. It’s illegal. Even if the activity is located on a private property it is still a commercial enterprise and falls under the occupational laws set up regarding COVID.”
He recommends that businesses have a plan of action in place, in accordance with up-to-date medical guidelines, as to how to enforce these regulations on the ground. “This can include frequent signage to remind guests of the requirements, or even PPE kits that are distributed on arrival.”
Establishing a plan of action
According to Stephen de Beer, director of Martin and de Beer Inc, your plan also needs to include up-to-date paperwork. “The best defence is a good offence. It is important that you lay out the behaviour expected of travellers during the COVID pandemic in your terms and conditions. Explain that certain behaviour is illegal and places your business at risk of litigation. You should also include the consequences for travellers if they fail to comply.”
Every traveller should sign their agreement to abide by these T&Cs before they utilise your services. Then, should they fail to comply, there is a set precedent and protocol for what happens next, which they have already agreed to.
De Beer further suggests that you ensure:
- you have done an introspection on where your business practices would be most likely to place travellers at risk. “You know the particulars of your business better than anyone. It’s crucial that you assess the possible risks and the most effective ways that you can implement the TBCSA’s protocols to mitigate them. This protects you against legal action should a traveller contract COVID on a trip and wish to sue.”
- you don’t self-certify as compliant if you are unable to comply with the full set of protocols, as this will immediately put you at risk of litigation. “It is better for you to draw up a list of the protocols you do comply with and the areas that you can’t ‘due to the nature of your operations’ and have travellers sign this.”
- the implementation of the protocols you have laid out for yourself without fail. “Staff should be trained and asked to sign personal liability if they defect from training. Suppliers should also be contracted to adhere to your protocols.”
- you document the COVID protocols you adhere to every day. “The more detailed the paper trail, the better. If you follow these guidelines, you’re exponentially less likely to face litigation, because the prosecutor will quickly realise they have little to no case. You’re also far more likely to get traveller buy-in.”
Not only should this help to establish traveller behaviour requirements upfront, making enforcement easier, but it is also likely to help protect against negative online reviews from non-compliant travellers. In the first instance, they will know they are wrong from the outset, but if they choose to proceed despite this, you will have enough in your arsenal to have the negative reviews removed or discredited.
You’re also likely to improve your reputation with those travellers who are impressed by how thorough your commitment is to provide COVID-conscious holidays that keep them and their loved ones safe.
or more information watch SATIB’s webinar on COVID-19 liability and risk mitigation within the South African travel industry https://www.satib.co.za/liability-legal-implications-webinar/
And if you’d like to find out more about how to manage the ‘unrealistic’ expectations of the domestic traveller, tune into SATIB’s next webinar and register here.