Analysis: Hotel G under spotlight after PR gaffe for declining room to TTSH staff

Hotel G has apologised for declining a room reservation to an individual working at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. According to an image circulating online, the initial email to the guest said: "Further to [the] tele-conversation earlier, we will not proceed with room reservation due to the possible risk exposed to the staycation guests, as you are currently working at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and travel to work daily."

On the image were captions that called out Hotel G for discriminating against healthcare workers. One of the captions said: "We are advised to try to segregate from our families but how [can we do so] when we can't even book a room to stay in?". Another stated that healthcare workers are being treated "like modern-day lepers" while still serving the community. Hotel G's spokesperson told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that this is an "isolated case" and it sincerely apologises for the mishandling of the guest communication. The spokesperson added that Hotel G contacted the guest on 12 May to clarify the matter.

"We are aware of an email correspondence between a guest and an associate of the hotel, who shared inaccurate information on the hotel’s booking policy. Associates are undergoing thorough retraining to prevent such miscommunication from happening again," the spokesperson said.

He added that Hotel G strongly appreciates the efforts of all healthcare and frontline staff, as well as the community at large, in these unprecedented times. As a hotel, its primary focus is offering quality service to all our guests. "Please be rest assured that Hotel G does welcome every guest to experience the hotel and there has never been any discrimination," he said. Meanwhile, a handful of users have taken to Hotel G's Facebook to criticise it for discriminating against healthcare workers.

According to health minister Gan Kim Yong, discrimination against healthcare workers is a "very worrisome trend". Just this week, he cited examples of landlords requesting Tan Tock Seng nurses to move out at short notice and healthcare professionals not being able to find taxis after their shift ends, The Straits Times said. This comes amidst a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases that have formed at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in April. Gan said in parliament that the government and hospitals are making arrangements, with hotels and accommodation providers to offer affected healthcare workers alternatives.

Although Hotel G has apologised, SPRG's GM Edwin Yeo said the apology does not seem to address the issue and makes it seem like Hotel G is only providing training to staff now because this incident has gone public. As much as the bulk of the responsibility falls on the staff making such a decision, he is of the view that the hotel should also acknowledge failings on its part.

Ultimately, when a staff fails to act in an appropriate manner, the company must take responsibility for it as well, and the apology does not seem to reflect that.

Also, if this indeed was not the hotel policy and it was a staff who made a bad judgement call, Yeo said it is understandable. However, it does show a gap in Hotel G updating its policies for COVID-19 measures. "You would think that given we have been experiencing the pandemic for over a year, that hotels would have had sufficient time to train all staff how to manage such situations better," he added.

That said, this incident of discrimination might not have as much of an impact on Hotel G's reputation as compared to whether the hotel has proper COVID-19 procedures. During a pandemic, where hotels are a vital part of the fight against the virus as they serve as destinations for stay home notices, Yeo said such incidents make one wonder if Hotel G had properly trained its staff to manage the situation and make them aware of their role as being critical in helping the country in this long battle.

Meanwhile, PRecious Communications' MD and founder, Lars Voedisch, said while it is right to criticise Hotel G, at the end of the day, when people are afraid they do not normally react rationally. He explained that while brands have to be empathetic to frontliners, they also need to be empathetic to their staff and make a call from there as a business. Hence, the benefit of doubt should be given to the hotel.

Slap the hand but let us not burn the building down to the ground, figuratively speaking. 

"I think Hotel G got the message. Instead of being overly fearful, brands should go the other way around and find out how they can support frontliners and healthcare workers," he said. Also when it comes to employee training, Voedisch said it might be challenging for smaller operators to keep up because most of the time, they are focused on business rather than the bigger picture and this can become a very short-term narrative for them.

On the other hand, he also acknowledged that it is "appalling" that a company would make such a statement publicly, especially after prime minister Lee Hsien Loong stood up for healthcare workers. In his recent May Day rally speech, the PM said the efforts and sacrifices of workers, including healthcare workers, is one of the factors that has helped Singapore keep COVID-19 under control. Last February, he also penned a Valentine's Day note to healthcare workers, saying that their loving care and commitment makes all the difference.

Voedisch added that if society starts discriminating against healthcare workers, there might be no end to it. For example, individuals who work at Changi Airport, firemen, policemen, reporters, Grab drivers and even taxi drivers, might then be discriminated against as well. "We cannot and we should not do that," he said.

Separately, hotel brands such as Pan Pacific Hotels Group and Mandarin Oriental have decided to honour and show their appreciation for Singapore's healthcare workers by offering discounts. Under its Healthcare Employees Recognition and Ovation initiative, Pan Pacific is allocating 25,000 complimentary room nights to healthcare workers from Singhealth, National Healthcare Group and National University Healthcare System. Meanwhile, Mandarin Oriental has a "Celebrating Heroes" offer for healthcare workers that includes an SG$80 dining credit per stay. On a global level, Hyatt has also made its friends and family rate available to healthcare workers through 12 September this year.

Additionally, hospital brands in Singapore recently rallied together to show support for Tan Tock Seng Hospital, after the latter shared a post at the end of April about the rough week it experienced as a result of the cluster situation. Alexandra Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, and JurongHealth Campus all shared kind words with Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

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