SOMERSET, N.J.—What is a company in the lodging industry supposed to do when a virus as harmful as COVID-19 is about to steamroll the travel industry? In the case of Guest Worldwide, a Sysco company and parent of companies including Guest Supply, Manchester Mills, and Gilchrist & Soames, its response was to react quickly, measured and with a large dose of flexibility and innovation. It also positioned itself as a “go to” source for all things COVID-19.
Sandy Romoser, President of Guest Worldwide, told Green Lodging News that Guest Worldwide realized the impact of COVID-19 early on with its business operations in China. “Around January 20 to the first week of February we were already in full swing,” she says. “We had an idea that it was coming…that we were going to have a global problem.”
Guest Worldwide quickly joined with Sysco to develop a task force to focus on the health and safety of employees and customers and on how to continue to operate. By March 17, many employees were sent home to work. “Any impact was minimal to our sales organization,” Romoser says. “Any impact to our associates was minor overall.”
Robust Supply Chain Sources
Because of its global supply chain sources, Guest Worldwide production was not severely impacted. The company has three manufacturing facilities and eight distribution facilities in North America, an additional 16 companies contracted to manufacture around the world, and 23 distribution facilities outside North America.
Guest Supply sells everything from electronics to FF&E and MRO products. Manchester Mills manufactures bath and bed linens, and Gilchrist & Soames manufactures personal care amenity products including dispensers and hand sanitizer.
“While we supply only the lodging industry, we have pivoted in many ways to support the many other businesses outside of lodging that needed the products we can provide.” Romoser says.
Guest Worldwide was already selling items such as gloves and paper products but it still had to pivot to meet the dramatically changing needs of hoteliers.
“We turned our attention to personal protective equipment—masks, shoe covers, gowns, cleaning, and disinfection items,” Romoser says. “Through Gilchrist & Soames we began producing hand sanitizer. We are supplying hand sanitizer to Sysco. Masks and gowns we had to begin sourcing. We are currently looking at manufacturing our own three-ply masks. We are looking at offering sanitizer dispensers as well.”
A New Type of Amenity Kit
Romoser says Guest Worldwide has some hotels interested in an amenity kit that includes sanitizer, packets of wipes, and a mask—with the option of hand soap and lotion. “We see a B to C market for these as well,” she says.
For its customers, Guest Worldwide invested significant resources in its Clean with Guest Supply website. A long list of helpful information is available there to help hoteliers clean, disinfect, open safely, and continue to operate safely. That list of resources is also linked to from the COVID-19 section of the AHLA website. Some of the Guest Worldwide resources were put together in partnership with Ecolab. Guest Worldwide has also supported its customers with financial programs.
“We want to be more than a supplier,” Romoser says. “We want to help people and our customers navigate this situation. We know the information is being used. Hotels are customizing the helpful information to meet their own needs. We are in lockstep with our customers and will continue to support them.”
During these challenging times Guest Worldwide and Sysco have continued their long-standing efforts to help those in need. “We have a significant partnership with Clean the World and World Vision,” Romoser says. “Sysco has also donated millions of meals.”
Two Important Priorities
When asked what hoteliers should be focusing on during this difficult time, Romoser says, “Keeping the staff and guests safe and then building consumer confidence. These are the two most important things a hotel should focus on. Also, support social distancing guidelines, train on a new set of operating guidelines, and have the right tools in place.”
“Guests need to see that you are doing something different,” Romoser adds. “It could be signage. They should see hand sanitation stations—by the elevator, for example. These routines will change as we learn more. Hotels should know that you don’t have to do this alone. We are all in this together. Use your partners.”
Romoser says hotel operations have entered a new era. “I would anticipate enhancements and certifications. You will see hand sanitizer envisioned in many ways. Sheets will have antimicrobial treatments. Technology will drive ‘touchless on steroids’. The prevailing question is, ‘How do we take our products one step closer to hygiene?’ There’s a lot of work being done on things that consumers need to touch.”
With COVID-19 now the primary business focus, Romoser says sustainability still remains high on the company’s list of priorities. For example, the most lightweight plastic was chosen for the company’s hand sanitizer bottles.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.