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Visitor Screening: A Property’s First Line of Defense in the Fight Against Pandemics

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During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Metropark Hotel (formerly known as Metropole Hotel) in Hong Kong became the epicenter of a super spreading event when a SARS-positive doctor checked into the now infamous Room 911 at said property. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 4,000 of the world’s 8,000 total SARS cases can be traced back to this one single super spreading event. What can we learn from this event? Hotels can inadvertently play host to potential disease carriers, endangering the health and safety of both guests and staff.

Low Guest Safety = Low Occupancy

But having safety measures in place is not just an issue of public safety. It also directly impacts the profitability of hotels. 


Travelers will continue to feel unsafe checking into lodging properties if they feel that their health is threatened. As it stands, the American Hotel Lodging Association (AHLA) estimates hotel occupancy rates will drop to 38% this year, which would be the worst year on record.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is projected to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy ratesa (Image Source:

Of course, as long as there’s no viable cure or vaccine for COVID-19, hotel occupancy rates will likely remain low. However, property owners could make the situation worse with complacency. 

As explained by Texas Tech University professors Ted Waldron and James Wetherbe, “The key here is to signal that your company is taking ownership of the situation, as much as possible, rather than allowing the situation to take ownership of your company and its valued customers.”

How Visitor Screening Can Help 

Keeping potential disease carriers out of their respective properties is the simplest way property owners and managers can minimize the risk of a super spreading event. One simple yet effective tool to accomplish this is visitor screening.

Visitor screening is in line with the guidelines released by several health authorities on how transient accommodation providers should respond to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

For instance, the WHO advises that “Reception desk staff should be sufficiently informed about COVID-19 so that they can safely carry out their assigned tasks and prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 within the establishment.”

In its simplest implementation, visitor screening is the process of asking guests questions that will allow properties to assess the risk of these individuals as carriers of an infectious disease such as COVID-19.

There are two important questions that every lodging property should ask for effective guest screening.

1. Have you experienced flu-like symptoms in the last 14 days? According to health authorities, including the WHO and the CDC, it takes between 2-14 days after exposure for COVID-19 symptoms to appear. Guests who exhibited flu-like symptoms 14 days prior to their arrival at your property can be considered potential carriers of the disease.


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The incubation period of COVID-19 is estimated to be between 2-14 days. It’s important for transient accommodations to take note of this before allowing a guest to check-in. Image Source:

2. Have you recently traveled to a country/state/county/region/province with known COVID-19 transmission? As of March 27, 2020, the CDC considers all countries as locations with ongoing widespread transmission. However, certain countries with notably high COVID-19 cases such as the US, Russia, Spain, the UK, and Italy should raise a red flag. 

Empower Property Managers 

Depending on how visitors answer the two questions above, front desk teams and property managers can take the necessary next steps. For instance, some visitor management systems can trigger an automated notification that is sent to key members of a property’s management team such as health officers, the general manager, any doctor on call, etc. to properly advise the guests on what to do. They can be referred to the nearest health facility for quarantine and testing or they may be advised to go home for self-isolation.

5 Things to Keep in Mind

Tension is high these days. A brashly executed visitor screening can make guests feel uncomfortable, angry, and discriminated against. 

To prevent this from happening, property managers should keep these 5 things in mind when conducting visitor screening:

1. Maintain hospitality gold standards. They may not be often acknowledged as such, but those in the lodging industry who continue to work amidst the pandemic are also front liners. It’s understandable if front desk teams are stressed and scared. Property managers need to provide a calming voice and make sure that hospitality best practices are continuously and consistently followed.

For instance, during visitor screening, front desk teams should be able to demonstrate the utmost empathy and willingness to help. Instead of feeling that they’re being turned away, visitors should feel that you’re attending to their best interest. 

2. Keep visitor records organized. If a hotel guest tests positive on a later date, keeping organized check-in records will allow property managers to help health authorities perform contact tracing to prevent the further spread of the disease.

3. Coordinate with the local health department. Containing a pandemic is first and foremost a health issue. While lodging properties can implement preventative measures, they may not have all the necessary tools and skills to advise guests who might be infected. Properties need to know who to contact to get help, especially if the situation escalates.

4. Use technology to its fullest potential. For instance, Apple recently released a website that helps people evaluate their symptoms and assess whether they may be infected by COVID-19. Property managers can make this a part of their visitor check-in process. Likewise, using visitor management systems that allow properties to create digital screening forms, send automated notifications, and sign digital agreements is an efficient way to perform visitor screening.

Another way technology can help prevent the spread of pandemics in your hotel is through contactless solutions. Minimizing your guests’ physical interaction with your staff, as well as the devices that your staff members use, reduces the transmission of the virus. Using a QR code that guests can scan and enable them to complete the check-in process on their own mobile devices is one of the best contactless practices that is currently being implemented by different properties.

5. Follow the recommended health and safety protocols. Keeping a 2-meter physical distance, performing temperature checks for all individuals entering lodging properties, and disinfecting any equipment used to perform visitor screening are just a few of these minimal safety measures. 


About the author

Hadleigh Ford is the founder and CEO of SwipedOn, a visitor management system that welcomes visitors and employees to over 5,000 workplaces globally.

Hadleigh founded SwipedOn in 2013 while working onboard superyachts. He noticed a gap in the market to replace the paper log books used at the time.

Since then, SwipedOn has grown globally to meet visitor management requirements across a range of industries, and they plant a tree for every new customer to celebrate replacing the paper log book. You can find Hadleigh on LinkedIn.


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