SEASIDE — Masudur Khan, who runs several hotels in Seaside and Cannon Beach with his wife, Taslema Sultana, was eager to show off the sanitation and other safety protocols he has installed at the River Inn at Seaside to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
He was even more eager to welcome back the hotel’s staff, which has been training in advance of reopening Thursday.
Regional hoteliers like Khan are scrambling to put in place stringent safety measures to reassure guests, avoid contributing to an outbreak and salvage an increasingly tenuous tourist season.
Short-term lodging reopened Tuesday in Seaside and Cannon Beach.
South County leaders, their economies heavily dependent on lodging and tourism, departed from their peers in Astoria, Warrenton and Gearhart, who with Clatsop County waited to reopen lodging at 60% capacity starting June 5. By then, many counties in Oregon could enter a second phase of reopening, with Gov. Kate Brown expected to lift restrictions on nonessential travel.
At the River Inn, Khan has installed hand-sanitizing stations throughout the property, sourced masks for his employees, started taking temperatures and installed plexiglass barriers in the lobby.
Cleaning staff have trained on increased sanitation practices for all high-touch areas, down to bagging remote controls in plastic to ensure guests they are sterilized.
The hotel has instituted check-in systems to control and track the usage of everything from the gym and fire pits to bike rentals, all sanitized between every use.
Khan and his staff acknowledge the unpredictability of guests, who can come from anywhere and with any health issues. Sherry McCroskey, the general manager at the River Inn, said it’s one of her husband’s biggest fears for her as guests return.
“We’re approaching the training as if you have to assume every guest could be carrying it,” she said of the virus. “So you have to do everything you’re supposed to do to protect yourself.”
Khan and Sultana have phased in the reopening of their properties. They started Tuesday with the smaller, 11-room historic Gilbert Inn and moved on to larger properties Thursday. Sultana’s properties in Cannon Beach will reopen Friday.
Khan and his investors are also trying to open the 65-room boutique Saltline Hotel, under construction on Downing Street in Seaside, by the end of June.
Khan and Sultana believe hoteliers have a clear incentive to do their utmost to protect employees and guests from spreading the virus.
“It’s for everyone’s benefit,” Sultana said. “If it doesn’t work, then everybody loses, right? People cannot come to the beach, and we cannot run the business.”
Greg Staneruck, a regional membership representative for the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, said the industry has coalesced around a unified set of best practices put out by the American Hotel & Lodging Association that go beyond Brown’s recommendations.
“Of course they want people there, but they don’t want to go backwards either,” Staneruck said. “So they are laser-focused on keeping everybody safe, and they will do what they have to do.”
Hoteliers have been frustrated by the government’s lack of confidence in their ability to operate safely, Staneruck said, and by the opening of beaches, drawing in tourists anyway while not providing them a safe place to stay.
Despite the industry’s concerted effort to be safe, worries persist about how hoteliers can govern the behavior of travelers potentially coming from more infected areas or flaunting social distancing rules.
The U.S. has experienced a spike in cases as most states have started easing travel, business and other restrictions meant to stem the spread of the virus. Crowds could already be seen on Seaside’s busy Broadway this week, most of them not wearing masks recommended to help protect others.
Khan is offering his guests disposable masks but not requiring them. He feels confident that guests will be more cautious after seeing all his employees are doing to be safer.
He sees little choice in hotels reopening, with government assistance only lasting so long and much of the region’s economy dependent on the summer months. He has already dropped his rates up to 25% compared to last year and expects a slower summer altogether.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we have to figure it out how we can go through this year,” he said. “Survival for this year, and get ready for the next year.”