HTSI alumnus Marta Álvarez told us about her experience helping to transform Hotel Barcelona Princess into a healthcare centre during the critical months of the pandemic last spring.
A graduate of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Álvarez volunteered alongside other HTSI alumni receiving COVID-19 patients from Hospital del Mar in an experience she describes as transformative.
How did you end up volunteering at Hotel Barcelona Princess when it was turned into a healthcare centre?
At the end of March, a friend from the School told us they were looking for volunteers for a project called Hotel Salud. It involved turning normal hotels into “healthcare hotels” to house patients who weren’t at risk. These were patients who were getting better but who couldn’t be confinement elsewhere for different reasons; often, it was to help relieve the pressure on the hospitals.
What was it like getting the hotel ready?
First, we did a day of training at Hotel Praktik Bakery. They told us what “healthcare hotels” were and showed us how to receive patients in keeping with health regulations and protocols. The next day, we met at Hotel Barcelona Princess and the healthcare team, the hospital team, firefighters and the city police explained the protocols to us in more detail; they put special emphasis on security and protective measures.
What was your job at the hotel during the pandemic? What was your day-to-day like?
Our basic tasks were to register and receive patients, and to work with them and their families over the phone to make their stay as pleasant as possible.
I really want to emphasize how important that part was. Our main mission was to be as empathetic, relatable and useful as possible for patients who were suffering from uncertainty, worry or even total solitude.
What were the security measures like?
The security measures were really strict. At the time we didn’t know much about the disease, and we had to focus on protecting staff from infection. Like I said, the protocol was put together by healthcare professionals from different institutions, and it addressed things like the use of PPE and spaces, the movement of individuals and social distancing.
What’s the process for transforming a normal hotel into a healthcare hotel like?
Basically, it meant removing all unnecessary elements from the rooms, classifying spaces as “clean” and “unclean”, marking corridors, preparing a computer system to access patients’ health information, coordinating and preparing different teams and removing the locks on the doors of the rooms so healthcare workers could open them without coming into contact with patients.
What can you tell us about the rest of the hotel staff?
All I can do is express my respect, recognition and gratitude to all the professionals I met during the experience. They all poured their full professional knowledge into the project, but what impacted me the most was their compassion.
“Make tourism a tool for social change”
What did participating in something like this mean for you as a person?
Most of all, I’d emphasize all the hotel professionals I got to meet. No matter their position, we all adapted to the circumstances and did whatever was necessary to help the team; that selflessness really impacted me on a personal level.
What do you think about all the companies from the tourism and hotel sector who offered their help at such a complicated time?
“Make tourism a tool for social change.” That’s what the dean of the School, Ricard Santomà, said to me once, and it really sums up how I feel. I think it’s great that those of us who see ourselves as part of the sector have shown the true meaning of “hospitality.” A hotel is a place for welcoming people, even when the circumstances change entirely.
Would you do it again?
Yes, no doubt about it. In fact, when the project drew to a close because the health situation was improving, I had mixed feelings. I was happy to see the spread of the disease reduced, which meant that our help wasn’t needed any more. Still, it was sad to think that such a fulfilling experience was coming to an end.
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