Reopening for Business: What Can We Learn from the SG Clean Initiative?

We have been inundated with news over the past two months of how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought life as we knew it to a disconcerting stop. This harsh reality has raised difficult questions and posed unprecedented economic, social and healthcare challenges that governments, businesses and people need to deal with on a daily basis. One of the hardest hit industries across the world is travel and tourism, and the hit the industry has taken is having a significant impact on countries whose economies are most dependent on it.

With more nations steadily bringing the situation under a level of control by containing the spread of the disease, we now find ourselves daring to ask that all important question – when do we reopen? While some naysayers predict that the tourism industry is doomed, others are hopeful, and are actively looking for solutions that will help the industry recover in a responsible and sustainable manner.

The Rising Importance of Cleanliness and Hygiene

It is becoming increasingly more evident that cleanliness and hygiene will be top priorities for those who wish to patronize hotels, restaurants and any other type of service provider while COVID-19 remains a palpable threat, and possibly even after. Therefore, all tourism industry businesses and governing bodies need to prioritize cleaning and hygiene policies and procedures, sooner rather than later, if they are to give consumers the reassurance they will so clearly be looking for.

The government of Singapore took this into consideration as early as February this year, and worked with a number of sectors to develop and launch the SG Clean initiative. This initiative is a process to raise hygiene standards across the country, with a special focus on establishments with high human traffic.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is leading the SG Clean initiative for the country’s tourism sector, and has partnered with KPMG Singapore for the audit and certification process. The SG Clean mark of quality gives customers an assurance of hygiene compliance, conveying that the establishment has comprehensive hygiene protocols and preventive measures in place. The Singapore government expects that the SG Clean mark of quality will reassure customers and give them the peace of mind to patronize local businesses.(singapore sg clean designation hotels)

The Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance had the opportunity to speak to three key personalities from Singapore on the SG Clean initiative and its importance for the industry. Irving Low, Partner KPMG Singapore; Margaret Heng, Executive Director of the Singapore Hotel Association and CEO of Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre, and Thanabal Naidu, Hygiene and Safety Manager at Grand Hyatt Singapore shared the following thoughts and opinions on SG Clean and how it is being implemented in the country.

The Concept of SG Clean

The SG Clean mark of quality is meant to reassure customers that an establishment has the necessary cleanliness and hygiene processes in place to operate during the COVID-19 period. All tourism establishments are required to adhere to a specific set of guidelines in order to receive the SG Clean certification. These guidelines have been devised based on recommendations by the WHO and local health authorities. SG Clean focuses on hygiene and sanitation procedures, and on processes for handling a positive case of COVID-19. Although SG Clean outlines the minimum requirement that establishments need to adhere to, authorities encourage them to do even more, especially depending on the size and complexity of the operation.

It is KPMG’s role to visit each establishment, audit their processes and award the accreditation through the STB. The establishment then has the ability to showcase this certification to the public, as a mark of trust. The cornerstone of SG Clean is therefore the independent audit by KPMG, which signifies the mark of trust of these ‘clean’ establishments to the public.

The purpose of SG Clean is to instil public confidence because it is imperative that the public keeps going out and patronizing businesses in order to keep the economy open and running. From a tourism point of view, it is important to give tourists the utmost confidence and assurance that the hotels they are staying in are certified by SG Clean. This provides the same assurance at the local level too. The SG Clean program is not about penalizing and punishing establishments. Instead, the priority is to help businesses make the necessary changes so that they can pass the audit and provide customers the reassurance they are looking for.

The Role of Self-Accountability and Self-Assessment

STB previously partnered with KPMG during the SARS outbreak, which took place 17 years ago, to implement the SG Cool initiative. For SARS, the key indicator of a potential infected patient was a fever. The situation is different with COVID-19, as a positive patient does not always have a high temperature. Therefore, authorities need to rely on the public’s sense of self-accountability when declaring accurate information regarding their travel history, behaviour etc. The SG Clean initiative was developed taking all these facts into consideration.

However, KPMG believes that it is not its job to police establishments. There is a sense of self-accountability that the auditor needs to rely on for the process to work. KPMG created a self-assessment process, undertaken via their personal devices, which encourages hotels to go through a checklist of 7-10 questions based on key minimum protocols. This is meant to create a sense of self-awareness amongst establishments, prompting them to ask themselves if they are doing enough, even before the audit process begins.

The Industry’s Response to SG Clean

The SG Clean initiative was welcomed by the industry as an excellent way to reassure guests, employers and employees that there were measures in place to help combat the spread of COVID-19. The size of the hotel did not matter in terms of adoption of SG Clean, as it was welcomed across the board as a good initiative. On average the SG Clean accreditation process takes about a week.

Critical Components of Success

Challenges Faced in Implementing SG Clean Guidelines and Protocols

The biggest challenge many businesses face is adapting to the changing situation – the new normal. Employees across the organization are required to learn, unlearn and relearn how to do things in a manner that aligns with the new guidelines and protocols.

It is important that everybody works as a team, whether they are seniors or juniors. A positive attitude goes a long way in ensuring that everyone is on board with the changes. Training plays an extremely important role in the proper implementation of guidelines and protocols. E.g. Personal hygiene training, leadership training.

Singapore’s SG Clean initiative is a great launching pad for tourism related establishments around the world to assess their cleanliness and hygiene protocols and set a standard, so that customers will find the reassurance they need. Here in Sri Lanka too, the SLTDA has drafted and will soon release a set of operational guidelines that will set the standard for businesses as they prepare to reopen, first for local and thereafter for international guests.