Originally published in Jiemian(界面) magazine on Feb. 6th, 2020
As for the bills during the requisition, Liu Jieyuan, the hotel owner said, “the government did not provide any information, so I did not mention it either. Shutting down the hotel would have led to losses anyway. It is better to accommodate them (the medical staff) here. After all, they came here to support and help us; we all hope the outbreak will be contained as soon as possible.”
Authored by | the Outbreak News Group of Jiemian
Liu Jieyuan is communicating with the reception staff at the hotel. Photo provided by the interviewees.
Waking up at 7 a.m. and going to sleep at 11 p.m., working outside all day, unlike most people ‘imprisoned’ at home in Wuhan, Liu has been particularly busy these days playing the role of a hotel manager, a driver, a liaison, a buyer, etc. As the owner of five hotels, he grinned that he had been even busier than his staff members. Three of his five hotels have been requisitioned to accommodate medical personnel. Liu has to work a lot on his own due to a shortage of personnel and supplies.
It is Liu’s busiest Chinese New Year ever this year since he started his hotel business in 2010. “In most cases, hotels would not be very busy from the first day to the sixth day of the Chinese New Year holiday.”, said Liu Jieyuan, “With the epidemic this year, the Atour Hotel, in which I joined and invested, originally planned to close for the holiday from Jan 23^rd^. However, on the evening of the Chinese New Year’s Day (Jan 25th), a head nurse called me from a hospital, telling me to prepare for potential requisition.”
Although the hotel planned to close on Jan 23^rd^, employees actually began to leave for home one by one since Jan 20^th^. There were only 3 employees left when Liu received the phone call from the hospital. “Two of them are on duty; the other could not go back home because of the lockdown of the city.”
To ensure that the hotel can be put into operation at any time, Liu Jieyuan asked the hotel manager to immediately contact and mobilize their employees who could return to work. On the evening of Feb 2^nd^, the manager reported that 4 staff members in total could come back. Most of the other staff were not in Wuhan and it’s very difficult for them to return. The manager himself was still out of Wuhan.
“There are 7 floors, 165 bedrooms, and 232 beds in my hotel, and a full staff of 44 employees.”, said Liu Jieyuan, “213 medical staff from Xi’an would arrive on the afternoon of Feb 3^rd^ to support Wuhan, and they need to be accommodated in my hotel then. We had only 7 people here now, 3 of which are on duty and the other 4 would return to work from home. We had no choice but to ask another two shareholders to come and help.
Two of the four people who returned to the hotel were picked up by Liu Jieyuan early in the morning of Feb 3^rd^. “Public transportations were suspended so no buses or subways were running. I could only drive to pick them up because I had the pass.” After the staff arrived, Liu led the staff to inspect the water system, electricity, air conditioners, to prepare room keycards for 165 rooms then separate them based on floors and room types, and to finish all other preparations by 4pm when the medical staff would arrive.
The seven employees had a clear division of labor: 2 of them on kitchen duty, 2 on cleaning, 1 at the reception, 1 on engineering and 1 on security. However, Liu Jieyuan took on multiple jobs: the hotel manager, the driver, the liaison, the buyer etc. “I am even busier than my employees. Fortunately, I’m still physically strong and active. I felt so depressed when I stayed at home waiting for the command in the past several days.” Liu Jieyuan smiled bitterly.
Liu Jieyuan drove hairdressers to the hotel to give the medical staff a haircut. Photo provided by the interviewees
In addition to the Atour Hotel, Liu also has four other hotels in Wuhan, two of which have already been requisitioned. “One is a 40-room hotel and the other one is a 60-room hotel. It was lucky that the whole staff was still there.” Liu’s two sons have been running the two hotels since the requisition.
“We three men cannot get home all the time and there are only my wife, my two daughters-in-law and their kids at home, who nag and worry about us all day long.” As Liu was talking to us, he received a call from one of his daughters-in-law again, asking him to bring some mushrooms and tomatoes back when he came home. “They always buy their groceries online, why do they bother me with this? They just wanted me to go home.”
Food supply and hygiene have become the top priorities as more than 200 medical staff moved in. “In terms of food supply, the government agreed to provide some groceries. We prepared three times more than daily demand for the bed linens, which can ensure our consumption for the next few days. The linen company also promised to start its production as soon as possible. There were also some disposable consumables. I can transfer more from the other two unrequisitioned hotels in case we run out of them. We also still have masks and disinfectants in stock at present.” Liu Jieyuan told us that they wouldn’t enter the rooms of medical staff, who are in charge of the cleaning of their own rooms now, due to the lack of personnel and in order to prevent the cross-infection.
On the evening of February 4, Liu encountered a difficult problem. The medical staff asked him for help. They needed haircuts to better fit in the protective suits. Liu first contacted two barbershops he used to go to, but both said they were on holiday and couldn’t arrange a hairdresser.
Then he contacted the Jinyintan Hospital, “There are doctors from the military. I thought soldiers usually have their hair cut themselves so I wanted to borrow hairdressing tools from them. But they said they have already sent the tools to the Huoshenshan Hospital.”
Liu’s son reminded him that his in-law’s nephew was a hairdresser, “but he couldn’t get into Wuhan because he was in Hanchuan, Xiaogan City. So finally, the nephew contacted one of his peers in Wuhan. I drove the hairdresser here to work in our hotel today (Feb 5^th^).” Liu says, I told him (the barber) in the car that the medical staff came to support us in Wuhan and asked him not to charge them after arriving at the hotel. All the bills will be at my expense.”
150 or 160 of the over 200 medical staff from Xi’an are females, most of whom needed a haircut. With his wife’s help, the hairdresser started working in protective suits in the hotel lobby. The medical staff drew numbers and queued up to get their hair cut, with a dozen people in a line. Liu Jieyuan got worried looking at them, “How long does it have to take?” He simply contacted his nephew-in-law again asking for another hairdresser.
Hairdressers in protective suits are giving medical staff a haircut in the hotel lobby. Photo provided by the interviewees.
After that, Liu Jieyuan drove a dozen kilometers to pick up the second hairdresser. Skyscrapers and wide alleys are ubiquitous in Wuhan City, but at this time the streets are almost empty. “The impact of the outbreak on the tourism and hotel industry will not be over in a month or two,” Liu said in worry.
“I’ve been in the hotel business for ten years, starting with managing a single hotel and later franchised express hotels. I just switched to managing mid- and high-end hotels last year; immediately I had to deal with this situation.” Liu sighed and continued, “I invested more than 30 million RMB into this hotel. It opened on July 29^th^ (last year) and I originally planned to earn my investment back in about four years. It (the outbreak) happened to us exactly when our business was in the growing phase.”
“This hotel (Atour Hotel) costs us about 1.2 million RMB per month to run, including 600 or 700 thousand for the rent and the franchising fee respectively . The franchising fee can be reduced in such a situation, and the rent could be postponed. But salaries and social security are fixed, which account for more than 200,000 RMB a month. There are also other trivial items such as water and electricity bills.”
As for the bills during the requisition, Liu said, “I haven’t mentioned it yet, but let’s put it aside and get through the crisis together. I believe the CPC and the government will help resolve issues and make arrangements.”
“In a macroscopic view, we seem to be making some contributions and sacrifices. But in fact, we are actually saving ourselves rather than solely helping others.”