Accreditation in Wellness Tourism

Raising the Benchmark: GHA Healthcare Accreditation Teams up with GBAC to Redefine Wellness and Safety Standards

In 2021, Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) and the Global Biorisk Advisory Council™ (GBAC), a Division of ISSA, launched a joint accreditation to support hotels seeking formal accreditation for their cleaning programs, as well as guest safety and satisfaction for medical and wellness travelers. 

The Medical Tourism Magazine (MTM) had the privilege to sit down to gather insights from both organizations as well as two hotels that recently achieved GBAC STAR / GHA WellHotel® Accreditation.  

We start off the series of interviews with Renée-Marie Stephano, interim Chief Executive Officer, Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA), and Patricia Olinger, Executive Director, GBAC. They shared their thoughts and insights into what makes this accreditation unique and how it is assisting hotels in building trust with their clients.

GHA originally began as a medical travel accreditation for healthcare providers, what was the impetus for launching the WellHotel Accreditation for Medical Travel & Well-being?

Renée-Marie Stephano: In the context of healthcare, GHA’s principal objective is to help healthcare providers enhance patient experience and safety across the entire medical travel care continuum. This includes mitigating risks and vulnerabilities for patients - not only in the healthcare environment but also during travel and the hotel stay. WellHotel® Accreditation aligns perfectly with this mission. It is an innovative new program designed for hotels, leveraging the increased priority of individuals for their health and wellbeing that evolved during the pandemic.

COVID-19 and its dramatic and lasting impact on organizations across the globe and in many industries inspired GHA to evolve its services to better meet the needs of organizations for safety, health, and wellbeing as they navigated a rapidly evolving landscape to a “New Normal.” No longer is healthcare the sole industry seeking to keep its staff and patients safe; hospitality, wellness professionals, and employers alike have seen a clear mandate to facilitate their employee’s safety and overall wellbeing.

A 2020 survey by PwC revealed that the presence of safety protocols and third-party certified sanitation reviews offered customers a sense of security and trust in a brand or destination. The survey noted that 85% of respondents say their hotel choices were hinged on these metrics.

With this trend in mind, GHA launched the WellHotel® for Medical Travel and WellHotel® for Well-being accreditation programs. The WellHotel® for Medical Travel Accreditation focuses on the guest experience and unique needs of medical travelers as they recuperate after a procedure or treatment, while the WellHotel® for Well-being focuses on meeting the needs of wellness tourists, many of whom expect and prefer a holistic set of wellbeing services that address their mental, emotional, social and spiritual health. Both WellHotel programs build resiliency and mitigate against future risks to safety and health.

Why did GHA partner with GBAC? What’s the value in the relationship?

Renée-Marie Stephano: GBAC is the cleaning industry’s leader in outbreak prevention, response, recovery, and resiliency. With the advent of the pandemic, we felt its expertise and focus on cleaning, sanitation, and infection prevention would align well with GHA WellHotel’s focus on guest safety and experience for medical and wellness travelers – a powerful one-two punch for hotels seeking to build guest trust with these growing niche markets. It was really a “no-brainer”. By aligning our programs with one another, we’re able to offer hotels a comprehensive approach to accreditation and give both medical and wellness travelers greater peace of mind that these properties are safe and focused on their unique needs.

Patty, what differentiates GBAC from other organizations offering standards, guidelines, or certification for sanitation and cleaning?

Patricia Olinger: We offer the GBAC STAR™ Accreditation Program which is a performance-based program designed to help facilities establish a comprehensive system of infection prevention, cleaning, and disinfection for the protection of their staff, and visitors, buildings, and communities.  GBAC STAR has 20 program elements, each with specific performance and guidance criteria. 

Successful GBAC STAR facilities can demonstrate that correct work practices, procedures, and systems are in place to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and be resilient in situations that involve biohazardous materials—situations such as the recent pandemic that the world has experienced.

GBAC and ISSA commit to our GBAC STAR Community that we are partners. Partners to assist in getting facilities and service providers to accreditation and beyond. Through ongoing training, guidelines, and networking, we assist facilities as they strive for continuous improvement. 

Our STAR hotels take this very seriously.  They use their GBAC STAR Accreditation as part of their ESG story, especially with regard to social responsibility. They see the health and safety of their employees, guests, and communities as one of their most important activities.

Why did GBAC partner with GHA WellHotel? What’s the value of the relationship? 

Patty Olinger: My initial response to this question is always “Why wouldn’t we”!  GHA and the GHA WellHotel program compliment wonderfully with the GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation program. Hospitality, which includes hotels, resorts, spas, and restaurants, is a focus area for GBAC STAR.  While many have looked at GBAC STAR as only a focus on cleaning, it is so much more. We stress in our training and resources cleaning for health, not just to look good and smell nice. We focus on healthy buildings, which include indoor air considerations. We do this because we know that hygiene is tied to health. 

As GBAC STAR evolves from, responds to, and recovers from the COVID 19 pandemic to focus more on preparation and resilience, it is important to focus on a holistic approach from a biorisk management standpoint of a concept of One Health. Through the relationship between the GHA WellHotel program and GBAC STAR, businesses receive the benefit of both organizations' knowledge and expertise to continually improve in the area of infection prevention, health, and wellness. 

Hotels that support medical travel benefit from the joint accreditation as well. Patients that must travel away from home for a medical procedure or doctor's visit are already stressed. Knowing that your home away from home — your hotel — understands your unique needs as a medical traveler and is committed to your health and hygiene takes away a little of the worry.  

Many hotels are currently struggling economically due to the pandemic and may not see accreditation providing a clear return on investment. How is the joint GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel Accreditation unique and what is the key value or benefits that it provides to hotels and guests?

Renée-Marie Stephano: Few industries have been hit harder than hospitality over the past two years. Travel restrictions and travelers’ concerns about their safety have caused severe economic hardships for many hotels. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, tourist arrivals dropped by nearly 75 percent at the pandemic’s peak in 2020. Fortunately, the situation is improving as global vaccination rates increase and the pandemic wanes in many parts of the world. GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel accreditation builds trust, confidence, and comfort for medical travel and wellness guests through an external third-party review and trusted GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel seal.

There are a number of programs or guidelines that have been launched during the pandemic to address COVID-19 safety concerns for hotel guests, including screening, social distancing, contactless check-in, etc. GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel Accreditation addresses these concerns but goes beyond that to ensure work practices, procedures and systems are in place to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and be resilient in all types of situations – current and future - that involve biohazardous materials. 

Additionally, the accreditation is unique in that it assists hotels serving guests who travel for medical treatments or for wellness, to provide a safe and high-quality guest experience focused on the unique needs and expectations of these growing niche markets. This undoubtedly provides an opportunity for hotels to increase RevPAR.

Is the GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel Accreditation for any hotel? What type of hotels would benefit the most from this joint accreditation?

Renée-Marie Stephano: GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel accreditation is appropriate for all types of hotels - from the small boutique property to the big brand resort. In the context of medical travel, hotels already working with or seeking to work with healthcare providers will benefit from a strong foundation of work practices and protocols that meet the unique needs of medical travelers and companions pre-and post-treatment. To apply for GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel accreditation, hotels must meet certain foundational requirements related to the facilities, amenities, and services they provide and the type of accreditation they desire, whether it is for medical travel, or well-being, or both.

Corporate Wellness is becoming increasingly important for organizations – especially in these challenging times. How does GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation positively impact the health and well-being of employees?

Patty Olinger: Corporations are dusting off their ESG dashboards — their measures and metrics for Environment, Social Responsibilities, and Governance.  These are based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include 17 action packages that not only include the traditional green sustainability initiatives but also other goals such as:

  • Good health and wellbeing
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production

GBAC STAR and GHA WellHotel's goals support Corporate Wellness programs assisting organizations to provide the needed framework to demonstrate to employees, guests, clients, and communities that a facility cares and is working to provide a healthy and safe environment.

A majority of events at hotels are actual internal corporate events.  As companies start having team meetings and events at hotels again to bring their employees together why is it important they work with an accredited hotel for meetings?   

Renée-Marie Stephano: Regarding COVID-19, things appear to be trending in the right direction and we are hopeful that we are finally moving past the pandemic. Nonetheless, there is an expectation that safety will still be top of mind for consumers and a brand differentiator well into the future. As it relates to corporate events and meetings, attendees want to feel safe and not stressed out about getting sick. They want to feel confident in the facility’s cleanliness and safety. 

Hotels need to demonstrate through their actions that they prioritize attendees’ health and well-being. GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel accreditation provides assurance to meeting participants that the facility is cleaned and disinfected to the highest standards and that proper cleaning is an ongoing management priority. A hotel that has had a recognized third party validate its safety and guest experience protocols is going the extra mile to show that it truly cares about keeping its employees and attendees safe.

Renee, is there a negative impact when we ignore or do not prioritize the well-being of employees and guests?

Renée-Marie Stephano: Absolutely. A healthy business requires healthy employees who feel valued and are an integral part of your business’s success. Over-stressed and burned-out employees are usually less engaged, often leading to lower productivity, subpar service delivery, and an underperforming business. Employee wellness programs have been shown to increase employee health and well-being, reducing employer’s health care costs. Additionally, recent studies have shown that a growing number of companies are putting a greater focus on the health and well-being benefits they offer employees, to remain competitive and attract top talent.

Looking past the pandemic, why should hotels consider GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel Accreditation?  

Patty Olinger: Everyone is experiencing pandemic fatigue.  Everyone.  Health and Wellness are extremely important as we transition to the next phase of the COVID 19 pandemic. It is also very important not to lose sight of the lessons that we have learned.  There will be another pandemic.  When?  We don’t know.  It could be a new variant of SARS-COV-2 or a highly pathogenic flu. Hotels that commit to becoming GBAC STAR/GHA WellHotel-accredited are committed to the health and wellness of their guests, employees, and communities.