After over half a year of silent screens, empty auditoriums and un-popped popcorn, theatres have finally been allowed to reopen, albeit in a restricted manner. While fewer patrons can book tickets for each show, will the fear of the virus reduce the number of patrons at a show even further? In the first of a series on reopening various kinds of facilities, Clean India Journal spoke to Sonia Mital, GM- Housekeeping at INOX Cinemas, on her plan for making cinema-going a safe and pleasurable experience:
Q. How has the pandemic influenced the role and approach towards the importance of housekeeping?
A: The pandemic has made us look at hygiene and sanitization. Post re-opening of cinemas, it has become the need of the hour and everyone looks up to the housekeeping standards and disinfection processes followed at the cinema premises, as this is the best way of prevention of transmission and will help us build the trust in our customers that INOX has ensured patron safety to the highest levels.
Q. Theatres have been shut for over half a year. During these times, what were the steps taken and concerns addressed? Where did it all start?
A: The pandemic situation was the first of its kind for the cinema industry and was unprecedented by all means. We carried our extensive research and surveys to draft the new processes and SOP to ensure the safety of our assets. Throughout the lockdown, technical teams worked to ensure that when we reopen, we can implement the designed SOP in a time-bound. Throughout the lockdown, both the think-tank and the on-floor team have been preparing for their tasks.
Q. How is the multiplex experience going to be different from the audience’s perspective?
A: The precautions which have been formulated are at par with global standards and will ensure that we offer a safe and a hygienic environment to movie-goers while ensuring social distancing norms. All our guests will have to mandatorily wear masks and there will be temperature checks happening at the entrance. We will also keep PPE kits available for purchase, which will include a mask, a pair of gloves and sanitizer. There will be a lot of focus on the digital way of life. Our team has developed a fully loaded all- in-one SMS, which comes with four different links; one, which allows you to check in with your QR code, second, which shows the auditorium’s seat chart and the location of your seat on the seat chart, so that you don’t have to enquire with anyone, third, which provides you access to the F & B menu to place your order, and the fourth, which allows you to download your complete e-ticket with all the details of the transaction, including the invoice number and the GST number. There will be extensive sanitization drills, disinfection processes at the right places and at the right moments. There will be pedal-operated touch-free hand sanitizers placed at important locations across the cinema.
Q. What will be the show timings and the entry and exit protocols? What about intervals and washroom usage?
A: We will have staggered show timings. No two show timings will clash with each other. There will be no simultaneous entries, intermissions and exits. A staff member will guide patrons in exiting one by one at the end of the show. During intervals, we will display slides about safety precautions, and our housekeeping team will disinfect the railings, doors and other touch points. Washrooms will also be disinfected regularly by our team. Patrons will be able to use only alternate urinals and wash-basins to maintain social distancing.
Q. While show timings may be staggered, all those attending a particular show arrive at the multiplex in a small time window. How have you geared up to deal with this?
A: At all our entry, exit and food counters, we have placed social distancing stickers or floor markings to ensure proper gap amongst patrons. Also, our staff has been trained to ensure social distancing at any given point at the cinema premises.
Q. Are physical tickets/ buying from the box office on the way out?
A: Across the country, we will be operating with e-tickets and there will be no paper tickets used. Guests can make their booking in advance through our digital platforms like our INOX website or the app. Our guests can make advance bookings. Guests can also come to the box office and make their bookings. We will keep sufficient points of sales at box offices open. We are also happy to announce that we are introducing our own payment wallet in our mobile app. This new wallet will be called INOX Insta Pay. Guests can load money through net banking, credit cards or debit cards or at the Box Office and make payments for tickets and F & B purchases at all INOX Multiplexes across the country and on all digital platforms like the app, website and kiosks.
Q. Security scans require individuals with hand held scanners to come in close contact with theatre-goers. Will this change in any way?
A: Scanning of patrons at entry is an integral part of customer safety. Our security staff’s health is being monitored regularly for Covid symptoms, and they will always be wearing proper gloves and masks. The area of security check is disinfected periodically to ensure proper hygiene. The security staff will not come in physical contact with any patron; the scanning will be done from a distance. Patrons will have to display their belongings on a disinfected surface for checking.
Q. How will the F & B service change during the pandemic?
A: Post reopening, the focus will be on pre-packed food. Even popcorn and soft drinks will be served in packed containers. All food items will be completely wrapped and sealed to prevent cross contamination. We will also be adding immunity booster drinks to our menu which our patrons can enjoy once the guidelines are relaxed further by the I & B Ministry. We have displayed QR codes at strategic locations so that our patrons can scan and order food online to avoid any rush at the food counters.
Q. How will the process of cleaning the auditorium between the shows be different during the pandemic?
A: We have designed a very detailed process of disinfecting and cleaning the auditoriums after each show to ensure safety of our cleaning staff and patrons. After each exit, there would be a gap of 30 minutes before the next show. During this time, our team with proper PPE suits will use ULV fogging machines to disinfect the auditorium. Post this, the auditorium will be closed for the disinfecting chemical to do its effective process. Then, our cleaning team will clean the auditorium and open for the next show. So every time a show starts, patrons will be offered completely disinfected and clean seating. We have identified 70+ touch points at our multiplex from box office to food areas to washrooms. Our SOP has been designed to ensure our housekeeping team disinfects all the touch points with WHO-approved disinfectant periodically.
Q. Will patrons who buy premium seats continue to be offered blankets/ cushions?
A: For now, blankets and cushions will not be offered to our patrons, to avoid any chances of cross contamination. When we do restart this service, every item will be dry cleaned and disinfected after every single use, and a special packing will be used to ensure that once the seal is opened, it cannot be reused.
Q. How will the issue of 3D glasses for 3D films change?
A: Since 3D glasses come in physical contact with the patron, we will be using single-use 3D glasses only. Each patron will be issued a sealed pair of 3D glasses for the show and at the end, the patron may dispose of it, as we will not be collecting them back from the patrons. Any glasses left by patrons at the seat will also be disposed of and none of them will be recycled.
Q. How do you plan to encourage theatre goers to follow all government guidelines on distancing, masks and sanitizers?
A: The patrons these days are well aware about the situation and the importance of safety measures. Temperature check and Arogya Setu app is a must for all the patrons. We have also made available PPE kits for sale for patrons, which include gloves, mask and sanitizer. In addition, we have sanitizers installed at strategic points for the patrons to use.
Q. How do you plan to convince theatre goers that it is safe to come watch a movie in a theatre even during a pandemic?
A: We have been making all efforts to build awareness about these SOPs so that our guests feel assured about their safety when they step into our cinemas. We are completely geared up and prepared for the new normal, which would assign topmost priority to safety and hygiene. Our preparations on the hygiene and disinfection front will set new benchmarks for any public premises.