A few weeks ago, movie theatres across India saw the release of the first new films in over half a year. Many chains also re-released popular films from the past, counting on film-lovers hungry for the cinema experience to relive the magic of the movies. But can the lure of huge screens and plush seating entice cinephiles to emerge from the safe cocoon of the homes? Asha Pathania, AVP-Housekeeping for National & International Projects & Operations at PVR Cinemas, writes about how her team is pulling out all stops to inspire customers to return to theatres during a pandemic.
Multiplexes in India and across the globe were among those businesses which were shut down first due to the Covid-19 pandemic; for some time now, they have been gearing up for reopening. There has been growing fear in the minds of people as to how well theatres will gear themselves up against this pandemic, and if it will be safe to step into a cinema theatre with near and dear ones for that much needed break from the mundane, monotonous lives that this pandemic forced on them for over six months now.
To handle this fear and challenge, theatre owners across the globe and in India came together as one fraternity and started working collectively towards making cinemas safe and building the confidence of patrons. The entire journey of an employee and of the patrons entering the cinema was plotted, and new technology and protocols initiated to ensure that cinemas continue to be clean, safe and hygienic as they were before, or even better, as the focus shifted from being ‘Clean and Hygiene” to “Safety with Hygiene”.
While cinemas were shut for business, the responsibility of protecting and preserving the cinema assets and space continued to be the key focus of the housekeeping department. We not only had to keep the premises clean and dust-free but also protect the soft furnishings from pests, mould, fungus or any other form of damage. This required frequent visits from the housekeeping leads, regular pest control and keeping the premises dry and free from humidity by airing the auditoriums at regular intervals.
Entry into the cinemas has now become primarily contactless with digital, online bookings options being promoted, cashless transactions being encouraged and physical tickets or tabs for patrons being completely done away with. As only 50% occupancy is allowed by the government, the crowd will be managed by having staggered shows, extended intermissions and different exit timings.
There is no physical frisking or hand-held metal detector checking by the security guards at the entry gates. Patrons will be required to pass through door frame metal detectors only, and their body temperatures will be checked before they are allowed entry. Patrons with elevated temperatures will be politely denied entry and their ticket money refunded. There are floor markers across the lobby, foyer and common areas to maintain physical distancing with washroom facilities reduced to avoid crowding in compact spaces. Patrons will be requested to wear their masks at all times and no entry will be permitted without masks inside the cinema.
To ensure that all the cinemas are not only clean but hygienically safe at all times, a long lasting antimicrobial treatment with Electrostatic ULV spray guns has been done inside all the auditorium seats and recliners, ensuring that all surfaces — hard or soft, porous or non-porous – are kept sanitized at all times, and no cross-contamination happens when people are moving in or out of the theatres. Further, common touch points like door handles, touch screen, push plates, etc. have been covered with anti-microbial films which further safeguards employees and patrons alike against any contamination by ensuring that no microbes survive when coming in contact with that film.
Auditoriums have every alternate seat blocked with a seat marker to maintain physical distance between patrons during the show too. For any 3-D movie offering, we have got single-use, 3-D glasses for all patrons. To maintain safety for premium and luxury auditoriums, the cushions and blankets have been discontinued and provision for disposable blankets and disposable seat cover in a PPE pouch has been made, which patrons can buy easily from any point of sale at the cinemas.
A lot of printed collateral, posters, till talkers and digital communication is on display inside the cinemas to constantly remind the patrons to follow all the safety protocols and contactless Sanitizing stations are placed at all critical entry and exit points to maintain hand hygiene at any given time.
Food and drinks always enhance any moviegoer’s experience and to maintain the safety and hygiene of our F&B offerings, we have opted for specially designed UV Cabinets at all our cinemas to sterilize our food and packaging. Specially curated menus with immunity boosters have been added to the F&B offerings. Arrays of QR codes have been provided across the cinemas which allow patrons to order food from their mobile phones at the cinema without forming a queue. Patrons can also pre-book their food and beverages online at the time of booking their shows. Pre-packaged food will be kept ready for pick-up and all food will be served covered with lids to maintain hygiene and safety.
From cleaning an average-sized auditorium of 250-300 seats in a compressed time of 15-20 minutes, it has been increased by another 15 minutes to take care of the additional protocol of sanitization and dis-infection of every auditorium seat made available for the patrons. Additional ULV Machines (Ultra Low Volume) have been introduced to sanitize the entire auditorium with medical-grade disinfectant leaving every seat completely safe for the next patron. Enhanced checklists recording the common touch-point sanitization at the prescribed frequency will be an additional process to be followed without fail at all patron-facing services.
Adequate training on the new, enhanced SOPs and their impact on the overall cleaning and safety of the cinemas has been conducted by sensitive and experienced staff. Every department has been trained on the Dos and Don’ts of post-lockdown situations, and active participation and support from all departments to meet the guidelines is now solicited more than ever.
There has been a new system and protocol devised for receiving and storing of materials coming from outside. Dedicated areas identified for the quarantine of cleaning supplies, uniforms received from laundry and handover of dirty uniforms will have to be carried out with the laid down protocols and under adequate supervision.
Last but not the least, an end-to-end, proper disposal of the PPE worn by the staff or patrons disposed of at the cinema premises has to be done with utmost care and precautions and in the designated biohazard bins so as to restrict and contain any spread arising out of those and not harming the environment at any cost. More sustainable options of PPEs are being sourced to not burden the environment with the new, rising bio-waste arising out of this situation.
All the new measures to provide a safe and clean environment have also come at an additional cost. There has been an increase in both the Opex and Capex budgets of housekeeping in meeting these demands and rising expectations, along with the cost of shutting down for six months. However, all the above measures will ensure that cinemas open with all the required safety protocols. Safety being the new keyword for luxury, the patron will decide to visit only those brands which promise this.
The major change has been that housekeeping has to become more visible and perceptible than before. The customers will not assume or believe that your spaces are clean and hygienic but would also like to see some very efficient cleaning and sanitization happening around them at frequent intervals. The housekeeping staff needs to be seen in appropriate PPE, maintaining required distance and following correct procedures for cleaning and sanitization.
With the future of this pandemic still unknown, the housekeeping team at the cinemas is fully ready to take over the new challenge in their stride and committed to provide extremely clean and safe cinemas to its patrons. And as they say, nothing lasts forever and change is the only constant in life… we, the housekeepers will continue to strive to deliver the best under all circumstances.