Hotels could save lives in the fight against Covid-19 - and keep the hospitality industry afloat at the same time.

Hotels overseas are being called on to provide services such as quarantine facilities, temporary hospitals and emergency accommodation - and the same should happen here, say industry experts.

Dean Humphries, National Director of Hotels at Colliers International, said innovative solutions were needed but required immediate action and government assistance.

"We need to think differently about the strategies hotels could employ in response to Covid-19," he said.

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"Hotels have a lot of the key infrastructure and in-house resources required to provide essential support and services over the coming weeks and months."

Humphries said hotels overseas were embracing alternative uses and if the same happened in New Zealand it could keep thousands of people working.

In Chicago, mayor Lori Lightfoot had arranged for downtown hotels to use vacant rooms to isolate those infected by the virus who couldn't be at home.

This freed up beds in hospitals for the most critical patients.

By the end of the week, it was expected that more than 1000 downtown Chicago hotel rooms would be in use - part of a US$1 million effort to ease the strain on local hospitals.

Humphries said hotels had surprisingly similar infrastructure to hospitals and could provide many of the same essential services for guests.

"These include shelter, food, sanitary and laundry services, security, wellness and a range of other services," he said.

Essential services of an office environment, including IT platforms, the ability to host virtual meetings, and office infrastructures such as scanning and printing were also available for those unable to work in their home environment.

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"New Zealand's short-stay accommodation sector is already suffering, with more than 27,000 hotel beds literally vacated across the country," Humphries said.

"These are vital private sector infrastructure assets we can immediately utilise."

But Humphries said the Government needed to act now and buy into such a plan for it to work.

"The decisions we make in the next week will make all the difference, but we will need government buy-in. It's crucial to act now."

The New Zealand Government identified accommodation as an "essential service".

"That's a great start. Now the government and the hotel sector need to work together to take the next step."

"These solutions could help to save thousands of jobs and, ultimately, thousands of lives."

The services hotels could provide:
Long-term letting: With short-term demand being compromised, there is an opportunity to provide longer-term rental solutions. This will be most viable for self-contained serviced apartments with basic cooking facilities.

2. Self-isolation respite: Hotels are able to isolate rooms or floors and provide meals, cleaning and other services for people who have recently returned from overseas and can't live with extended family or who live in flats with multiple people, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems.

3. Remote working: Hotels could look at offering "temporary individual offices" with secure IT platforms on a daily or weekly basis for people who can not work from home.

4. Quarantine for people with Covid-19: Hotels are well placed to provide self-quarantine accommodation if hospitals simply can't cope with capacity.

5. Essential services accommodation: Hotels could provide accommodation for essential services staff in the health, public and primary industry sectors.

6. Home delivery services: With takeaway shops due to close from Wednesday, hotels could step in to provide pre-made meals for people who are unable to cook, including vulnerable people or health and emergency services staff. Laundry is another delivery service that hotels could look at providing.

7. Shelter for those in need: A growing number of people may temporarily lose their jobs and possibly their primary place of residence in the coming months. Hotels could provide short-term solutions for these people.

Humphries says all these solutions would require buy-in and co-operation from the Government and hotel operators.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website