Conveying hotel cleanliness during COVID-19 crisis
Conveying hotel cleanliness during COVID-19 crisis
14 MAY 2020 12:29 PM

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, how hotels are cleaned and how guests are assured of that cleanliness must change.

For hotel housekeeping, COVID-19 has become a showstopper, and not the good kind! Traditional guestroom cleaning programs fall shy of the hygiene standards required amidst COVID-19. The inflow of guests from around the world elevates the risk of contamination in hotels. Exacerbating that risk is that fact that guestrooms contain extensive traps for bacteria: from TV remotes to telephone sets, and from bedding to bathroom fixtures, hotels can become hotspots for microbial hazards.

Change is needed to advance cleaning protocols from observation-based to medical-grade. Change is also needed to give guests assurance that hotels are doing everything possible to provide safe and secure stays. Change is needed to make the task of housekeeping a more immersive experience. Based on travelers’ reactions to the pandemic and recent industry actions and pledges, we recommend some practical tips that hotels can consider when addressing guest concerns about sanitation and safety.

Cleanliness is in the spotlight
Hotel guests have always valued cleanliness. The current spread of infectious disease represents a global threat and is having a detrimental effect on our industry at large. Beyond the standstill caused by shelter-in-place and quarantine orders, travelers will bear the longer-term effects of elevated concerns about the sanitation, especially as they consider future business trips and vacations. A recent survey by Upgraded Points found that 41% of Americans’ greatest concern about post-COVID travel for non-essential, non-business reasons is contracting the virus themselves; the second-highest response (32%) was spreading COVID-19 to friends or family as a result of contracting the virus. Concern about cleanliness is clearly pervasive.

Play the part
For a response to guest concerns, hotel operators might look to another survey: In a poll by Fuel Travel, respondents indicated they wish to hear from hotels on the following topics:

  • “What the property is doing to protect guests” (58.4%)
  • “How the coronavirus is affecting the local area” (49.7%)
  • “What the property is doing to protect staff” (46.1%)
  • “The property’s COVID-19 response plan” (41.4%)

As the title of this article suggests, the key to success will be setting the stage for safe guest experiences.

According to hospitality consultant Larry Mogelonsky, housekeeping is no longer about being “flawless yet invisible.” While guestroom cleaning has traditionally happened behind closed doors, efforts now need to the take center-stage in communications and throughout the guest experience. It was Mogelonsky who recently debuted the concept of “cleanliness theater”: akin to “security theater,” such practices should overtly expose cleanliness measures to assure guests that safety is a priority for a hotel.

Guests will now need to be a co-producer in the immersive experience. This new play will have guests acting out the parts too, as they will have to wear masks, wash their hands, use sanitizing wipes to press elevator buttons, and agree to slow down so that social distancing can occur.

Time for a scene change
There is a consensus among industry leaders that more stringent cleaning standards are needed, though no universal hotel cleaning standards are yet established in response to COVID-19. While there may be no single script hotels should follow, consider some of these ideas for your hotel:

• Publicize the use of novel cleaning processes and technology. Marriott, for instance, recently launched a Global Cleanliness Council and announced the implementation of electrostatic sprayers. Accor is collaborating on a label to certify sanitation standards in hotels, restaurants, and other facilities. Hilton is partnering with Lysol and the Mayo clinic, with the implementation of door seals. Together, some of the major brands are collaborating to create a new scene, the Stay Safe guidelines on the AHLA stage. Companies like these aren’t just previewing coming efforts: they’re auditioning for future business. You don’t need a flashing marquee, but do share your efforts on social media, with your PR networks, and – critically – across reservations channels.

(For more on how hotel companies and brands are partnering with third-parties on hotel cleaning protocols and policies, read “Hotel firms seek outside help to set cleaning protocols” at Hotel News Now.)

• Provide messaging directly to guests at key touchpoints (for example, at the time of booking and upon check-in). Address the method and frequency of housekeeping services. Explain how elevator usage will reinforce social distancing. Acknowledge adapted services, like stoppage of turndown service, changes to food and beverage offerings, or the closure of fitness and recreation amenities. Doing so can not only proactively address guest questions and concerns, but can also help cast operators and guests in the roles they will each play to ensure safe and satisfying stays.

• Integrate thoughtful “props” in-room and throughout the guest experience as evidence of cleanliness. As examples, consider the use of plastic-wrapped, single-use cups, switch to hermetically-sealed pillows, and place signage or stickers assuring items have been sterilized. Wherever possible, also remove unnecessary, contaminable items like decorative art, stationary, and guestroom collateral.

As the hospitality industry enters its next act, operators must exercise cautious showmanship while resuming their careful stewardship of guest experiences. Housekeeping and cleanliness efforts assume a starring role. Our hotels, as they say, will get on with the show!

The next play
Our research team’s aim is to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on prospective hotel guests, their concern about safety and sanitation. We are particularly interested in how travelers’ behavior has changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The presence and level of consumer trust will be essential in attracting travelers to stay and return to a hotel. Specifically, the objectives of our planned study are to:

  • Understand how COVID-19 has altered traveler’s need for safety and sanitation;
  • Identify trust-enhancing factors in a post COVID-19 market;
  • Study factors that trigger lack of trust in a hotel; and,
  • Recommend actions that contribute to a long-term trusting relationship between service provider and guest.

Dr. Peter Szende has over 25 years of management experience in the hospitality industry in both Europe and North America. He is currently a Programme Lead in Hospitality Management at Oxford Brookes Business School, in the UK. He was formerly a Professor of the Practice in the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University, where he also served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

Suzanne Markham Bagnera, PhD, CHA is Assistant Clinical Professor and Chair of the Undergraduate Program in the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University, where she specializes in teaching hotel operations and human resources. A Certified Hotel Administrator (CHA), Suzanne has had over 25 years of hospitality experience having held positions as General Manager at Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, Staybridge Suites, and Holiday Inn Express. Suzanne earned her M.B.A. and B.S. from Johnson & Wales University her doctorate from Iowa State University in Hospitality Management.

Alec N. Dalton, CRDE, CHIA is a service scientist specializing in hospitality quality and customer experience. He currently serves as Senior Manager of Global Quality for Marriott International*, improving worldwide guest experiences while maintaining on-strategy hotels across 30 leading brands. He previously operated luxury hotels for The Ritz-Carlton and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. In 2018, Hotel Management Magazine named him to the “30 Under 30” list of rising hospitality leaders. Recently, Alec co-authored the international best-seller Customer Experience, a guide to experience-oriented marketing and operations. *Note: His authorship of this article does not reflect the views of Marriott International.

The assertions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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