Hospitality, Commercial Cleaning, COVID-19 Tue, Jun 9, '20
Why A Clean Hotel is No Longer Enough — and What Guests Want to See Instead

With businesses just beginning to reopen, many people are eager to put stay-at-home orders behind them and begin traveling again. Although an April 23 poll indicated that only 33% of Americans felt comfortable staying in a clean hotel this summer, by May 23 that number had increased to 40%. Social distancing has taken its toll, but people are ready to venture out again. Now, it’s up to the hospitality industry to assure travelers that they’ll be safe venturing out.

The industry is already hard at work in taking action to ease travel anxiety with new hotel housekeeping programs that promise a clean room and safe stay. Best practices for cleaning, including the use of disinfectants approved by the EPA for use against COVID-19, have already been established. However,  there’s more that needs to be done. Clearly communicating the steps taken and frequency of cleaning performed, and providing available data around the level of clean achieved, will become an important part of the industry cleaning toolkit in support of hotel reopenings.

Clear communication is critical

The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) has set a standard for cleanliness after coronavirus with its Stay Safe campaign. The initiative is based on recommendations from medical industry leaders and scientists for enhancing cleanliness protocols throughout every part of a hotel and reducing person-to-person contact. The initiative promises greater transparency of its established processes, which is key as guests are likely to be more discerning about paying for a cleaner hotel stay in the months to come.

“While hotels have always employed demanding cleaning standards, this new initiative will ensure greater transparency and confidence throughout the entire hotel experience,” commented Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA, in a news announcement on the campaign.

This transparency begins with communication about cleaning steps and proof of performance testing on reservation websites. It continues with clear signage at check-in, near shared facilities, and in the guest room or on broadcast networks.

Certifications offer objectivity

As Rogers points out, there has always been an expectation of cleanliness from hotel housekeeping. But Dr. Demian Hodari, Associate Professor of Strategic Management for EHL, a Swiss school for hoteliers, points out that simply communicating standards of cleanliness is  as short-sighted as airlines basing business on safety records: safety is the minimum expectation. Hotels must go beyond messaging to truly differentiate.

Some organizations are turning to third-party standards to prove that they’re doing more than lip service. The Global BioRisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of the International Sanitary Supply Association trade, is developing a new certification program to train housekeepers in best practices to stop the spread of infectious disease. In an interview with NPR, GBAC executive director Patty Olinger said she imagines this could become an industry standard, with plaques on the walls of hotels communicating a higher level of cleanliness assurance to guests.

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Data becomes key to sales

The key to securing travelers’ stays will be in offering proof of cleaning performance. Ultimately, the only real assurance hotels can offer is in data that demonstrates that training and best practices lead to results.

The healthcare industry — where lack of cleanliness can lead to serious and often fatal infections — may offer some insight for potential steps to assuring high standards of cleanliness. Healthcare environmental services (EVS) staff relies on a variety of practices for proof of performance testing. For example, a supervisor might mark high-touch surfaces with a glow-in-the-dark marker before EVS staff cleans and use that to later check the effectiveness of the cleaning. “Fluorescent gel dries down transparently on surfaces, resists abrasions and there are several studies demonstrating the accuracy of the system in objectively evaluating cleaning practice and quantifying the impact of educational interventions on such cleaning,” according to CDC researchers.

ATP monitoring is a more tech-based method. ATP is an enzyme present in organic material, and so EVS staff might use ATP systems to measure residual organic matter on a surface after cleaning. Results are quickly available to provide confirmation of cleaning.

Organizations outside of healthcare are beginning to rely more heavily on technology, and its objective lens, to provide a confirmation of clean. For example, some facilities are employing autonomous robotic sweepers like Whiz by SoftBank Robotics. Whiz is programmed to clean along specific routes without human intervention and gather data along the way about when, where and how long it operated. Its cleaning and status reports offer proof that essential cleaning is performed consistently, day after day.

Equally central to the hotel industry’s messaging is that robotic solutions can provide a visible reminder that cleaning is happening constantly, while reducing person-to-person contact.

Planning for future visits

The hospitality industry is embracing messaging around clean, but to remain competitive in the long-term additional steps will become necessary. Hotels and other lodging facilities will need to make significant changes to their processes to keep travelers safe and reservations up.

Fortunately, these additional steps don’t have to be cost-prohibitive. Some autonomous cleaning solutions, like Whiz, developed and distributed in partnership with Brain OS and ICE Robotics, are available with a subscription model, allowing property owners to cost-effectively pilot the solution in their hotels. With the right investment today, the hospitality industry can better protect its workers, its guests and its bottom-line.