In order to ensure the resumption of safe travel and build consumer confidence, hotels have rolled out new health-and-safety protocols in response to COVID-19, as well as new cleanliness programs. “Pretty much every brand has a cleaning theme they’ve created over the past few months,” says Irwin Prince, president and COO of Toronto-based Realstar Hospitality — the Canadian franchisor of Days Inn and Motel 6/Studio 6 brands. “For Days Inn, Wyndham has Count on Us and Motel 6 is Clean@6. Generally, there’s enhanced attention on more frequent cleaning in common areas and back of house at hotels. Everyone is trying to do the best they can to reassure their associates and their guests that the hotel is spick and span.”
As Brendan Gibney, senior director, Franchise Services, Choice Hotels Canada, points out, ensuring a clean and safe environment is not a new focus at hotels, however, how this is approached and talked about has changed. “Our first big change was our verbiage around cleaning and disinfection versus cleaning. For years, we’ve focused on cleanliness, period,” Gibney explains. “There’s a difference in cleaning a room, compared to disinfecting a room. So, while disinfection processes were always part of the cleaning process…one of our first changes was calling out how disinfection is separate from cleaning.”
And, while it’s long been preferred to have cleaning practises go on in the background, more frequent cleaning has become a front-and-centre feature of new assurance programs. “[Choice Hotels has] always had an internal cleaning program, called Room Condition Journey, and all the hotels had to be certified, but [our] Commitment-to-Clean [initiative] is consumer facing. It started with Room Condition Journey and layered on more training on disinfection, from partners like Ecolab, [and] certification tests for cleaners in the hotels.”
New safety measures and clear signage detailing these protocols also feature prominently. This includes Plexiglas dividers at front desks, signage in common areas and physical-distance markers. And, there’s been a shift to “a more laser focus on touchpoints,” Gibney adds, pointing to payment terminals, door handles, et cetera. “We grew our list of touch points for regular public-area cleaning.”
“It’s making certain that when we hand someone the terminal for their credit card on checkout, the guest is seeing that front-desk agent wipe down the terminal before we give it to them and then wiping down the terminal [again] upon receiving it back,”
Prince offers as an example. And, while each major hotel company has released its own cleanliness initiative, there has also been considerable collaboration on this front. Many companies took part in the development of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s (AHLA) Safe-Stay program, which launched in May. The Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) also partnered with the AHLA to introduce the Safe-Stay program in Canada. Many companies have not only endorsed this initiative, but incorporated its guidelines in their brand-specific programs.
Prince notes experts and industry partners have also been instrumental in developing enhanced cleaning protocols. “We’re leaning heavily on our chemical vendor, Ecolab, which is providing a lot of guidance, assistance and a lot of training instructionals for us,” he explains.
Another example is Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ consulting agreement with Johns Hopkins Medicine International for its Lead-with-Care program. The brand is also working closely with Ecolab and International SOS for the ongoing development and implementation of the program.
Implementing such sweeping changes across large brands and portfolios has posed challenges for the industry. As Prince explains, requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) that are part and parcel with new protocols were among the initial issues faced, as the supply chain wasn’t prepared for the spike in demand. He also notes the industry’s enhanced cleaning protocols come with a price tag. “[Increased cleaning] rolls into an increase in labour costs as a result of the increased time it takes to make up a room and keep the hotel spick and span.”
And, due to the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic, remaining up to date and communicating new developments remains an ongoing challenge.
To address this, Choice Hotels Canada has been leveraging the Nudge app to engage with frontline hotel workers. “We were sharing all kinds of information, via Nudge, with frontline staff when COVID-19 first started and that’s proven hugely valuable to us,” shares Gibney. The platform helped the company break through the deluge of information and ensure its team was focusing “on the right things at the right time.”
Implementing new cleaning equipment and technology has also been a key focus. Realstar Hospitality is currently evaluating the use of electrostatic sprayers and UV lights in hotels. But, Prince notes, “We’re evaluating and comparing what’s out there to what we’re doing now. We’re always testing to make certain if we’re asking an owner to spend capital on a piece of equipment or a new process, that it’s an improvement over what we’re doing now.”
Choice has been examining foggers and electrostatic sprayers with similar caution. “The equipment is interesting, but it’s not really the equipment that’s so vital, it’s the chemical used. The equipment is just a way to distribute the chemical,” says Gibney. And, as he points out, it was only recently that chemicals available for use with this equipment were approved as effective against COVID-19 by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
And, as hotel health-and-safety practices continue to evolve, Gibney says, going forward, the focus will be on reducing risks. He points out that unlike hospitals, which were designed to be disinfected, hotels were designed for comfort. This has already resulted in many unnecessary and seldom-used items being removed from guestrooms, including decorative bedding elements, extra pillows and blankets, coffee makers and branded touchpoints such as stationary and information binders.
“We’re working hard to clean all surfaces in our rooms, to make sure they’re spotless — the less surfaces we have that are superfluous, the easier it is for housekeeping to look after,” says Prince. “Going forward, industry wide, [we’ll see items] we’ve always done because we’ve always [offered] it, don’t necessarily need to continue being offered, because they really are low priority to a guest.”
Wider changes to hotel design are also being considered. “What’s being discussed internally, and what a lot of brands are looking at, is [possibly designing] hotels differently so they’re easier to keep disinfected and safe while still delivering that comfortable experience,” Gibney explains. He points to carpets and other soft surfaces as features that are being examined because they aren’t easily disinfected.
“As things evolve, we’re staying on top of the market and doing what we need to do to provide the highest level of safety,” says Prince.
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