Hotels ‘keep it clean’ for future travel

By Wayne Troughton CEO, HTI Consulting


Ask hotels to name their competitive edge and ‘location, location, location’ was amongst the expected responses. Now, cleanliness has become one of the most important factors on the road to recovery and in the future.

The question is: do hotels have a plan in place to protect their properties against the spread of disease and to reassure guests in a post-COVID world?

‘We’re prepared’ is the universal message

This month, in a fundamental move, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) laid out bold new global protocols designed to align the international travel and tourism industry around consistent health and safety guidelines and, essentially, protect travellers wherever their future journeys take them.

Backed by top hospitality group CEOs and business leaders from across the travel and tourism sector, the WTTC announcement came on the heels of major hotel groups announcing plans to fortify their defenses; consulting with experts and cross-functional global response teams and playing their part in helping to defeat the spread of the virus.

Based on the best available medical evidence, and following guidelines from the WHO and the CDC, the new global health and safety hotel protocols drawn up by WTTC members are well-thought out and expansive, and avoid the emergence of multiple standards which would only delay the sector’s recovery.

WTTC Health and Safety protocols for hotels include:

  • guidance for cleaning teams for all hotel areas – with specific focus on high-frequency touch points i.e. room key cards
  • ensuring social distancing for guests through signage and guidelines including lifts and lobby areas
  • retraining staff in infection control, social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures, including hand washing and use of masks and gloves
  • all extraneous items being removed throughout hotels
  • integrating technologies to enable automation (i.e. contactless payments where possible)
  • offering room service using no-contact delivery methods
  • establishing clear, consistent and enhanced communication with customers on new health and hygiene safety protocols, both digitally and physically at hotels
  • safe reopening of food and beverage outlets and Meeting and Events spaces with specific actions to ensure social distancing, disinfection and food safety.

Most hotel groups have built upon these guidelines and expanded them in order to develop their own extensive and specific brand standards. These standards are likely to evolve as each group begins to operate in the ‘new normal’ and continues to identify what works and what can be improved upon.

What will your hotel stay look like?

What will an average hotel stay look and feel like when the world begins to move around again?

Whilst we don’t know for sure quite yet, there are certainly clues in the list of protocols and standards already issued and some thoughts and ideas on what might be adopted in the future.

Sanitised arrivals

A hotel’s defence against the spread of germs will likely begin before a guest even enters a hotel. Guests will get reassurance from visible signs that hotels have highest standards of cleanliness in place. This could mean automatic sliding doors or doormen wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to open and close doors for guests. Hotels may also require guests and visitors to be screened for temperature checks as they enter the hotel.

Guests can expect front-desk staff to be equipped with facemasks and gloves to complete check-in and checkout procedures and handle guest requests. We’ll also see increased use of contactless initiatives, such as mobile check-in and digital keys and touch-free buttons, allowing guests to more easily open doors in public spaces and complete check-in and checkout procedures digitally. Elevators may only operate at certain times so that they can be sanitised directly thereafter.

Many hotels will set up touch-free hand sanitiser stations in lobbies and other areas of their properties, and we’re likely to find disinfectant wipes located outside elevators to allow guests to wipe down the buttons, for example.

Technology-driven cleaning tools and health monitoring

Guests will not only need a clean room to sleep in, they’ll also need reassurance that their accommodation is indeed clean. Examples of major potential changes include adding new technologies, such as germ-detecting ultraviolet lighting in rooms, as well as contact tracing. Enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols are currently top priorities for most hotel groups.

Marriott, for example, has introduced technologies like electrostatic sprayers to disinfect rooms and common areas. The hotel group recently issued its own standards (created with input from scientists and infectious disease experts) whereby, among other multi-pronged initiatives, hospital-grade disinfectant will be used to sanitise surfaces. Accor’s ALLSAFE plan includes a partnership with insurance provider AXA to offer telemedicine and online health consultations to guests.

Hilton worked with Lysol and the Mayo Clinic’s Infection Prevention and Control team on its programme. Radisson announced its Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol, a new programme of in-depth cleanliness and disinfection procedures, in partnership with SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company, and will be introducing an official label of cleanliness and disinfection. Hyatt also introduced accreditation for its member properties through a performance-based cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention programme.

The world’s major hotel brands are upping the ante on cleaning in an effort to win customer confidence and capture whatever market share exists in the travel industry’s initial coronavirus recovery.

In-room amenities

Hotel guests should anticipate a return to some old practices, such as single-use toiletries replacing multi-use containers. There’s a good chance these types of amenities (a fruit bowl, for example, or a bottle of wine) won’t immediately be returning to all hotel rooms. In hotel rooms, the emphasis will shift to cleanliness, not extravagance. Printed menus and guest compendiums can be replaced with a wipe clean in-room tablet. Hotels could also let guests know they can opt out of daily housekeeping and cleaning activities.

If hotels can successfully show they’re taking the threat of germ spread seriously – maybe going so far as to wrap aircon or TV remotes in plastic and replacing these daily – it could bring travellers additional peace of mind.

Differences in dining

Social-distancing measures will continue to apply within hotel restaurants and bars for the foreseeable future, and guests will probably be encouraged to turn to in-room service in higher numbers. In restaurant and dining operations we can expect fewer guests being accommodated due to social distancing measures. Buffets are likely to be discontinued or remain limited and restaurants in a hotel may either remain closed or limit their capacities in the near future. Staggering of meal times and bookings at restaurants is likely to become the norm in order to control the number of guests at a restaurant at any given time. Limited menus are also likely to reduce staffing levels and interaction with the supply chain.

At those properties not offering in-room service, ‘grab-and-go’ stations or other self-service options will most likely exist, whilst other hotels may partner with local restaurants and food related businesses to offer an ordering service that guests can access on their own device via a QR code.

Changes to further public spaces

Hotel pools, gyms and spas are other heavily trafficked areas we’re likely to notice changes. Some of these areas are likely to remain closed a little longer in some markets.

In the gym, equipment will need to be sanitised frequently and thoroughly. Outside fitness areas may also see introduction and increased popularity.

In the spa, staff members will also need to wear PPE, and there’s a good chance the menu of treatments will be trimmed significantly to cut down on the spread of germs and minimise contact. At the swimming pools and the beach, we’ll see social distancing measures, like chairs spaced further apart and changes to service, with attendants wearing masks and gloves.

There will be increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces and areas like lobbies, guest rooms, restaurants, conventions spaces, recreational areas, restrooms, fitness centres, employee areas and more to help eliminate any potential bacteria and viruses.

Staff and staffing

Strict and stringent hygiene and cleanliness procedures are likely to be implemented relating to staff. Staffing levels are likely to be kept to a minimum to limit contact by reducing the number of facilities offered.

Support staff will be required to work from home where possible and practical.

Each hotel will probably have a mini-clinic in order to conduct screening of staff before they enter the workplace. Some hotels may even consider housing all staff or at least a core contingent in unused guest rooms.

Training of staff on new hygiene and cleanliness standards will be mandatory and extensive.

The bottom line

I concur with Radisson Hospitality President & CEO, Federico J. González who said of the WTTC guidelines, “We need to make sure that the travel industry speaks the same language and each consumer understands what safety means in hotels, regardless of their location. Having a common worldwide protocol allows consumers to recognise the same safety standards wherever they travel.”

I believe the tourism and hospitality industry has learnt hard lessons from the past, especially after the tragedy of 9/11, where a lack of co-ordination among governments and the private sector resulted in long-lasting travel disruption, higher costs and, ultimately, a longer recovery time.

As the world envisions what life will be like after COVID-19, hotels are providing us with an idea of what a future hotel stay will look like. And it’s becoming increasingly apparent that how a hotel communicates its new standards will be key to attracting us once again when the travel sector opens up.

Travel is likely to return first to domestic markets with ‘staycations’, then to country’s nearest neighbours before expanding across regions and finally across continents. Alternative accommodation platforms like Airbnb are racing to roll out new cleaning programmes to give customers peace of mind. Local guesthouses and independent hotels will also need to do all they possibly can to attract the domestic market and ensure that they signal their travellers ‘we are a safe location.’

Naturally, strict health and hygiene measures should not spell the end of quality guest service and interaction. Clean should not mean sterile when it comes to guest service – and this will prove a new challenge for hotels in the future. But, the travel industry (and the world, for that matter) has never seen a situation like the current pandemic and, right now, cleanliness and hygiene are Priority No. 1 for hotels working on the path forward and providing strong reassurance to future travellers.

At this point though, it goes without saying that, in the post-Coronavirus age, the greatest luxury in travel, and specifically hotels, won’t be private villas or personal butlers, but the assurance of cleanliness and safety.