The Most Important Word in the Hospitality Industry? ‘Clean’

The Most Important Word in the Hospitality Industry? ‘Clean’


In February, news from the Wynn Las Vegas included plans for Valentine’s Day (among the offerings: a “Lover’s Menu for Two”) and National Margarita Day (four new cocktails).

What a difference a pandemic makes.

Three months later, the casino resort announced a much more sober initiative, the “Wynn Las Vegas Health & Disinfection Program.” The 28-page memo lays out how the 2,700-room property will address health and hygiene when it reopens. Out with mezcal and barhopping; in with thermal cameras, elevator capacity limits and disinfection protocols for the Chipper Champ, a chip-sorting machine.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry group, the coronavirus outbreak has cost hotels in the United States more than $23 billion in room revenue since mid-February. As these properties prepare for a new operational reality — one that must balance federal, state and local laws and consumer anxiety about getting sick — the world’s largest hotel companies have all come forward in recent weeks to announce new cleaning playbooks.

“The first question that comes to mind when someone’s making the decision to book is: ‘Am I going to be safe?’” said Suzanne Markham Bagnera, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor and chair of the undergraduate program in the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University. “Cleaning has traditionally been a back-of-the-house or behind-the-scenes tactic, hotels are now needing to bring that to the center stage.”

Program names riff on the hottest word in hospitality right now: clean. There’s Hilton CleanStay, Choice Hotels’ Commitment to Clean, Best Western’s We Care Clean, Omni Safe & Clean and IHG Clean Promise. Four Seasons has Lead With Care, Wyndham has Count on Us, Mandarin Oriental has We Care, Rosewood has Commitment to Care. Marriott launched a Global Cleanliness Council; Hyatt, a Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment. Topping it off is the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Safe Stay, a list of general industry recommendations.

“It’s not about what these names say outright — it’s about what they signify,” said Anthony Shore, a linguist who helps name products and companies. “We used to take a clean hotel room for granted and hope that hotels would deliver. But now, because we associate the word ‘clean’ with something that is virus-free, it has become more loaded than it used to be.”

Although there are no hotel-specific disinfection guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the agency’s general Covid-19 resources — including everyday steps for employers and best reopening practices for businesses — has offered a foundation for hotels as they’ve sought to create their own. Many of the new cleaning plans include a consultancy with a leading medical organization, products and technologies from Ecolab (a major hygiene and safety company), some element of social distancing, increased disinfection of guest rooms and public spaces, and a commitment to procure and test new technologies like robots and ultraviolet light.

Guests will immediately notice the disappearance of the breakfast buffet, the decluttering of nonessential room items like throw pillows, and the wearing of masks and other personal protective equipment by staff.

Mr. Shore said the new batch of nomenclature from hotel marketing teams doesn’t suggest a higher degree of cleanliness or a significant departure from the pre-Covid era. But these measures, if implemented fully, will substantially alter how hotels operate.

“This is completely going to change the role and realm of housekeeping,” Dr. Bagnera said. “With occupancy rates so low, now is the perfect opportunity for hotel general managers to work with their teams and make sure they’re mapping out how they’re going to clean the rooms, how they’re going to be efficient and how they’re going to keep their employees safe.”

In recent years, many housekeeping tasks were streamlined or replaced. Complex new cleaning protocols could revitalize those jobs, and perhaps add new ones, particularly as occupancy levels rebound.

For Unite Here, a hospitality workers’ union with 300,000 members in North America, the new guidelines raise questions about what will happen when hotel workers clock back in. More than 95 percent of its union members are not working as a result of the pandemic.

“These new measures — and the reality that they must be adhered to well into the future — point to a need for more workers across the board,” said D. Taylor, Unite Here’s international president.

Best Western predicts that its “We Care Clean” program — which includes more disinfection of touchpoints like faucets and door handles — will increase the time it takes to clean each room by 50 percent.Industrywide, the use of new disinfectants — which must sit on a surface for a certain amount of time in order to be effective — will force an adjustment to the flow in which rooms are serviced.

Whereas Wynn’s lengthy memo gets into the weeds about what will happen at one stand-alone casino-resort — “Addition of inserts into golf hole cups to allow easy removal of balls” — companies with thousands of hotels can’t offer that level of detail. Rather, their new cleaning guidelines are meant as overarching navigational tools. They’re guidelines and best practices, not strict directives.

“CleanStay” will begin rolling out to all Hilton brands worldwide in June. Marriott is taking a phased approach to its rollout over the next 30 to 90 days, and to all 30 brands, including The Ritz-Carlton.

But most big chains do not usually own, and often don’t operate, the hotels bearing their names, meaning it’s up to individual franchise owners to fund supplies, training and marketing.

That makes oversight a challenge. Best Western will have a system of self-auditing for its 2,200 North American hotels; general managers will be asked to keep a “We Care Clean” checklist on file. Wyndham will kick-start “Count on Us” by financing and shipping the first round of masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to more than 6,000 hotels and allow them to defer repayment until September. All of Hyatt’s managed and franchised hotels — more than 900 globally — will appoint “Hygiene Managers.”

Boutique hotels could face additional hurdles as they seek to marry cleanliness with individual expression.

  • Updated June 2, 2020

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Quirk Hotel, Charlottesville, in Virginia, opened in early March only to temporarily close less than two weeks later. As it preps for a June reopening, its leadership is considering ways to adhere to Hyatt’s global guidelines (Quirk is part of Destination Hotels, a Hyatt brand) without losing the identity suggested by the hotel’s name. Employees will wear light-pink masks — a nod to the hotel’s logo and lobby décor — custom tailored by a local garment maker; no-touch restaurant menus will double as clever, artistic table centerpieces.

“We are doing everything possible to go beyond simply complying with the new requirements from our parent brand, Hyatt, and the governing state of Virginia to ensure the heart and soul of our property stays intact,” said Matthew Brink, the hotel’s general manager.

Personal touches go even further at fully independent hotels. At Old Edwards Inn & Spa and Half-Mile Farm, sister luxury hotels in Highlands, N.C., staff members are undergoing eye-expression training to decipher the needs and emotions of guests wearing face masks. The Inn at Little Washington, in Virginia, is using life-size mannequins to fill out the state-mandated socially distanced seating at its Michelin-starred restaurant. Ocean House, on the Rhode Island coast, is supplanting its nightly happy hour at the bar with a canape-and-cocktail cart that pushes from room to room.

These visual cues will be paramount as hotels big and small rebuild consumer confidence. Data from the U.S. Travel Association and MMGY Travel Intelligence suggests that Americans right now consider vacation rentals safer than hotels. In a recent survey of nearly 4,600 respondents, the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that improved health and cleaning is the chief factor impacting the decision to stay at a hotel. That’s why most of the new guidelines encourage public-facing elements like social-distancing signage, seals identifying that a room has been disinfected, Plexiglas partitions and more.

“Guests will be interested to know how their room is cleaned, how often it’s cleaned and who is responsible for maintaining a safe environment within the hotel,” said Tim Chatfield, the founder and chief executive of Jitjatjo, an online hospitality industry platform.

But in order for any of these new programs to work, industry experts and hospitality worker activists believe that health and hygiene must become give-and-take.

“Hotels are asking guests to wear masks, distance themselves, wash their hands and use sanitizer or wipes before going into the elevator,” Dr. Bagnera said. “It’s like: ‘Come in and we’ll take care of you at a hundred percent — but you’ve got to participate in the new process as well.’”



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