Industry Update
Opinion Article21 May 2020

Hotel Cleanliness is Now a Theatrical Production

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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The travel industry will bounce back, but it will come with many new challenges as customer behavior and demands are transformed by the post-coronavirus new normal.

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Primary to this is that all hoteliers understand the fear instilled in people's minds from all this panic. With the media inculcating dire messages every day in one's psyche, a virus-related anxiety will linger for long after the point when travel restrictions are lifted. In researching this effect, the most appropriate term for it is 'post coronavirus stress disorder' (PCSD).

What this means is that your newly adopted hygiene standards put in place to address COVID-19 will likely have to remain in perpetuity - no matter the cost increase to sustain them - lest you 'trigger' someone with PCSD (to the detriment of your TripAdvisor scores) or guests simply don't trust your brand enough to want to visit.

In the new normal, travelers of all ages will have a heightened sensitivity for proper cleaning practices in public areas or practically any other space utilized by strangers. And they will inevitably judge your property on this, whether consciously or not. That is, a lack of pristine sanitization SOPs will lead to strongly negative reviews unlike in years past where a guest may have let these errors slide by only docking a single star.

Thus, in order to assuage these fears, not only do you need to intensify your housekeeping and cleaning area cleaning protocols, but you have to embellish it. In what we have dubbed 'cleanliness theatre' (also labeled as 'high-visibility cleaning'), you must think of these new SOPs not only in terms of their efficacy at preventing the transmission of viruses but also what performance you are giving for guests.

Cleanliness theatre is all based upon the previously established counterpart of 'security theatre' which reached mainstream recognition in wake of 9/11. For this latter concept, it is not only about any crime-prevention updates you make but also ensuring that people see those countermeasures in place so they can feel safer.

A simple example would be the decision between setting up a hidden camera to monitor an area versus installing a larger one protruding out from the ceiling with several conspicuous blinking lights to indicate that it's turned on. Both accomplish the goal of allowing personnel to observe the space, but only the latter is visible to the passersby. For regular people this means they know they are being watched and thus have a heightened sense of protection because a team will immediately see when something is wrong. For any potential lawbreakers, this is also a deterrent because they know there is surveillance.

Cleanliness theatre thus moves from room attendants from an invisible workforce to front and center on the operatic stage that is your hotel's front-of-house spaces.

Some operational changes therein might include consistent reminders to your loyalty base about what steps you have taken to increase hygiene onsite, having your custodial staff clean public areas during the peak periods in the morning or afternoon instead of only during the middle of the night when your lobby is empty, having all your servers or front desk clerks wear gloves at all times and perhaps even putting hand sanitizers or disinfecting wipes in the guestrooms.

As a forewarning, do not misinterpret theatre as a farce or front. Any movie or theatrical performance that you see represents the distillation of countless hours of work from hundreds of professionals, and your operations must be the same. In this regard, cleanliness theatre is the tip of iceberg to inform guests that there are far more safety measures in place behind the curtains.

While things may look bleak right now, the night is darkest just before the dawn. Never stop working and use this downtime to handle all those long overdue projects or technological implementations you never got around to completing. Housekeeping will play a pivotal role for numerous hotels in the years to come, so please consider how you can utilize the concept of cleanliness theatre so that guests can see and appreciate all the hard work you have done to ensure their safety.

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