Hotel cleaning and sanitation practices were traditionally managed discretely behind the scenes. In a COVID-19 world, however, today’s guests are looking for reassurances that the hotels they visit are following or exceeding the most up-to-date standards and protocols.
“Cleaning has moved from something kept hidden in the background and is now very much in the forefront,” says Amanda Bakken, lead chemist, Institutional R&D for Ecolab in St. Paul, Min. “Everybody wants confidence in the safety of where they are staying. We’re seeing more communication to guests with signage in the lobbies, stickers on doors and safety seals on rooms when they’re cleaned.”
Even pre-COVID-19, cleanliness and sanitization were important factors for guests, says Jack Minacs, acting territory manager for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) in Toronto. “Since COVID, that has only increased as an important factor when guests are choosing a property. Hotels can’t afford to back down on enhanced cleaning and are now making cleanliness pledges on their websites to help consumers when choosing a property.”
He cites a Deloitte study entitled Safety and cleanliness: make it or break it, that indicates hotels that go beyond the minimum standards for sanitization and cleanliness can differentiate themselves from competitors. It states that when looking at standards, “If customers and employees don’t think their needs have been fulfilled, they could easily select another brand.”
In the beginning
As COVID-19 has evolved, protocols have gone through a number of iterations. Processes have eased somewhat since the early days of COVID-19, when the rooms at ALT Hotel Quartier DIX30 in Montreal required a three-step, three-day cleaning process, says Simon Gadbois, general manager. “It was very strict at first. Having to disinfect all touchpoints, including remote controls, showerheads, faucets, handles, and even hooks takes more time obviously, but we could afford that at the time because occupancy was low.”
Over time, and as they learned more about transmission, housekeeping staff have reduced room cleaning to within 24 hours. In public areas, cleaning supplies are kept on hand so front-of-house staff can disinfect touchpoints such as elevator buttons on a frequent basis.
The hotel has based its protocols on both government and internal guidelines, says Gadbois. “We gathered information from every province to make sure we respected all legislation, picking the strictest of the provincial standards [Ontario and Quebec] for all our properties.”
When the first lockdown was announced, Accor immediately sought the advice of scientists, and technical and infectious-disease specialists to educate its team on the virus and how it was evolving, says Andrea Torrance, senior vice-president, Guest Experience – North & Central America at Accor in Toronto. “We also shared a lot of practices with the American Hotel and Lodging Association, as well as consulted with other industries such as airlines to learn their procedures. As things evolved, we had a good handle on things like how air filtration and transmissibility work. The good news is we had already excellent protocols in place. Our history really helped us.”
The chemistry of sanitization
“In many cases it’s a matter of introducing some enhancements to cleaning protocols hotels have already had in place,” says Minacs. “What’s different is there’s more of a deep clean at the beginning and end of a guest stay, rather than cleaning in between. A lot of properties have also changed the chemicals they’re using to [include] more hospital- or food-grade disinfectants. With that, hotels also have to make sure they have a robust WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) program in place.”
“One thing the pandemic brought to the forefront is how disinfectants work and the science behind them. They are realizing not all are created equally,” says Bakken.
She recommends selecting disinfectants with short contact times that target communicable illnesses. “It’s much more efficient and easier for housekeeping staff to do their job.”
She’s also seeing more interest in multi-use products. “With the tight labour force and high turnover, using multi-use cleaners means there are fewer
Cross-contamination is also a concern when cleaning rooms, she adds. “Consider colour coding cleaning supplies. For example, if you are using a pink cleaner in the bathroom, use a pink cloth so the same cloth won’t mistakenly be used to clean the remote control.”
To determine the frequency of cleaning protocols for public areas and when extra precautions may be needed, Bakken suggests looking at the soil load, foot traffic and environment. “Are there outbreaks in the area? How many staff members do you have? Are there rush times during the day? In the future this won’t always be COVID related. There are many other times when you need to take some extra precautions.”
Don’t forget the back of house when talking cleaning and disinfecting, Minacs adds. “Sometimes this doesn’t get addressed. Make sure you are addressing the break rooms, change rooms and lunch areas.”
An integral part of maintaining a strict sanitization and cleaning practice is staff training. ALT hotels used its MOODLE e-learning platform to teach staff members across its 18 properties in Canada on new procedures and protocols. “We created a whole module in French and English about new cleaning procedures to ensure employees were comfortable cleaning rooms and the guests knew they were being trained,” says Gadbois.
Accor organized virtual courses for 200 people in partnership with Ecolab. “Over a few weeks we were able to tap in and educate general managers, directors of Housekeeping, directors of Rooms and Food and Beverage,” explains Torrance. “Normally we train about 30 people. But with staff shortages, people are doing other people’s jobs and having to step in to run housekeeping.”
Bringing laundry into the loop
“Clean sheets, linens and towels are a strong indication of a well-run hotel that is doing the right thing,” says Jonathan Butwinick, senior program leader, Institutional RD&E, Lodging and LTC, with Ecolab.
With labour challenges, he says it’s more important than ever to minimize steps and improve efficiencies in laundry functions. “It’s the initial handling of sheets and towels that can make or break us. When changing sheets in a room, make sure you’re not agitating them or hugging them too close to the body.”
It’s critical to separate clean and dirty linens and the spaces they occupy, he adds. “You can do all the right things when they’re in the washer in terms of temperature and chemistry, but if the processes beyond the washer aren’t managed properly, it will all fall apart. That means bringing materials in and out correctly and keeping laundry off the floors. You don’t want things spilling off carts or being dragged through halls. Also, make sure carts are clearly labelled for dirty or clean linen.”
The ALT Hotel Quartier DIX30 does laundry for four Germain properties in Montreal, processing up to 70,000 lbs. of linens a month. Since COVID-19 began, it now wraps all the soiled linens and terry inside bags and separate them from clean ones. “Linens were coming out of the rooms wrapped rather than in people’s arms,” says Gadbois. Washers and dryers have also been set to run at higher temperatures, and employees, and laundry bins disinfected before going to the floors.
When laundering, Butwinick advises operators to make sure they’re running the right cycles designed for getting sheets or towels clean and are using the right chemicals for the job. He also notes that overloading machines doesn’t allow for the right amount of chemistry to reach the fabrics. “Some areas never get wet so the chemicals can’t do their job. Staff should also make sure their hands are sanitized before handling clean linen to avoid the risk of cross contamination. The key is making sure you are efficient with the resources you have.”
The way forward
While hotels now have many of their sanitization-and-cleaning protocols in hand, conversations are moving to more robust health-and-safety improvements, says Minacs. “The first elements were hand hygiene and cleaning touchpoints everywhere; then masking became the big thing. Now the conversations are moving towards enhanced ventilation and HEPA air filtration. If I was talking to a hotel operator today, I would say consult with an HVAC professional.”
Torrance says that moving forward, “We have to make sure the credibility is there for our guests. Sanitation can’t be seen as theatre where you see people polishing and cleaning all the time.”
Accor has used a third-party consultant to audit all its properties, which now carry the ALLSAFE label verified by Clifton. Every aspect of its protocols, from cleaning and safety measures to training, are posted on the allsafeandwell.com website.
“Guests want reassurances you’re doing what you say you’re doing,” says Torrance. “We all want to get back to delivering great service and experiences.”
By Denise Deveau