Hotels have always been held to high standards of cleanliness, but the pandemic has turned an even brighter spotlight on this critical element of the guest experience. As properties around the world endeavour to implement efficient and effective cleaning protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, operators are turning to new technology to ensure guests — and staff — feel safe.
Many hotels have integrated touchless technology to provide peace of mind for guests, as well as to reduce cleaning demands by minimizing the number of high-touch areas found throughout their spaces. In June 2020, citizenM rolled out a new mobile app designed to offer a contactless guest experience through the creation of digital room keys, contactless check-in and check-out, as well as in-app service requests for needs such as toiletries or extra pillows.
Smaller brands, such as B.C.-based Accent Inns, have also introduced digital keyless room entry across their eight properties, while at the InterContinental Toronto Centre, information packets typically found in guestrooms have been replaced by QR codes, which guests can scan to read the information via their phones.
Even with the help of touchless technology, however, hotel cleaning teams are still faced with the demands of continuously disinfecting guest areas. Larinda Becker, senior director of Marketing for Diversey, a provider of cleaning and hygiene products for the hospitality sector, says adjunct technologies, such as electrostatic sprayers and UV-C devices have been adopted by many hotels to address this need. “Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have the time or labour to cover them,” she says of disinfecting large guest areas.
Marriott International was among the first hotel chains to publicly announce it would be using electrostatic sprayers to rapidly clean and disinfect its guestrooms, lobbies, gyms and other public areas beginning in April 2020.
Electrostatic sprayers have quickly become the cleaning technology of choice for many operators, including Best Western Hotels & Resorts, according to Ron Pohl, SVP and Chief Operations Officer. Pohl says Best Western’s properties have integrated electrostatic sprayers, foggers and UV-C technology as part of its stepped-up cleaning program, but electrostatic sprayers have been the most widely implemented.
“Electrostatic sprayers are kind of like the Cadillac of the application,” explains Pohl. “They disinfect not only the particles in the air but also on all the surfaces.” Electrostatic sprayers apply a positive charge to the disinfectant solution as it travels through the spray nozzle. Most objects in the environment are negatively charged, which means the positively charged disinfectant attaches well to surfaces. The positively charged particles also repel one another, helping them to fan out throughout a space for maximum coverage.
Foggers, by contrast, release an uncharged mist of disinfectant, which means coverage is less thorough compared to electrostatic sprayers. Surfaces sprayed by foggers also need to be left wet for a period of time for the disinfectant to be effective, which can slow down cleaning speed. “You can distance-disinfect an entire ballroom with the electrostatic sprayer in five minutes, whereas [foggers and traditional spray bottles] might take a half-hour,” says Pohl.
Some Best Western properties are also using UV-C light technology, which de-activates the DNA of viruses, bacteria and fungi. But, says Pohl, UV-C devices have not been as popular a choice because the equipment is more expensive and requires more extensive training to safely operate.
Becker notes UV-C technology has been most sought-after by hotels that have had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. “UV-C has been [important] for really making sure you’ve killed the pathogens,” she says. To reassure guests and staff alike, she says many hotels will run their UV-C device before a housekeeper manually cleans the room to ensure staff are protected. The device is then run a second time after the manual clean is complete to prepare the room for the next guest.
General manager of Accent Inns Vancouver Airport, Arthur Wong, says his team considered UV-C technology and air-purification systems as part of its enhanced cleaning protocols but research led them to believe electrostatic sprayers would be more effective.
Electrostatic sprayers are available in handheld and backpack styles and Wong says Accent Inns chose handheld sprayers because they’re lightweight and allow its hotels to use the same type of disinfectant also used for manual spray-bottle cleaning. “They cover a lot of space in a short amount of time,” he says.
Michael Newbrand, senior vice-president of Operations at Remington Hotels, says its properties opted for backpack-style sprayers because they allow their cleaning team to “stay mobile” as they cover high-impact areas.
Property-management systems that allow for quick communication between teams and efficient cleaning scheduling have also taken on heightened importance amid the pandemic. Wong says Accent Inns, which uses Maestro PMS, found it helpful for adjusting its cleaning schedule to incorporate the electrostatic-sprayer step.
Maestro president Warren Dehan says the ability to schedule gaps between occupancy of guestrooms has become important for its users since the onset of the pandemic. “We’ve had to make modifications to our PMS system to allow for that,” he says. He explains many hotels now use this feature to give a room time to “air out” after a guest checks out and before the housekeeping team enters, or to create buffer time between a room being cleaned and the next guest checking in.
Dehan says Maestro has also seen an uptick in the use of its housekeeping app, which integrates with its PMS. “It’s an app that allows the housekeeper to see which rooms they’ve got to clean,” he explains. “It minimizes movement in the hotel and allows them to manage that from a handheld device”
With the COVID-19 vaccine rolling out and occupancy poised to potentially climb this year as guests feel more comfortable travelling, operators say heightened cleaning protocols, and the technology needed to facilitate them, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. “We’ll continue with the technology we’ve put in place,” says Wong. “It gives not just our team, but our guests, that extra level of comfort, safety and security.”
By Jessica Huras