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.
All hoteliers understand the fear instilled in people’s minds from this panic. With the media inculcating dire messages every day in one’s psyche, a virus-related anxiety will linger long after 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, travellers 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 public area cleaning protocols, but you have to embellish them. In what we have dubbed ‘cleanliness theatre,’ 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 based upon the previously established counterpart of ‘security theatre,’ which reached mainstream recognition in the wake of 9/11. For this latter concept, it’s not only about any crime-prevention updates you make, but also ensuring 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 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 hotel guests, this means they know they’re 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’s surveillance. Cleanliness theatre thus moves room attendants from an invisible workforce to front-and-centre 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’ve 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 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, don’t misinterpret theatre as a farce or front. Any movie or theatrical performance 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 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 guests can see and appreciate all the hard work you’ve done to ensure their safety.
Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world,both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. You can reach him at email@example.com to discuss hotel business challenges.