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Travel & Leisure

Clean enough for you? Hilton and rivals take disinfection to new level

Forget the hotel detective, the sanitation manager is looking after your safety

The room phone, along with door knobs and major bathroom surfaces, is one of the 10 high-touch, deep clean areas that Hilton focuses on.    © 2020 Hilton

NEW YORK -- The crisp fragrance of Lysol in the lobby, a reassuring greeting from the sanitation manager, a state-of-the-art touchless lock at the elevator -- cleanliness has always been at the heart of the hotel business, but it has become an obsession like never before in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

There was a time when Hilton Worldwide Holdings added the scent of jasmine to hotel lobbies to differentiate itself from the competition. Starting this month, the company is rolling out the CleanStay program, an effort to turn cleaning into a science.

CleanStay identifies 10 frequently-touched objects in need of extra disinfecting, such as doorknobs, remote controls and climate control panels. Hilton will also disinfect lobbies and other high-traffic areas more frequently, as well as distribute touchless smartphone keys for checking in.

To raise its standards of cleanliness, Hilton has reached out to a team of infectious disease prevention experts at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. Hilton also partnered with Reckitt Benckiser, the U.K.-based company behind the disinfectant brand Lysol.

The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to the hotel industry. The occupancy rate at U.S. hotels dropped to 39% between May 31 and June 6, according to data provider STR, down from above 80% a year earlier. Revenue per room plunged 65% to about $33.

In recent weeks, economies around the world have been reopening, and there are signs that demand for hospitality is slowly recovering. To capitalize on this and realize the biggest possible earnings benefit, hotels have to market themselves as the epitome of safety and cleanliness.

The hotel detective was once charged with ensuring safety at the top hotels, but welcome to the age of the sanitation manager.

Marriott International has put together an advisory panel of experts versed in infectious disease and microbiology. The panel will be responsible for determining new cleaning standards for the 7,300 locations in Marriott's global portfolio. The company looks to develop automatic disinfectant sprayers and other next-generation cleaning equipment.

Hyatt Hotels will install sanitation managers at each of its 900 locations. The chain aims to attain GBAC Star accreditation for its facilities, an indication of resistance to the coronavirus and other infectious diseases. By increasing transparency about room maintenance through regular outside screenings, Hyatt looks to boost its competitive advantage in drawing guests.

To get back on track, hotels are under pressure to guarantee the safety of workers as well. Last month, the American Hotel and Lodging Association released new cleaning standards designed to protect employees. Such measures are being actively adopted since a coronavirus outbreak among hotel workers would not only lead to staffing shortages but would be a public relations disaster.

Hilton's CleanStay program will cost the company "a little bit more," according to Hilton Chief Financial Officer Kevin Jacobs. While financially weaker hotels will likely go out of business, the current time provides an opportunity for hotel companies able to win the trust of travelers through improved services and technology.  

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