Cyber HITEC: What hotels (and guests) should know about cleaning

There are key differences in cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces—and guests should be aware of how their rooms were treated. Photo credit: andresr/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images (housekeeping wearing a mask)

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has driven most industry events online was, understandably, a major point of conversation at the first day of the Cyber HITEC conference. During the “COVID Response: Best Practices in Cleaning” panel, two industry insiders discussed how hoteliers can create safe properties—and how they should communicate that safety to their guests.

Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting

Ed Snodgrass, lead chemical engineer at Ecolab, noted the specific differences in cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting, noting that while the terms may seem similar, the exact definitions matter. “The products are different, the procedures are different and they have a different use for different meanings," he said.

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Cleaning is removing soil from a surface, generally for cosmetic reasons. “You’re not actually killing organisms,” Snodgrass said. Sanitizing, meanwhile, reduces bacteria on a surface—but not viruses, he emphasized. “They’re [Environmental Protection Agency]-registered products, so state EPAs and the federal EPA mandate what you are killing based on testing that’s been done, and you’re reducing that bacteria significantly.” This is important in food preparation areas to reduce food-borne illnesses. 

Disinfecting both kills bacteria and inactivates viruses, making it the most vital of the three options during a viral pandemic. “It’s very, very important during SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus] that for high-touchpoint surfaces or other areas that people are touching or coming into contact with, [hotel housekeepers] are using a disinfectant.” 

Importantly, not all disinfectants kill this particular strain of this particular virus, Snodgrass emphasized, so hoteliers should look for the EPA number on their disinfectant of choice and see if it is on List N—the agency’s list of products that can destroy SARS-CoV-2 when used according to the label directions. Snodgrass also emphasized following label directions exactly for maximum efficiency and making sure the disinfectant stays wet on the surface for the appropriate amount of time. “This is probably the step that’s not followed most frequently,” he said. “People will either put it on and then wipe it away immediately or they’re applying it incorrectly. If you’re not letting it wait, you’re not killing the organism that you meant to kill.”  

Frequency of disinfecting varies from location to location, Snodgrass said, and should be determined based on infection risk. Areas with bad outbreaks or high foot traffic should probably go through full disinfecting treatments more frequently, he said.

Snodgrass also reminded attendees that since they can’t always control what their guests do, they should focus on what they can control. “What you can control is … that there are proper tools like hand soap in the dispensers [and] proper towels or air dryers to dry their hands.” Regularly available hand sanitizer can encourage guests to clean their hands, and frequent cleaning of high-touchpoint surfaces will reduce the spread of viruses or bacteria. 

Clean Communication Skills

Employee safety device company TraknProtect recently launched a new platform called TraknKleen to both provide hoteliers with employee location data and create an audit trail for maintaining safety protocols. The platform, said CEO Parminder Batra, lets management know when an area was last cleaned and how long the cleaning took, making it easier to assure guests that the property is complying with cleanliness protocols.

Through the platform, hoteliers can ask guests if they want updates on when certain areas of the property were last cleaned. The platform integrates with texting programs, so guests can get messages that their rooms were cleaned for 20 minutes at a certain hour of the morning.

“People don't just want to know you have protocols,” Batra added. “They want [communication] about those protocols.” More importantly, she said, effective protocols and clear communication about those protocols can make all the difference in where a guest decides to book. “Guests are actually willing to try new hotels and swap their loyalty points and rewards for different hotel chains,” she said, opting for the property that better communicates its safety protocols than one they have visited in the past. In fact, Batra said, more than half—60 percent—of travelers were willing to change from a preferred brand, and nearly half were dissatisfied with the communications they had received from their preferred hotels.   

The most important time to communicate with a guest, Batra said, is before they arrive. “We think it’s at check-in,” she said, “[and] that’s certainly very important, but prestay is the most important time.” The communication should emphasize how the rooms are being cleaned, how guests can know what spaces have been sanitized, what kind of protective equipment (like masks and hand sanitizers) will be provided and what kind of amenities are limited (for example, if the fitness room is temporarily closed or if the restaurant has limited capacity).

During the stay, she continued, guests will need to see employees wearing masks and following all necessary protocols: “It’s about the employees practicing cleanliness protocols—and also encouraging the guests to do so.” When guests see employees taking cleanliness and safety seriously, they will feel confident that the property is safe for them to stay in.

TraknProtect Communication
Image credit: TraknProtect