Hotel Optimization Day 3: The post-COVID future

The third and final day of the virtual Hotel Optimization conference, presented by Questex Hospitality Group (parent company of Hotel Management and the International Hotel Investment Forum) and AAHOA, covered the latest sanitizing strategies, sustainability and hotel design trends in the age of COVID-19.

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Cleaning Up

Moderator Katherine Doggrell, editor-in-chief EMEA, Questex Hospitality Group, started the first panel of the day—“Cleaning Up,” sponsored by SaniPro NSB—asking if brands are caught up in a cleanliness arms race. If so, she added, “is that a bad thing?” 

Read about Hotel Optimization Day 1 and Day 2 

Steven McNabb, infection prevention consultant at SaniPro NSB, said that a race to be the cleanest isn’t a bad thing, but could get expensive if hoteliers don’t have a solid plan in place. “Right now, the technologies that are used in the hotel industry [are] pretty consistent across the board,” he said. “It's what I used to see in health care about 10 years ago.” Many hotel-level disinfectants don’t remove dirt, he cautioned, and microfiber is more effective than cotton, so hoteliers need to make sure that they have the right material for their teams. (Microfiber also requires less heat to dry and sanitize, so this can be a cost-savings measure for hotels.)

Click here for all of Hotel Management's COVID-19 coverage

High-touchpoint areas need to be sanitized thoroughly, McNabb added, and housekeepers need to go beyond horizontal surfaces like bureau tops and focus on light switches and toilet flush handles. A checklist can help make sure everything gets done properly. “If you have the right process and procedure in place, you can get through that room faster than somebody that's trying to go off of memory,” McNabb said.

“Hygiene is a standard that we all must adapt to,” said Megan Morikawa, global sustainability office director, Iberostar Group, but hygiene must be implemented in a way that makes sense both financially and environmentally. For example, Iberostar found that single-use gloves worn throughout the day did not protect the workers from spreading germs. The company decided to limit the use of these gloves when not necessary to protect workers from harsh chemicals and, instead, remind the teams to wash their hands as often as possible. 

Acknowledging a possible dichotomy between cleanliness and sustainability, Doggrell asked Jim Stapleton, VP of Nelson Worldwide, how those two concepts could work together. “It becomes part of the greater whole,” he said of the balance between the two concepts, arguing that cleanliness standards will become part of the brand identity for all hotels. While concern over these standards may ease over time, he added, they probably won’t ever go away completely.

Hoteliers have an opportunity now to rethink the traditional ways of doing things, said Xenia Hohenlohe, founding partner/director of Considerate Group. “What are the opportunities? Can we bring on supply chains closer to home in order to take control of the materials that we're using in the hotel and recycle them or upcycle them?” 

Sustainability, said Morikawa, does not always have to come at a higher cost. “In fact, it can actually be cost saving and pay for itself.”

Healthy Habitats

The second panel of the day, “Healthy Habitats,” sponsored by SmartHands by Minibar Systems, focused on what kinds of structural changes are necessary to make hotels safe for guests again. Moderator David Eisen, director of hotel intelligence and customer solutions at HotStats and former editor-in-chief of Hotel Management, started the session asking Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, how the association came up with its cleaning guidelines. 

The AHLA, Rogers said, looked to China to see how the country, the first to be hit by the pandemic, reopened its hotels. “Local governments were mandating certain checklists to hotel properties to reopen,” he said. But this might not work in the U.S., he added, because local governments sometimes can be behind the private sector in responding to market forces. “The hotel industry has always, always been at the forefront of cleaning and safety,” he said. “[We knew] that we could do it better.” 

Because the 16 largest brands probably account for 99 percent of the branded hotels in the country, along with the large ownership groups and associations like AAHOA, the AHLA consulted a wide range of industry leaders. “We said, ‘What are you working on, what are you doing?’ And so we began to take the best practices from everybody and put it together.”  

Imagin Sanitizer
The CleansePoint Collection from Dexter Moren Associates and Imagin
hides hand sanitizers in lighting fixtures. Photo credit: Imagin

AAHOA Treasurer Vinay Patel, who also is founder, president and CEO of Fairbrook Hotels, said the hospitality industry could look to hospitals for best practices, although Implementing these practices can be challenging when hotels are operating on skeleton crews and facing low occupancy. “We have some time to implement a lot of these procedures,” he said of the downturn. “And I think most staff are welcoming it, wanting it, because obviously it makes it a clean environment for them to work in.”  

Dexter Moren, partner at Dexter Moren Associates, said that while hotels can learn from hospitals, guests shouldn’t feel like they’re in a medical center. “It's a challenge, and obviously there's a cost factor to it,” he said. “Nobody really wants to go to a hotel and find lots of ugly plastic bottles around for sanitization.” The company partnered with decorative lighting design company Imagin to launch the CleansePoint Collection, a decorative wall-mounted touch-free hand sanitizer dispenser. “We think [it] will just fit into a hotel in a better way,” he said, adding that the line can be installed by guestroom doors as hallway lighting or room number displays.

The hospitality industry has weathered other downturns, noted Patel, and has continually returned. “We adapt and we'll adapt to this system as well,” he said. “Cleanliness will still be a big issue just because of ‘once bitten, twice shy,’ but I think we'll get close [to normal].” 

During the session, SmartHands by Minibar Systems sponsored the following poll: 

Reshaping, Respacing

The final panel, moderated by Sarah Miller, CEO and founder of Sarah Miller and Partners, examined how the ongoing push for social distancing is changing hotel design. The industry, said Henry Wong, principal at AO Architects, is in the first of three adjustment phases. The initial reactive phase solves immediate problems with temporary solutions. The second examines medium-term solutions—“a convergence of technologies and industries, where we learn from certain industries and how we can apply things,” he said. The third incorporates these lessons for the long-term. “Our public spaces, primarily, are going to need to offer more options to be more safe and more separated for those who feel that need, and still offer more communal spaces,” he said. At the same time, sanitizing procedures need to be expressed with good signage. 

Agreeing that the industry can be “reactionary,” Darrell Long, design principal and regional managing director of Wilson Associates, suggested that some design changes may have already been a long time coming, and the pandemic was simply the necessary incentive to act. Buffets, he said, were already declining in popularity and likely will be on hold for a few years due to health and safety concerns. “But with regard to the way we design a restaurant, I don't think we're going to change the physicality of what a restaurant is,” he said. “We're going to be paying more attention to the infrastructure ... and how the restaurant can be cleaned and [be] more efficient to the guests.” 

The more that hotels use technology, Wong said, the more that technology should be invisible. "It leverages the things we want without being in our face," he said. AO is looking into more touchless devices to incorporate into design, even finding ways to eliminate the need to touch elevator keys. And there are other ways to make claustrophobia-inducing elevators safer as well. "The elevator industry could look into ways in which each time an elevator closes, it has the ability to resanitize before it reopens," he suggested. 

Suzie Hall, president and principal designer at Cornerstone Design, emphasized the need for spacial realignment in hotel design, and said flexibility and stability would be key going forward—“not only for design, but also for culture, and also for generational experiences.” 

During the session, SaniPro NSB asked attendees which of the following disinfection solutions they believed would most positively impact their revenue per available room? 

Mitigating Personal Risk to Staff Associates: 6 
Supervisory Oversight of Cleaning & Disinfecting Protocol Compliance using In-Room Near Frequency Communication Tags: 8 
Gaining Customer Confidence with In-Room Technology to Share Cleaning & Disinfecting Protocols and Date Time Completion Stamps: 41 
On-site Generators to Produce Hypochlorous Acid 500 ppm for use in Cleaning & Disinfecting Protocols (reducing typical cleaning product costs by up to 60%): 5 
Portable and Continuous Air Disinfection Equipment to Purify 400 Cubic Feet of Air Every Minute: 8 
Onsite Particulate Meter Testing to Validate Pre and Post Use of Air Disinfection Equipment: 3 

Breaks during the day were sponsored by CleanBrands and AVIXA.