Cologne, Germany-based corporate lodging platform HRS and Geneva-based inspection, verification, testing and certification company SGS have launched a new cleanliness-focused program for the hotel industry.
The Clean & Safe Protocol is meant to give corporations and hoteliers a well-defined standard at a time when property hygiene is the leading factor as corporations plan to send business travelers back on the road. Hotels earning the designation as a safe property gain access to a new label for use in HRS procurement and booking channels, their own corporate website, and on-property displays at entrances, lobbies and as part of in-room marketing. HRS will display this label on its proprietary desktop, mobile and agent booking solutions as well as corporate online booking engines like Concur and Cytric.
Finding the Niche
The protocol, said Martin Biermann, chief product officer at HRS, developed when the company’s clients and hotel partners began struggling with the COVID-19 downturn, trying to find ways to guarantee a safe stay. The team began examining different guidelines from associations and councils as well as local jurisdictions, and noticed slight differences in the policies major hotel companies were implementing. While hotels in the U.S. were looking to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, European hotels were looking to the European Union. Meanwhile, Asian hotels had yet different guidelines in place. “We found that it's really hard to compare these protocols with each other,” he said. “They vary quite a lot.” Meanwhile, independent properties—particularly small, family-run businesses—simply don’t have the capability to develop their own protocols, much less the means to market their new standards to guests.
From these observations, the group began contemplating a universal set of standards based on recommendations from the World Health Organization, the World Travel & Tourism Council and the CDC, as well as guidelines for meetings and groups from the Research Institute for Exhibition and Live-Communication. While the certification will help hoteliers and their teams maintain the necessary standards, guests will also be able to read the protocols and determine if the hotel is meeting the standards.
“This kind of normalization factor was very important to us to keep it simple for the individual traveler,” Biermann said. “We have almost 2,000 hotel chains or hotel groups in our platform, and if we were to now bring all of their protocols on the platform and labels and whatnot, it would be a very busy kind of picture and very hard to grasp and compare for the individual traveler.”
Step by Step
To get certified, a hotelier starts by filling out an online self-assessment form of 46 questions. (Hotel groups can bundle forms for their affiliated properties.) “The self assessment will contain a number of questions that HRS has put together mandated by SGS,” said Nicolas Kyndt, global VP at SGS. The team will let the hotel know if it needs to make any changes for compliance, and once the hotel fulfills the necessary requirements, it receives a "Clean & Safe Self Inspected" label on all HRS procurement and booking channels. These hotels also can use these channels to show the steps they are taking to maintain standards, and should the guidelines change, hoteliers can log back in to recertify.
This step, Biermann added, is free to hoteliers, even chains, which can match their existing protocols into the new one and confirm that all mandatory checks are listed.
The second step involves an either virtual inspection using a smartphone’s camera or an in-person inspection from an SGS inspector. (This kind of remote inspection, Kyndt added, has been used for years to certify remote properties, and can be very thorough if all proper measures are followed.) If the inspector is satisfied, the hotel receives the "Clean & Safe Expert Inspected" label, which can be displayed on the hotel property and website. Hotels that have implemented their own measures and had them validated by an external audit partner also will receive the "Clean & Safe Expert Inspected" label directly with appropriate proof. The team is currently working with Radisson Hotel Group and Spain’s NH Hotels, Kyndt said, and has a number of inspectors around the world auditing and inspecting those chains.
The physical inspection, meanwhile, could involve putting fluorescent markings in guestrooms before the cleaning and using a UV lamp afterwards to see if the markings have been washed away. The company also uses equipment to search for adenosine triphosphate, an indicator of the presence or absence of living material. “If you find ATP, you can say the cleaning and disinfection hasn't worked properly, and thus, there is a risk that if the source code to virus was in the environment, it would still be there because the cleaning and disinfection hasn't been done properly,” Kyndt said.
This step, Biermann acknowledged, is not free, but the final price for certification has not yet been determined.
Any hotel, regardless of its history with HRS, can pursue either of the Clean & Safe Protocol labels. Any hotel can access the self-inspection list of 46 audit questions to know what they will need to do to secure the self-inspected label. So far, hoteliers in more than 40 countries have reportedly started the process within two days of the project’s soft launch.
Hotels wishing to engage with HRS on either label can email [email protected].