Without getting too flowery on political prognostications or CDC decrees, let’s just assume that the safety upgrades stemming from COVID-19 will, for the most part, take on a ‘business as usual’ understanding much like health inspections for restaurants and fire safety for public buildings. Sure, masks may go away completely (save for airports), but from here on out guests will expect their accommodations to be sanitized and pristinely clean.
Given these newly formed social demands, the risk of appearing as lenient or slack in any way may cause irreparable damage to a property’s reputation—and rightfully so, as people’s lives and well-being are in danger. Make no mistake; hotels must maintain exceptional hygiene practices going forward.
What’s often missed or not given its proper consideration, though, is the ‘appearance’ of unconditional obedience to the viral safety guidelines. This constitutes the psychological rubric for what we have called ‘cleanliness theater’ in that what’s equally important for restoring and maintaining guest confidence is not just the actual measures taken to ensure proper sanitization but also that the guests see those measures in action.
This term which has also been coined as ‘hygiene theater’ or ‘high-visibility cleaning’ derives from the term ‘security theater’ which inscribed the passenger-facing upgrades made to airports after 9/11. While there are numerous changes made behind the scenes, one such theater measure was the stationing of armed guards outside the main entrances next to the taxi stands. This alone would never prevent a terrorist from hiding something dangerous in their luggage, but it worked to give peace of mind to every passerby and rebuild flight traffic.
The concept of cleanliness theater infers that SOPs like having all front-line staffers wear face shields act as both a safety measure and to instill more trust from guests. Going a step further, such initiatives as sanitizing the lobby at midday instead of midnight, repeatedly broadcasting a brand’s various cleanliness certifications on marketing channels, using social distancing markers on the floor and making handwashing stations available at all key public area chokepoints are all important to driving bookings.
But this front-of-house ‘production’ overshadows another key stakeholder that also needs a post-pandemic confidence kick—a hotel’s onsite teams. Unlike many managers or corporate directors who can function reasonably well from the solitude of their respective home offices, there are numerous back-of-house personnel who cannot perform their jobs without entering the property.
From room attendants and front desk agents to busboys and maintenance workers, we need these team members to feel safe in order for them to perform as expected and convey a sense of warmth to visitors. With so many worries over labor shortages in hospitality for the next few business cycles, you cannot afford to have an elevated turnover rate. And in tandem with keeping morale high, part of the confidence equation for guests will be the art of being overtly friendly and attentive—an action that cannot be properly completed without the full buy-in from every employee.
While much of the same safety measures apply for both front and back of house, perhaps we can close our argument on the significance of cleanliness theater by touching on one critical piece of equipment that touches guests and staff alike in a variety of ways—the cell phone.
How often does the average person clean their own device? Be careful, as the answer may shock you relative to how frequently that phone is touched. Additionally, consider the risk for viral spread by having shared devices amongst onsite shift workers. For these cases, the perfunctory alcohol-based cleansers after every use can induce a tremendous amount of wear and tear on said mobile units.
As a potential solution to both the tear and wear problem and to further augment a property’s cleanliness theater, consider a mobile device cleaning unit that uses UV light to sterilize all microorganism particles in under 30 seconds. Simply insert a phone as you would a dollar bill into a vendor machine and out pops the device virus-free.
Beyond just a phone cleaning machine, solutions abound in other areas to meet this ‘cleanliness theater’ quotient insofar as giving guests peace of mind while onsite. Do your due diligence and see what’s out there so your TripAdvisor scores never suffer needlessly.