The Concept Of Cleanliness Theater

By Larry Mogelonsky

This may well be a prominent side effect of COVID-19 – post-pandemic social anxiety! What this means is that the newly adopted hygiene standards at your hotel to assuage all the coronavirus panic will likely have to remain in place for many years to come.

As it concerns your revenue numbers, people will maintain a heightened sensitivity for proper cleaning practices in public areas or practically any other space utilized by strangers, and they will inevitably judge your property on this. That is, a lack of pristine sanitization SOPs will lead to strongly negative reviews unlike in years past where a guest may have let it slide or only docked a single star.

This brings us to the concept of ‘cleanliness theater’ based upon the previously established counterpart of ‘security theater.’ The latter is a well-documented practice whereby it is not only about any crime-prevention updates you make but also ensuring that people see those counter measures in place so they can feel safer. There are numerous examples of security theater in modern use to illustrate the point.

Simplest would perhaps be the decision between setting up a hidden camera to monitor an area versus installing a larger one protruding out from the ceiling with several conspicuous blinking lights to indicate that it’s turned on. Both accomplish the goal of allowing guards to observe the space, but only the latter is visible to the passersby. For regular people this means they know they are being watched and thus have a heightened sense of protection because a team will immediately see when something is wrong. For any potential lawbreakers, this is also a deterrent because they know there is surveillance.

Housekeeping is no longer about being ‘flawless yet invisible.’ Adopting any such theater in the realm of cleanliness would be beneficial to restore guest confidence so that their satisfaction with your hotel does not suffer due to any perceived sanitation slights. Namely, it is not just about the increased cleaning your team performs but ensuring that these activities are carried out in plain view of the greatest number of guests possible.

While keeping in mind that these measures will still probably be of help for your guests, some ideas for cleanliness theater include:

• Most importantly is to update your marketing literature to tell customers about your new hygiene standards starting with a newsletter to your loyalty base and posting on your website;

• Bulletin boards indicating when a public washroom was last cleaned should be readily observable for visitors to read instead of tucked away due to their unsightliness;

• Having your custodial staff clean public areas during the morning or afternoon busy periods instead of only during the middle of the night when your lobby is empty (but please don’t give up on the midnight shift for this task);

• Installing more hand sanitizer stations in your public areas and corridors as well as performing refills or inspections of these units during times when guests are around to see you do it;

• Also consider putting hand sanitizers in guestrooms around the entrance with a supply of disinfecting wipes in the bathroom beside the tissue paper;

• With so much stigma around shaking hands or touching surfaces with your bare hands, perhaps it is time to bring back the traditional white-gloved service for bellhops, valets, front-desk clerks, concierge, restaurant servers or practically any role that is high touch;

• Also for the restaurant, consider more rigorous table setting clean-up procedures for after the patrons leave so that other diners can see you are going through the extra steps which may include wiping down each chair instead of only wiping the surface of the table.

The key behind this principle, no matter the tactical execution, is to understand that it is not just about keeping places clean but elevating moods while doing so. And as there may be a financial drawback for those hotels that are not deemed to be taking hygiene serious enough, ‘cleanliness theater’ is a concept that you should definitely take into account as you work your way through this ordeal.


One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “The Llama is Inn” (2017) and “The Hotel Mogel” (2018). You can reach Larry at to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

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