travel

How will hotels open amid COVID-19? Diverting money into cleaning

Choosing cleaning facilities over buffet breakfast, decorative items in rooms

Photo for illustrative purposes only
Image Credit: Pixabay

Washington D.C. : To rebuild the shaken consumer's confidence hit by the coronavirus crisis, many hotel chains are consciously making efforts to divert their funds more for cleaning purposes and less in providing regular room amenities and breakfast buffets.

Many franchise units have decided to scrap amenities, including daily housekeeping visits, breakfast buffets system, and even complimentary soaps and lotions.

The money saved by minimising the services will be diverted to avail hygiene essentials that people seek during these trying times - sanitizers, protective masks, and antiviral cleaning devices for individual hotel owners

"Lysol is the new luxury," The Wall Street Journal quoted Chekitan Dev, a professor in the hospitality school at Cornell University as saying.

To implement "operating-room level" hygiene practices, is an entirely different challenge for large hotel franchises, which essentially operate as a network of small-business owners, to require a new set of brand standards, said Dev, who also is a hospitality industry consultant.

However, seeing the favourable outcome, Scott Smith, a professor in the hospitality school at the University of South Carolina, said that scaling back on daily room visits in favour of deeper cleaning before guests arrive could allow hotel owners to reduce costs down the road - the cost for labour for housekeeping.

"Every crisis can be an opportunity," Smith said, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Cleaning over buffet breakfast

According to Choice Hotels International Inc., which operates brands including Comfort Inn & Suites and Cambria Hotels, scaling back its hot breakfast options is seen as an opportunity that helps meet local food-service requirements and addresses customer concerns and expectations regarding hygiene.

Now, Rockville, Md.,-based Choice will increasingly offer its guests prepackaged breakfast options, which are less expensive than buffets that include eggs and bacon, according to Dominic Dragisich, the company's chief financial officer.

Dragisich said he expects the savings on breakfast to offset the cost of products that hotel owners will need to buy to meet Choice's new cleaning standards. Related costs, such as those for installing plexiglass partitions for contactless check-ins, would likely be covered by the franchise fees that hotel owners already pay, he said.

Occupancy rates at Choice's hotels averaged about 39 per cent in early May, just above a hotel's break-even rate of 30 per cent , Dragisich added, noting he expects rates to rise as consumers begin driving more and looking for overnight accommodations this summer.

Deep cleaning and reducing decorative items

Meanwhile, Best Western Hotels & Resorts is focusing on deep cleaning rooms after guests leave, using electrostatic sprayers that are designed to kill the coronavirus, according to Ron Pohl, chief operations officer.

The service is a response to the Phoenix-based hotel chain's guests saying they are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus and do not want housekeepers visiting rooms daily, Pohl said. Housekeeping, however, will be provided upon request, he added.

Best Western has also removed items in its rooms such as decorative pillows, directories, bathroom amenity trays, and certain types of remote controls to eliminate surfaces on which the virus could be spread. Franchise owners are mandated to make the cleaning adjustments but have some leeway when it comes to changing the check-in process or offering food, Pohl said.

Best Western expects its hotel occupancy rates in North America will average around 50 per cent by the end of the year, or about 20 percentage points lower than last year's average, Mr. Pohl said.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc. has established new cleaning standards that go into effect on September, and to help hotel owners adjust it is having suppliers ship masks, disinfectant wipes, and other hard-to-source cleaning items directly to its more than 6,000 U.S. hotels, said Lisa Checchio, the company's chief marketing officer.

"We want our guests to have a sense of confidence that there will be a level of consistency as the [shelter in place orders] lift and as travel begins again," The Wall Street Journal quoted Checchio as saying.