Why ‘cleanliness theater’ matters now

Just as the outbreak subsides, get ready for the post-pandemic social anxiety! The newly adopted hygiene standards at your hotel to assuage all the COVID-19 panic likely will have to remain in place for many years to come.

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 when 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 countermeasures in place so they can feel safer.

Getty Images
Getty Images

There are numerous examples of security theater 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 from the ceiling with several conspicuous blinking lights to indicate that it’s turned on. Both allow guards to observe the space, but only the latter approach is visible to the passersby. Regular people 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.

Restoring confidence

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. 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 important is to update your marketing literature to tell customers about your new hygiene standards, starting with a newsletter to your loyalty base, and posting it 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 guest rooms 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 cleanup 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.