Hotel germ spotlight

Here in Canada, our government-based TV network is the CBC — the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. — our counterpart to the U.K.’s BBC. The network covers more Canada-centric fare than others that lean towards syndication of U.S. programming. I say this because a program recently aired on the CBC focusing on “dirty” Canadian hotels, a subject not likely to raise many eyebrows south of the border. The CBC even made its own interactive website to restate its findings.

The long and the short of it is that CBC, a national broadcaster renowned for its highly credible reporting, has produced a show potentially sullying the reputation of some of the country’s finest hotels — six major chains and 54 rooms in the heart of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. CBC beams into every Canadian home, and it has now made it a recurrent, primetime habit to disparage leading downtown properties with actual photographic evidence. Aside from any bloodcurdling yells echoing from the damage-control departments at the implicated hotels, there’s a very essential lesson that permeates the longest unguarded border in the world.

Dirty guestrooms are poison for hotels. The Internet is written in permanent ink, and many prestigious names have been tarnished. Unless a clever lawyer is able to sneak an injunction past a judge, which may take years to formally process, this vilifying website will be available to the public for a very long time and hosted by the CBC, a trustworthy and heavily trafficked domain name (read: SEO). It’s all just another reaffirmation that cleanliness is godliness.

Think about it this way: you have to crawl before you can walk. In order to attain a positive review, start by eliminating the negatives. Before you attempt to satisfy guests’ higher desires for an incredible, wholly memorably vacation or a breezy business trip, you must first satisfy their most basic of needs — running water, safety, heating, air conditioning, insulation — that sort of thing. Room cleanliness is the epicenter of this foundation; disrupt it, and the house crumbles.

This report serves as yet another wakeup call to show how vital and sensitive this issue is for guests. Too often I see TripAdvisor reviews where the writer deems everything agreeable but then gives a lousy one-star rating because of two or three untidy aspects of the room. Clearly, the housekeeping department needs some bolstering.

Moreover, you cannot rest halfway with the belief that what looks clean is actually clean. The CBC investigators used hidden cameras, ultraviolet flashlights and an array of other gadgets to pinpoint all the areas overlooked or improperly sanitized. A neat bed doesn’t mean there isn’t garbage underneath it. A vacuumed floor or carpet doesn’t preclude microbes from clinging to the telephone receiver or remote control. These under-the-surface troublemakers won’t be readily visible to your guests, but if a journalist with an upcoming editorial on dirty hotel rooms ever comes your way, they might as well be in plain sight.

Don’t let this happen to your property. A good first step is to hire an unannounced, independent, external auditor capable of elucidating your housekeepers’ shortcomings and suggesting more hygienic cleaning procedures. From there, it all boils down to training and reassessing for improvement. This falls into the hands of your executive housekeeper, so ensure this manager fully understands the imperative of ongoing vigilance and continuous improvement towards perfection.

Particularly as it concerns housekeeper training, there is one tricky matter that comes to mind. For their wages and what is required of them on an hourly basis, housekeepers are often too hurried to perform their duties entirely up to code. If they are cutting corners, it is more likely due to time constraints than malicious intentions against the hotel.

Say you set a quota of 14 guestrooms per shift and with properly thorough technique a maid can only finish 12. Fearful of reprisal, this maid then rushes through the last half of the day to stay on target with expectations. Part of the staff education should include not only a fair allotment of rooms, but also a long chat that stresses quality (meeting standards) over quantity (sacrificing standards). If a room needs more attention than normal, housekeepers should be comfortable taking longer to complete every detail (or calling for support) without the worry of quotas or insensitive bosses.

Regardless of what steps you take behind the scenes, in the end it boils down to guest satisfaction. Clean rooms leaves them content, the opposite can have very dire consequences. This is not the first time this issue has come up, and it most certainly will not be last. Just make sure that your property isn’t in the slug line.