What’s most important to hotel guests? You’ll get no penalty if the word “service” immediately came to mind. Guest service is and always will remain the essence of hospitality, but in this age of a transient population hotel cleanliness has overtaken service in the eyes of the traveling public, according to research conducted by Booz and Company. That sentiment is at the heart of Best Western International’s rollout of its I Care Clean program this year.
“Cleanliness is important, but cleaning practices haven’t changed much. We wanted to take it to a different level,” Ron Pohl, Best Western’s senior vice president of brand management and member services said during a showcase of the new program at the Best Western Plus Bloomington Hotel at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. The hotel is owned by Regency Hotel Management of Sioux Falls, S.D.
And that it did.
Two years in the making, the I Care Clean program being rolled out across all 2,200 Best Western hotels in North America—more than 700 have already implemented the program—is a somewhat high-tech type of housekeeping. It brings advanced technologies that are used in hospitals, including UV wands and backlights, even “clean” remote controls, to the hotel to turn housekeeping into as much a science as an art.
“I Care Clean is about empowering the housekeeping staff,” Pohl said. “We think this is a game changer in the hospitality industry.”
At first glance, the concept might not register to the naked eye. And that’s precisely the point of the program. Today’s travelers list cleanliness as a top priority for more reasons that simple “icky” factors. Fears over viruses such as H1N1, E. Coli, and influenza often have travelers worried about what they might pick up by staying in a transient room occupied by many people over time. With its new program, Best Western is offering a solution to easing those fears. But its aim is to reach consumers in subtle ways.
“Word of mouth is the best marketing,” Pohl said. He and other Best Western officials on hand for the demonstration pointed out that the hotels already implementing the program have seen a noticeable difference in guest satisfaction scores. They said that guest satisfaction scores at properties using the new program have risen 13.3 percent in “overall experience, 12 percent in “cleanliness of room” and 12.4 percent in “intent to recommend.” Pohl said that many of the comments have come before the company even announced the program because guests have seen room attendants using the new tools.
While not replacing traditional cleaning procedures, I Care Clean adds an element of inspection to the process and puts it in the hands of room attendants. “We are unlocking the potential of the housekeeping profession by providing new tools and training to help ensure customer satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately trust,” Pohl said. “We believe this program will do just that.”
In the process, Best Western is admitting that germs and other “biologicals” are left in hotel rooms. Using black lights and UV wands, a room is cleaned and then sanitized, especially in high-touch areas such as phones, light switches, door handles, and bathroom fixtures. Following cleaning and disinfecting, the room attendants will now scan all rooms with black lights and use the wands to sanitize anything that may be found via UV light. According to the company, the UV wand kills 99 percent of bacteria.
“It’s a new way to think about housekeeping,” said Michael Nalley, Best Western’s senior manager of education and training, who along with Colby Hutchinson, hospitality management trainer, lead the training of hotel managers and front line staff on the new program.
The new program isn’t limited to the black lights and wands. The hotels will also feature clean remotes, originally developed for hospital recovery rooms. The remotes are designed specifically to be easy to disinfect. In addition they are wrapped in one-time use material that alerts guests that the remote has been disinfected and covered until they use it. A similar wrap is used for extra blankets in the hotel rooms.
Pohl said the program is an expensive one for the company—he estimated the investment to be $500,000 and $1 million companywide. For individual hotels, the purchase of the tools runs a few thousands of dollars. But the payback is, “it builds trust in the brand, and loyalty from the guests,” Pohl said.
Training for the individual hotels is done in two parts. First a regional one-day training program for property managers takes place. Then, a four-hour on-site training for front-line staff is performed.