Staying Healthy in the Face of Ebola

In addition to illness surveillance, guests should expect that hotels follow infection control measures consistently and take basic precautions to keep their employees and guests well. Maintaining a healthy workforce and workplace based on scrupulous cleaning and good hygiene can gain customer confidence, according to travel security consultant Peter Tarlow, Ph.D., president and founder of Tourism & More.

“Hotels act as a hospitality center, inviting guests into their home every day,” Tarlow said. “As a home away from home, a hotel has the ethical responsibility to make the location as healthy as possible.”

Many of the infection control practices that hotels should concentrate on are uncomplicated, Tarlow pointed out. For example, bathrooms should have enough soap and single-use paper towels at hand-washing stations. Food service professionals should practice good sanitation and food prep in the kitchen to ensure meals are served in a healthy manner.


Especially during the winter cold and flu season, Tarlow suggested that hotels re-evaluate policies that allow bed linens to go unwashed for several days. More frequent washing using very hot water and detergent with bleach could provide a line of defense.

While hotel administrators could be nervous about marketing consequences if guests interpret their extra safety precautions as signs that they are worried about outbreaks on the property, the negative publicity could be much worse if the hotel is known as a place where people get sick. Tarlow gave the example of the cruise industry, whose profits sunk in 2013 after travelers panicked over the stomach-churning norovirus. A robust social media crisis policy can be a vital tool in helping to quickly respond to guests’ fears or concerns and protect the organization’s brand, image, and reputation.

Hotel administrators who want to assess and revise their current preparedness plans can consult the national public service campaign Ready Business, which helps businesses prepare their employees, operations, and assets in the event of an emergency. Ready Business recommends taking an “all hazards” approach because it is difficult to determine the probability of a specific hazard impacting an establishment. Hotels that continually update and expand their crisis management and business continuity plans will be confident that they can address any kind of cough or sneeze that comes their way.

Here are some ways that hotels could step up infection control measures in a guest-friendly manner, as winter cold and flu season gets underway:

  • Perch pretty pumps of antibacterial hand gel at the check-in desk, and place mini-bottles in rooms.
  • Put a new box of tissues in guestrooms with a note that gives directions on how to call a local health care provider or where to find a 24-hour pharmacy.
  • Post a cheerful reminder outside restaurants asking guests to please wash hands before being seated.
  • Add more dining staff as servers at buffet lines to decrease guests’ contact with food areas.
  • If your hotel offers a mobile check-in option, encourage guests to try it and avoid lobby lines and traffic.
  • Provide disinfectant wipes in workout areas for guests to clean off exercise equipment, and increase housekeeping’s surface cleaning in other common areas to maintain the most sanitary environment possible. Your guests will appreciate the added sparkle.
  • Ask guests who don’t appear to be feeling well if they need any help, and send get-well cards or complimentary cups of chicken soup to their guestrooms.

A recent study demonstrated how quickly the flu and norovirus can spread on fomites (surfaces capable of carrying infectious organisms) such as light switches, countertops, and coffee pot handles. Using a tracer virus placed on a single doorknob or table at the beginning of the day in office buildings, researchers found that within two to four hours of contamination, the virus could be detected on 40 to 60 percent of workers, visitors, and commonly touched objects.

The researchers also tested a simple solution: Disinfecting wipes containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) registered by the Environmental Protection Agency as effective against viruses like norovirus and flu. Wipes with QUATS—along with hand hygiene—reduced virus spread by 80 to 99 percent.

Photo credit: Ebola virus via Bigstock