COVID-19 and Managed Hotel Programs: Devise your Cleanliness, Safety and Duty of Care Strategy
By Laura Kusto, Global Hotel Practice Leader
In this post of our five-part series, we are tackling what has quickly become the hottest topic in Hotel Category Management – how to make sense of the new hotel cleanliness and safety standards.
This has become a complicated space and travel managers have right to be concerned. The landscape is changing daily with hotel chains each publishing their own new protocols. At the same time, national industry associations are also publishing standards (American Hotel & Lodging Association, Singapore’s “SG Clean” certification, Malaysia’s “Clean & Safe” certification) which are helpful, but they tend to lack depth because they need to address to each country’s entire hospitality industry, which is inevitably comprised of a wide array of accommodations options.
Corporate travel managers, and their associated travelers, have specific needs when it comes to hotel cleanliness and safety. While these resources are great to get you started, we know you need to dig deeper and give your travelers more specialized guidance as they get back to traveling. As we’ve examined the new hotel cleanliness and safety landscape, a roadmap has surfaced that we believe travel managers can use as a way forward.
But before we delve into that hotel-specific roadmap, we need to back up and address a back-to-travel strategy. It’s important that your company adopt one because it will provide you with a tool to navigate through the time between now and when we get back into the rhythm of regular business travel. A back-to-travel strategy covers things like whom do you engage in the process, how and when do employees decide to travel, potential changes to travel distribution and suppliers, travel policy changes, as well as the resulting traveler communications. You’ll decide on new standards, and those decisions are best made as a collaborative effort with a variety of internal stakeholders, including the travelers themselves.
A framework doesn’t need to be overly complex, but it needs to be comprehensive. At a minimum, we recommend inviting your internal safety and security department, HR, corporate communications and finance teams to be a part of this process. It’s also a good idea to bring in an employee representative from a business unit with frequent travel, such as sales.
Determine your Cleanliness Standard
The first step in making sense of the cleanliness protocols is to do your research. There is a plethora of information out there and travel managers need to be able to talk the talk. Within our hotel consulting practice, we’re staying abreast of the information via a collaboration with BCD’s Research and Innovation team. If you need to gain a quick understanding of the landscape, this is a great resource to get you started.
Our hotel practice is also actively tracking the information being shared by the chains and discussing the programs with the individual chains. We have consolidated the information into a normalized format which will enable our clients to compare and contrast the actions each chain is taking.
There is no shortage of information available – chain strategies, country/association standards and independent 3rd party certification programs will offer up plenty of ideas. This first step is all about using that information in determining what your company’s standard will be and whether or not your company will accept the chain level promise that their properties will comply or if you will require properties in your program to be certified. From there, it’s all about incorporating that standard into the steps of your back-to-travel strategy.
Guiding Travelers to Book Clean & Safe Hotels
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, we can tackle the objective at hand – how do you guide your travelers to book hotels that are clean and safe? Let’s start with your managed hotel program. Because that includes your top properties where your travelers stay most, you may want to do extra vetting for cleanliness. There are a few ways you can do that:
- Use the information the various chains and associations are distributing. We’ve mentioned that each chain has their own approach – and independents can choose from various industry standards – and while the standards are different, there are similarities across all of them. You can use that information and bump it up against your company standard and determine which hotels comply and follow up with those that do not. Or, even for those that do align with your standard, you may still want to obtain confirmation directly from each hotel in your program that they are adhering to their chain/association standard. Which brings us to step 2.
- Require participating properties to become certified against a common health & cleanliness standard. Make it clear that each hotel that gets selected for your preferred program will have to go through a 3rd party digital self-assessment process and fulfill a minimum set of requirements. Numerous traveler safety and risk certifications like this existed prior to COVID-19, and all of them are pivoting now to create specialized “COVID Clean” certifications. A digital self-assessment typically requires participation from three or four parties and can be completed in one day. For travel managers who want to give travelers extra assurance, this option provides an objective rating of each hotel based on submitted answers and digital artifacts (e.g. photos, procedures, training materials), and does it in a way that is minimally disruptive to the hotels. An added bonus for the hotels is that once they are certified, they can use that in their advertising and display the certification on property.
- We don’t encourage the use of custom questions in the RFP to assess cleanliness and health risk mitigation of potential preferred properties. Lanyon, one of the major RFP tool providers, is in the process of adding questions in the hotel profile, which will appear in the Property Basic module. Those questions are updated once annually by the hotel, but also are often answered at the chain level. In addition to these drawbacks as to who answers the questions, the questions themselves will not accommodate the collection of digital proof and attestation that an individual property complies with practices and procedures, which are generally challenging to collate and manage.
Doing extra vetting on your preferreds will address a fair amount of your hotel stays. But, as has always been the case, travelers can not/do not always stay at a company preferred hotel. For this reason, the overall approach for guiding travelers to book a clean and safe hotel will need to include details on how you’ve vetted preferreds as well as a “catch-all” component to guide travelers when a preferred hotel is not available. You’ll need to train your employees to be healthy travelers by outlining the steps that travelers can take to quickly research a hotel’s cleanliness practices prior to booking and teaching them what practices will limit their exposure (e.g. avoiding busy elevators, adopting contactless services, wiping down surfaces upon arrival).
The Path Forward
In closing, while the topic of hotel cleanliness has quickly become highly fragmented, there are ways to manage that fragmentation and create a clear path to safely manage your hotel category within your back-to-travel strategy.
In the short-term, education and organization is key. Become well-versed in the topic of hotel cleanliness and aim to be your company’s subject matter expert on the topic. At the same time, develop your back-to-travel strategy and begin documenting the process for implementing the options you feel are most critical to all components of your travel program.
Mid and long-term you’ll start to undertake some of the next steps in this blog series, such as having thoughtful internal conversations around your future travel program and using that information as you formulate the strategy for your next RFP. As those steps get underway, hotel cleanliness and safety will become an additional aspect you will consider going forward alongside pricing strategies, hotel location and service level.