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What hotels are doing to sanitize rooms during the pandemic

A vehicle cruises by as the windows of the Hilton hotel are lit in the shape of a heart in downtown Baltimore on April 28.
A vehicle cruises by as the windows of the Hilton hotel are lit in the shape of a heart in downtown Baltimore on April 28.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the travel industry is adapting to meet new health and safety concerns. Airlines are starting to require passengers to wear masks on flights. Airbnb has introduced mandatory vacancy periods between guest stays. Cruising is on hold, thanks to a no-sail order from the CDC.

Hotels, too, have begun dealing with COVID-19 on a number of fronts. Changes are being made to housekeeping procedures, food safety, and guest check-in and check-out.

Industry giants Hilton and Marriott both announced new efforts over the past week at their combined 48 brands, spanning more than 100 countries, to consult with experts and implement new ways to enhance guest safety. Hyatt, for its part, had already set up "cross-functional, global response teams" to supply guidance on cleanliness and health issues, according to its website.

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As with most global restrictions right now, we don’t yet know whether these changes will be temporary or stay in effect long-term. But here’s a look at what hotel brands are doing to take extra precaution for now.

Marriott is stocking guest rooms with disinfecting wipes and installing more hand-sanitizer stations in communal areas of its hotels.
Marriott is stocking guest rooms with disinfecting wipes and installing more hand-sanitizer stations in communal areas of its hotels.CAYCE CLIFFORD/New York Times
Both Hilton and Marriott are in the process of introducing equipment like electrostatic sprayers and testing ultraviolet-light technology on hotel items.
Both Hilton and Marriott are in the process of introducing equipment like electrostatic sprayers and testing ultraviolet-light technology on hotel items. Brittainy Newman/New York Times

Enhanced disinfecting protocols

The most basic (and expected) changes that hotels are implementing? More cleaning.

Marriott's new Global Cleanliness Council, for instance, is requiring the use of "hospital-grade" disinfectants in public spaces and guest rooms. Among the proposals for Hilton's program, a partnership with the Mayo Clinic and Lysol maker Reckitt Benckiser that's launching in June, are requirements that public spaces and 10 specific "high-touch" areas be cleaned even more frequently.

Beyond that, hotels are experimenting with new sanitation technology, too.

Both Hilton and Marriott are in the process of introducing equipment like electrostatic sprayers and testing ultraviolet-light technology on hotel items. In Texas, The New York Times reported, the Westin Houston Medical Center is using “LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots.”

Making cleaning clearer

Some hotels now may be more visible in their cleaning procedures as well.

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"We’ve heard this idea of ‘housekeeping theater,’ " said Phil Cordell, Hilton’s global head of new brand development. “You go to a Benihana and they’re cooking the meal right in front of you. So maybe it’s not that dramatic, but customers want to feel like they can sense what’s up. They walk through the commercial area of a hotel and they see the frequent cleanings with a well-known product of high-touch areas in the lobby.”

As part of that push for more transparency, the Hilton housekeeping procedures will include the placement of a room seal on the door to indicate that a room has been cleaned and left vacant since.

More sanitizing tools for guests

Marriott is stocking guest rooms with disinfecting wipes and installing more hand-sanitizer stations in communal areas of its hotels.

“Marriott is also evaluating adding partitions at front desks to provide an extra level of precaution for our guests and associates and is working with supply chain partners to make masks and gloves available to associates,” a company statement said.

Hilton is adding stations of disinfecting wipes in "key high traffic areas,” including at elevators. But it’s also strategically subtracting: Hotels will remove pens, paper, and the guest directory from rooms, with digital alternatives “available upon request.”

Contact-free check-in and room access

With social distancing so pivotal in preventing COVID-19′s spread, reducing contact with others is a priority. For hotels, that means tweaks to the check-in process are, too.

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More than 3,200 Marriott hotels are offering guest check-in and room access through their smartphones. Those guests can also use their phones to order room service or make other hotel requests.

Hilton, meanwhile, is expanding its Digital Key service, allowing guests to check in and enter their rooms using their smartphones.

Employee health precautions

Under Hilton’s new initiative, its workers will “be provided with personal protective equipment and enhanced training,” the chain said. Marriott said it is “working” to provide masks and gloves to its own employees; as an extra barrier for staff and guests alike, it is also looking into adding partitions atop its front desks.

As for other countries? Hotels in Singapore, for one, are abiding by the government’s “SG Clean” certification program, which mandates temperature and health screenings for employees. At the moment, no major stateside hotels are considering the same.