Why hotels are throwing in the towel on daily cleanings
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By Andrea Sachs
When guests arrive at the Kennebunkport Captains Collection, a quartet of historical mansions in Maine, US, the front desk staff will provide several details about the accommodation.
This summer, the property expanded the debriefing to include its housekeeping policy, a service that, during the pandemic, has moved from the background to the foreground.
Before the global health crisis, the 45-room Captains Collection offered daily housekeeping, a standard across the hospitality industry. These days, a staff member will tidy up every other day, a 30-minute routine that involves making the bed, wiping down the bathroom and swapping out the pillowcases.
A full replacement of sheets and towels occurs on the fourth day instead of the third. The timing has also changed. Pre-pandemic, the housekeepers would perform these tasks during the day, while the guests were out exploring the seaside town. Now, they might clean in the evening, when the occupants are at dinner and they are free from their other responsibilities.
"We explain this to the guests," said Kristen Caouette, the general manager, referring to the retooled cleaning schedule. "There is not too much grumbling. Nine out of 10 people are very understanding." For the folks partial to the old way, she said, "we do it if we can."
Daily housekeeping was once a given. You returned from lounging on the beach or tootling around the city to find your trash cans emptied, your towels folded and your shoes lined up like idling Rockettes. No longer.
Since the onset of the pandemic, hotels of all sizes and price points have been scaling back this service to every few nights and allowing guests to determine the frequency of attention.
For example, the We Care Clean program, which Best Western Hotels & Resorts unveiled, states: "For guest and employee safety and well-being, daily housekeeping service is by request."
David Kong, the company's chief executive, said the check-in staff will explain the policy, and a manager's welcome letter left in each room reiterates the message. "If they want the room made up," he said, "they can call or text the front desk." Or wait for the third night of their stay.
The trend is catching on. In June, Marriott Bonvoy informed its loyalty members that it will no longer offer daily cleanings at its premium and select brands, such as Sheraton, Aloft and Moxy. A month later, Hilton announced that most of its US brands would forgo daily housekeeping and switch to an on-demand plan. (The rule does not apply to the companies' luxury brands.)
Heather Turner, a spokesperson for the Association of Lodging Professionals, has reached out to hundreds of bed-and-breakfasts about this topic. She said the vast majority are not turning the room every day on multi-night stays, although they will drop off fresh linens and towels if requested.
"For people who have not travelled very often, this will come as a shock," said Anthony Melchiorri, a hospitality expert and host of several Travel Channel shows. "Years ago, we never contemplated housekeeping becoming an option. It was a luxury."
Several factors have upended the status quo.
"Hotels are weighing sanitation, the labour shortage and Covid concerns," said Sheryl Kline, a professor of hospitality management at the University of Delaware. In an AHLA survey conducted in August 2020, respondents overwhelmingly supported the by-request practice, with 86 percent of travellers saying optional housekeeping has increased their comfort level.
Nearly a year later, this sentiment still holds. In a recent Best Western survey, more than 70 percent of customers said they supported the shift away from daily visits.
The movement to pare back housekeeping is not specific to the pandemic. Hotels with green initiatives have been urging guests to reuse towels and sheets for decades, and water-conservation cards have become a fixture in hotel bathrooms worldwide.
From a medical perspective, a daily scrubbing is not necessary, even with the uptick in cases caused by the delta variant. The coronavirus is transmitted through the air and rarely through surfaces. Clare Rock, an associate professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division at Johns Hopkins University, said masks and hand sanitiser are two of the best defences against the virus.
Fresh air from an open window and air-conditioning filters can eradicate unhealthy particles. For overall cleanliness, a disinfectant wipe can swipe germs from such high-touch areas as the remote control, door handles and light switches.
"It's more of a comfort thing than an infection-prevention thing," Rock said of daily housekeeping. "A hotel room is a different situation than a hospital room."