All the way back in March 2020 when the lockdowns first started to hit, hoteliers became cognizant not only of the imperative for enhanced sanitization procedures to prevent COVID-19 spread but also the need to give guests peace of mind. The latter of which we dubbed ‘cleanliness theater’ while others have parallelly called it ‘hygiene theater’ or ‘high-visibility cleaning’, and we have argued that it is often more important for getting bookings than the cleanliness itself.
While this is not to diminish the importance of maintaining the highest possible disinfection standards at all, we nevertheless ask, “What’s next?” Every hotel organization has instituted their own COVID-19 sanitization SOPs and deployed a myriad of technologies to verify that those checklists are never put in jeopardy, but if all your competitors are doing this then how do you stand apart from the pack?
Rethinking marketing for 2021
Compounding this arms race to become the cleanest hotel, much of a given brand’s present marketing revolves around selling sanitization. Yes, this is indeed worthwhile for assuaging the fears of your loyal customer base as well as your onsite teams, but it all rings a bit saccharine from an emotional advertising perspective, especially when driven home multiple times as part of a six-month campaign.
Barely anyone takes the time to scrutinous each new SOP and cross-examine one hotel’s new disinfection standards versus a competitor. Instead, they compare such things as price, location and which property has the best amenities, all while expecting the hotel to have new policies in place as a pandemic response.
To put this another way, from the point of view of our infantile brain stems – the part that truly decides where and when to buy a night’s stay – theater beats cleanliness. The latter is binary in that you either have new sanitization SOPs or you don’t. In contrast, the former serves as a heuristic to indicate that you are taking the latter seriously while still allowing for a sense of calm, fun and perhaps a bit of excitement for the upcoming trip.
So, heading into a travel recovery scenario for the balance of 2021, hoteliers must rethink how they leverage all their new cleanliness SOPs for their marketing efforts, and we would advise taking the theater approach.
Introducing the Cleanliness Ambassador
One such way to go about this is to deploy a ‘clean ambassador’. This could be a new job title linked to the front desk or concierge, or the responsibility could be given to the executive housekeeper, helping move this vital BOH role into the limelight plus the same as the executive chef position has over the past two decades.
As an aside, before the pandemic we often joked that the executive housekeeper was the most important role at a hotel because any guestroom cleaning infractions would cause umbrage on TripAdvisor and potentially cause thousands of dollars in lost revenue from a single bad review. What’s funny is that, even prior to the coming of the coronavirus, the average hotel room was astronomically cleaner than the average person’s house. And yet, with Covid forcing us all to up our game, perhaps it’s time that executive housekeepers get the recognition they deserve.
In any case, to express your cleanliness in a theatrical manner to help relaunch your property in the next normal, one idea is to produce a quick video hosted by your clean ambassador who would then check in on the room attendants, laundry workers, wait staff or bellhops to ensure they were staying safe. Such a video might also include B-roll of new Covid signage, custodians using electrostatic sprayers in the corridors, disinfecting mobile devices with UV-C, or happy guests traversing the lobby while wearing masks and following physical distancing markers on the floor. Static photos telling a similar story can also work.
The overall lesson here is that, while cleanliness will be top-of-mind for hotels and travelers for the next few years at least, you still need to think differently when presenting your brand to the world. Hygiene in itself doesn’t pluck at the heartstrings of your target audience, while injecting a feeling of caring or safety vis-à-vis cleanliness theater can accomplish this task far more effectively.
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