Cleanliness is more than theater for front and back of house

cleanliness theateNo matter what proclamations are made by various governments, the CDC, the WHO or any other regulatory bodies, PPE, sanitization and physical distancing have been so ingrained into the mindsets of travelers that hotels cannot relax on this front. Through the repetition of COVID-19 safety guidelines throughout 2020, travelers will now expect hotels to have pristine cleanliness for the entire decade ahead at least.

Given these newly solidified expectations, the risk of appearing as lenient or slack in any way may cause irreparable damage to a property’s reputation – and rightfully so, as people’s lives and wellbeing are in danger. Make no mistake; hotels must maintain exceptional hygiene practices going forward.

What’s often missed or not given its proper consideration, though, is the ‘appearance’ of unconditional obedience to the viral safety guidelines. This constitutes the psychological rubric for what we have called ‘cleanliness theater’ in that what’s equally important for restoring and maintaining guest confidence is not just the actual measures taken to ensure proper sanitization, but also that the guests see those measures in action.

This term which has also been coined as ‘hygiene theater’ or ‘high-visibility cleaning’ derives from the term ‘security theater’ which inscribed the passenger-facing upgrades made to airports after 9/11. While there are numerous changes made behind the scenes, one such theater measure was the stationing of armed guards outside the main entrances next to the taxi stands. This alone would never prevent a terrorist from hiding something dangerous in their luggage, but it worked to give peace of mind to every passerby and rebuild flight traffic.

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The concept of cleanliness theater infers that SOPs like having all frontline staffers wear face shields act as both a safety measure and to instill more trust from guests. Going a step further, such initiatives as sanitizing the lobby at midday instead of midnight, repeatedly broadcasting a brand’s various cleanliness certifications on marketing channels, using social distancing markers on the floor and making handwashing stations available at all key public area chokepoints are all important to driving bookings.

But this front-of-house ‘production’ overshadows another key stakeholder that also needs a post-pandemic confidence kick – a hotel’s onsite teams. Unlike many managers or corporate directors who can function reasonably well from the solitude of their respective home offices, there are numerous back-of-house personnel who cannot perform their jobs without entering the property.

From room attendants and front desk agents to busboys and maintenance workers, we need these team members to feel safe in order for them to perform as expect and convey a sense of warmth to visitors. With so many worries over labor shortages in hospitality for the next few business cycles, you cannot afford to have an elevated turnover rate. And in tandem with keeping morale high, part of the confidence equation for guests will be the art of being overtly friendly and attentive – an action that cannot be properly completed without the full buy-in from every employee.

While much of the same safety measures apply for both front and back of house, perhaps we can close our argument on the significance of cleanliness theater by touching on one critical piece of equipment that touches guests and staff alike in a variety of ways – the cell phone.

How often does the average person clean their own device? Be careful, as the answer may shock you relative to how frequently that phone is touched. Additionally, consider the risk for viral spread by having shared devices amongst onsite shift workers. For these cases, the perfunctory alcohol-based cleansers after every use can induce a tremendous amount of wear and tear on said mobile units.

As a potential solution to both the tear and wear problem and to further augment a property’s cleanliness theater, consider a mobile device cleaning unit that uses UV light to sterilize all microorganism particles in under 30 seconds. Simply insert a phone as you would a dollar bill into a vendor machine and out pops the device virus-free.

While these machines existed prior to the pandemic, they are now being made in sizes small enough to position on a front desk counter (FOH) or on a corner table in the employee lounge (BOH). One such product example we’ve seen installed at hotels is the Glissner CleanPhone™ ( for which we reached out to the company founder, Ronan Benin to learn some more about how cleanliness theater will continue to impact hospitality over the next decade.

“The future of cleanliness is in both its effectiveness as preventing harm and how it intersects with the theater, as you call it,” remarked Benin. “Looking beyond the fear and anxiety of 2020, guests, staff and practically anyone else won’t want to be constantly reminded of that tumultuous time by seeing the stark, clinical and palpably irritable elements that were installed in all hotels last year. Instead, they’ll want aesthetically pleasing décor and designs that are also hygiene enhancement tools, and we believe our products are but one example of how to effectively integrate form and function to amplify COVID-19 safety while also helping differentiate a hotel brand going forward.”

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Tags: cleanliness, Cleanliness theater


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