Marketing Your Hotel as Clean and Safe: Emerging From Covid

This article was co-authored by Anil Bilgihan, Associate Professor, FAU College of Business

As hotels welcome guests back to their properties around the world, the safety and well-being of the guests and employees will always remain a top priority. Indeed, cleanliness continues to be the #1 important factor among hotel guests and has remained as such from the early 21st Century (Lockyer, 2005).

Post COVID, the hotel industry should now shift its long-standing focus on cleanliness into a “post-COVID” position. This means an emphasis on their ongoing, proactive efforts to provide safe environments with strong health protocols that have become the “norm” during COVID and beyond.

While local, regional, and national mandates and regulations fade, the guests’ desires for safety, cleanliness, and hygiene remain of paramount importance. If possible, hotels should still enforce COVID protocols to ensure that the perception and reality of strong cleanliness and sanitation prevail into the future.

Surveys reveal that health and well-being will be key motivating factors in the overall recovery of the tourism and hospitality industry. As the world starts to travel, there is of course residual distress associated with the COVID pandemic and similar diseases (Wen et al., 2020). Hospitality research further indicates that the cleanliness level of a hotel has a strong effect on guests’ perceptions for their overall experience and on the hotel’s ability to respond to or prevent service failures. Even pre-pandemic studies indicated that there is a market segment of guests who are willing to pay a premium for guestrooms that are cleaned using enhanced disinfection techniques beyond normal room cleaning procedures (Zemke et al., 2015).

Considering that researchers identified a market segment willing to pay a premium for enhanced disinfection well before the pandemic gives support for hotel marketers to stress the cleaning, sanitation, hygiene, “best practices” and related items as part of their sales, marketing, and revenue optimization efforts.

The authors believe that marketing plans should unquestionably include COVID successful practices and standard operating procedures (SOPs) that had a positive impact on the guest experience via cleanliness and well-being.

We will discuss some of the successful strategies and offer a roadmap for the hotel industry. Peter Ricci had the unique opportunity to interact with over 100 sales and marketing professionals via a recent event hosted by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI); a follow-up survey provided some of the input below – combined with existing industry research.

First, it is suggested that all safety measures, recommendations, practices and SOPs should be designed and executed to enhance and ensure a pleasant and safe experience. In marketing materials, mention how guests should feel extra confident that they will feel welcomed and safe without the unnecessary mandates of in-pandemic experiences. Safety and cleanliness items should be reminded of and recommended in gentle, reassuring messages.

Masks should be welcome when desired by staff or guests, but recommended only when existing mandates remain. Kind reminder posters could be used in spaces such as elevators and restrooms when necessary. Guest education remains paramount for your particular hotel, geographic region, brand, etc.

Using “welcome kits” to provide guests with masks, hand sanitizers, and fast-result COVID tests may remain popular in the short run. For the long-run, hand sanitizers, taped doors indicating “this room is clean and ready” show an ongoing commitment to cleanliness irrespective of the pandemic. Obvious protocols such as cleaning the surfaces of the rooms with disinfectants, properly ventilating the rooms with fresh air, specific items brands or tools used to disinfect, etc. can be communicated with small notes in the room, on the hotel’s website, via marketing messages and collateral, through welcome videos, or in any assorted manners. Such practices have been expected historically, but research shows that guests will feel more confident if they see a written note inside the guestroom indicating how and when it was disinfected prior to their own arrival.

The door seals (mentioned above) can also be put in places such as adjoining room doors, toilet seats/lids, in-room kitchen equipment, on remote controls, and in on other heavy guest-contact items. These steps can give your guests a mental feeling of safety and calmness.

Providing guests with disinfectant gels both in multiple common areas as well as individual guestrooms could also make them feel safer. Mobile check-ins, apps that can act as room keys, self-device menus, chats, etc. will also help in “touching less” and “feeling clean.”

It is also recommended that hotels move beyond typical COVID-related hotel hygiene and cleanliness to delve into guests’ perceptions of the cleanliness of specific hotel surfaces. Post-stay surveys should include questions regarding the guests’ perception of cleanliness and safety in multiple areas/zones of their hotel experience. We observed some hotels who partnered with various organizations to receive safety certifications. These certifications and their inherent contents were as varied as can be imagined. A hotel’s website and marketing collateral should not only include the certificate or certification but also include the exact steps taken to receive such an accolade or designation. By showing the prevention-related measures, the practices, the SOPs, etc. guests will then be able to make their own decisions on to which certifications or designations really matter. The authors also suggest using signs and images along with text to ensure that language is not a barrier to the understanding of any similar initiatives.

Additionally, hotels should continuously monitor indoor air quality and consider adding CO2 meters in crowded areas such as meeting rooms, lobbies, fitness centers, etc. Any crowded space is likely to cause cleanliness and safety concerns among guests as it has pre-pandemic.

As one example, to facilitate a confident return to face-to-face meetings, Radisson Hotels started to provide rapid onsite COVID testing for event attendees. The testing was made available in 23 countries including North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Other brands and independent operators have provided easy and fast access to medical assistance – again ensuring a feeling of safety, comfort, and well-being.

Hotels can provide information on locally available medical assistance and support for international travelers and mention this throughout their marketing materials when appropriate. Team members can advise guests on pharmacies and retail stores in the area for purchasing personal protective equipment kits, masks, and any other medical necessities.

Remember, as we emerge, the marketing goal is to have a feeling of safety, cleanliness, well-being, and security – not a sense of urgency and dread. For certain, many of these practices can be incorporated into the message for both group and leisure travelers in an effective manner.

One research study indicated that younger travelers and women of all ages were willing to pay a premium for enhanced guestroom disinfection (as mentioned above). These are separate market segments that could be targeted specifically.  If these are already among your target segments, you may add rooms with air purifiers and filters, specific extra cleaning and disinfecting practices that are clearly communicated in your sales and marketing collateral. You would then be able to market specifically to segments that offer a premium average daily rate.

Ironically, abundant research on the attributes that influence consumer behavior in hotel marketing has always put cleanliness among the top 3, but not always #1. If one ponders that further, it is simply due to the fact that our guests simply expect their rooms to be clean and sanitized. That is somewhat of a non-negotiable. So, when asked about attributes, it is so ingrained as to wonder why it would not already be a top priority. Other studies indeed put cleanliness as the most important factor starting with Lockyer’s 2005 study.

Post-COVID the authors anticipate that cleanliness will often now be ranked the #1 expected attribute when considering hotel stays. It is already become a question among non-traditional accommodation facilities such as AirBnB, VRBO, etc. Without standards and exacting communication, consumers may not find the same level of “best practices” outside of branded properties with deep-seated cleaning SOPs.  On the contrary, there are likely shared accommodations that have more exacting cleanliness practices. Indeed, it is now a time of active due diligence on the part of our guests. Remember, this includes all guests across market segments – large conferences, small social groups, individual travelers, families traveling with children, senior citizens traveling as part of tour groups, and every other type guest we might encounter.

To follow up on the authors’ idea of hotels sharing best practices, Dr. Ricci did an impromptu survey of attendees at a South Florida Hospitality Sales and Marketing International (HSMAI) chapter event in late March, 2022. Of 47 sales professionals surveyed, 32 responded. They were asked what items, practices, procedures, et al. gleaned during COVID would they carry forward in terms of marketing or sales highlights.

While the survey cannot be deemed scientific due to its geographic narrowness and small size, the comments were absolutely conflicting. It appears that sales and marketing professionals really do not have a strong stance one way or the other. Of the 32 who responded (68% response rate) of this small group, one can read the completely conflicting percentages to the items queried:

  • 73% – Strongly agreed to “We should not mention anything related to COVID going forward, even best practices we took away. We are all “COVID tired.”
  • 86% – Strongly agreed to “Continuing to talk about COVID makes it appear as if our hotel is dwelling on the past and not future-focused; we will not include any marketing or sales comments related to COVID learning.”
  • 74% – Strongly agreed to “I definitely think we will continue some stronger cleaning practices that we incorporated during COVID and will continue to market these to both group and individual travelers.”
  • 93% – Strongly Agreed to “Our cleanliness SOPs were upgraded and improved so dramatically, we would be fools not to include those in future marketing materials.”

The reader can easily see that the responses are almost contradictory in any sense of the word, yet there are strong sentiments among the majority of respondents on both sides of the coin simultaneously. Only time will tell where the pendulum swings in terms of incorporating cleanliness and hygiene practices into common marketing and promotional materials.

The authors with to reiterate that cleanliness has rarely been mentioned, discussed, highlighted, or discussed in historic hotel sales and marketing collateral. In the age of user-generated reviews and social media content, the guests have driven the primary conversation on these topics.

And, one small survey of hospitality and sales professionals in South Florida indicates a dichotomy of opinions and preferences as we move out of the COVID pandemic.

The authors close with the suggestion that hotels mention their cleaning, security, and well-being practices clearly and proudly in their sales and marketing procedures. These best practices are guest-focused and guest-desired. Making these practices transparent for the guest will hopefully generate goodwill and higher business interest.

The hotel with a proven track record of being clean and sanitized will have a distinct edge in its competitive set. How much we rely upon mentioning where these best practices came from (i.e., COVID) remains an item of discussion.

bilgihan anilDr. BilgihanThis article was co-authored by Anil Bilgihan. Dr. Bilgihan, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University, College of Business. His research interests include user experience, digital marketing, and online social interactions. His work has appeared in the Tourism Management, Information & Management, Computers in Human Behavior, International Journal of Information Management, Electronic Research Commerce and Applications, and IJCHM, among others. Dr. Bilgihan is the recipient of several awards, including the Cisco Extensive Research Award, the Warren Lloyd Holtzman Excellence in Research Award, the Emerald Citations of Excellence Award. He is the Associate Editor of Psychology & Marketing and co-editor of the Journal of International Hospitality Management.  

b3751 fau high res2 Dr. Ricci Dr. Peter Ricci is the Director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). The program is top-ranked globally. Dr. Ricci has published over 50 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals/proceedings as well as leading hospitality industry publications. He also co-authored The Little Book of Big Cases for the Hospitality Manager. Dr. Ricci holds multiple leading certifications within the hospitality industry including: CHA, CHSE, CRME, CHIA, CHRM, HIFIA, CHBA, and CHDM. He is a two-time graduate of the University of Florida with a BA in sociology and a MSRS. His doctorate (EdD) was completed 2005 at the University of Central Florida. A sampling of his career recognition includes: University of Florida College of Health and Human Performance Distinguished Alumnus, The 50 Most Influential Leaders in USA Hospitality, the South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year, 15 Event Professionals Making an Impact, the Hospitality Hero Award, 25 Most Influential Hospitality Educators, the Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow, the Stewart Distinguished Professorship/Master Teacher Award, and Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Management. One of his proudest accomplishment is the HSMAI South Florida Dr. Peter Ricci Scholarship which supports college and university students across South Florida. Extended Biography & Contact Information

HotelExecutive retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.

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