In the wake of COVID-19, cleaning and safety standards have become one of the most important deciding factors in selecting a hotel. In order for business travelers to feel comfortable with an overnight stay, they will need to trust that the hotel is doing everything in its power to keep them safe.

Responding to consumers’ heightened expectations regarding hygiene, our partner Hilton has created a series of enhanced cleaning and health standards dubbed Hilton CleanStay. To find out more about the program, we spoke with Phil Cordell, global head of new brand development for Hilton, who is the brains behind the initiative.

Consistency breeds confidence. Confidence stimulates demand. What work have you done to make sure standards are consistent across your property portfolio? And how are you taking an industry-wide approach to making sure the accommodation sector is working toward consistent standards?

Back in March when COVID-19 started to be on everyone’s radar screen in a front and center way, we recognized that customers would have increased expectations for cleanliness and how they would experience a hotel. We wanted to take a leadership position on this early on and did some work with the AHLA (American Hotel & Lodging Association) to provide input on what ultimately would become the guidelines that AHLA has now shared across the U.S. for hotels to consider.

This was an opportunity to take those insights and drill down on the ones we felt were most important and make them brand standards. CleanStay, which is the result of that project, looks across the entire spectrum of the guest experience, from arrival to checkout, and highlights the areas we felt would make the biggest difference based on our own insights and feedback from customers.

The CleanStay package now is a series of brand standards required globally across all 18 brands in 103 countries and more than 6,100 hotels. Because it’s a brand mandate, it is something the hotels have to do. We have multiple monitoring programs in place and we have quality assurance processes and guest feedback systems that help us monitor compliance.

What are some of the new health and traveler safety measures you’ve put in place?

To give you a few examples: In the commercial spaces – elevators, lobbies, etc. – we have distancing decals and guidelines in place. As we think about the guest room, probably the most intimate area where guests are concerned, in addition to thoroughly cleaning the room, we are reinforcing what we call the “top 10 hot spots” – the areas that are most frequently touched, such as the remote control, light switches, and toilet flush handle. Those 10 hot spots we now cover a second time in the cleanliness process with Lysol products. Lysol is our partner in CleanStay. It has been around for 130 years and stands for “protection” in the eyes of our customers. It was just announced that the EPA has approved Lysol as an effective disinfectant against COVID-19.

Another step we take: When the room attendant leaves after cleaning the room, they place a seal on the door to indicate that the room hasn’t been accessed since it was cleaned and is broken by the guest when they enter the room for the first time.

(To view all the cleaning and safety standards of the CleanStay program, click here.)

How well are hotels adopting these measures? How receptive have hotels been?

Since we’re in 103 countries, we’ve discovered there are a few nuances where the hotels may have to take our global policy and adjust it slightly for local needs.

But for an initiative that really didn’t launch until early April, to be able to have it implemented now on a global perspective, we’re very pleased and proud. We should do anything we can to help give guests confidence and help them feel that it’s OK to travel. So certainly hotels have been anxious to implement and have done a great job.

Do you have any contactless technology to help keep guests safe?

We offer several contactless experiences for guests. Through the Hilton Honors app (at participating hotels), they can use their mobile devices to check in and check out, choose their own room, and access their room with Digital Key. With the Digital Key technology, they also can open any door they’d normally access with a key card, such as elevators, side doors, and the fitness center. Select Hilton hotels also have Connected Room technology, which allows guests to use the Hilton Honors app to manage most things they would traditionally do manually in a guest room – from controlling the temperature and lighting to the TV and window coverings.

Although this is not yet a brand standard, we also have a number of hotels now that have their food and beverage offerings available on digital screens and guests can use QR codes to order their meal.

What kind of new hygiene training or guidelines has there been for the staff?

As a result of the elevated protocols, we have new housekeeping training and checklists that help guide the team members to deliver on the enhanced CleanStay standards.

Every day in housekeeping, we do a team huddle – socially distanced – that helps bring the team up to date on any of the latest developments unique to their hotel about local guidelines or safety.

Another layer not directly tied to hygiene training but tied to the hospitality side of cleaning: Our hotels are now implementing what we call “alternative methods of hospitality.” So think about traditionally when you walk into a hotel, you’re greeted by someone with a smile or handshake. Obviously, that doesn’t happen in this world when team members are now wearing facial coverings and personal contact through a handshake doesn’t really work. So hotels are beginning to deliver kind of alternative forms of hospitality and gestures, such as a hand over the heart, bowing, and peace signs, to deliver a hint of hospitality. So, that’s been a part of their training too.

Is there any final thing you’d like to share about what guests can expect about their experience that would instill confidence and make them feel more comfortable?

As providers, all we can do is build an enhanced baseline to help customers feel comfortable so that when they are ready to travel, they’ll have the confidence to do so. It’s about helping them understand in a very transparent way what we’re doing. And that’s kind of what CleanStay is all about – to be able to talk to them and say, “Here are the things we’re doing that are different or more enhanced than what you’ve expected before.”

The information is communicated multiple times. From the time guests make a reservation to when they are actually at the hotel, they are reminded about the extra efforts we’ve taken.

Certainly, hotels have always been about clean, but a lot of what we’ve done may have happened behind the scenes or with products that customers might not be familiar with. We’ve used a lot of product that is medical grade, but it’s a product that customers aren’t really familiar with. The feedback we received from customers was: “Hey, I use Lysol at home and that’s what helps me feel comfortable.”

So the fact that we’re using that same product also helps give them a stronger sense of confidence.

Across our guest loyalty program, Hilton Honors, we continue to implement adjustments to provide maximum flexibility to instill confidence across our more than 106-million-member community – from the contactless technology available through our Hilton Honors app to the status, Points, and 2020 rollover-night extensions we’ve granted to help them maintain or upgrade their status while their travels are limited. And through our Hilton Honors American Express credit cards, we have also provided enhancements to support card members – such as counting Bonus Points earned through eligible purchases (like that large grocery bill!) as Base Points through the end of the year to help members achieve elite status even faster.