Who's been sleeping in your (hotel) bed?

Do you have any idea what happened on that hotel bed before you walked into the room? You don't want to know. Neither do I, which is why, first thing when arriving in a new hotel room, I usually toss the bedspread in the closet.

It seems I'm not alone. For years, surveys showed that hotel guests most value customer service, cleanliness and maintenance - in that order, said Ron Pohl, Best Western's senior vice president of brand management in hte US. Two years ago there was a subtle but significant shift: Cleanliness leapt to the top of the list.

"Beyond seeing stains and dirt, people were comfortable," Pohl said. "Today it's not what they see that they're concerned about; it's what they don't see."

The findings led Best Western to launch an intensive housekeeping program that has been adopted by about a third of the chain's 2200 North American hotels; the rest are expected to follow by the end of the year, Pohl said.

Among other initiatives, Best Western has armed housekeeping staffs with black lights to spot biological matter invisible to the naked eye (fluids and such), and ultraviolet sterilisation wands to wave above the places that get the most finger traffic, such as telephones, clocks, light switches, door handles and bathroom fixtures. It also has retooled with crevice-free TV remotes that can be wiped down.

Whether this is savvy marketing or creating cleaner hotel rooms (or most likely both), it is a hospitality industry response to the era of SARS, H1N1 and a hand-sanitising station every five metres. (Best Western still doesn't regularly wash the bedspreads, except in the case of duvets, Pohl said).

Philip Tierno, a New York University microbiology professor and author of The Secret Life of Germs, said it is indeed time for hotels to re-evaluate how rooms are cleaned.

"Theoretically a few organisms can give rise to a very bad bout of the stomach flu," he said, adding that such germs can survive for days on insufficiently cleaned doorknobs, telephones and bathroom fixtures. As a result, he employs his own cleaning ritual when traveling.

Though he applauded Best Western's crevice-free remote, he said the UV wand is most likely "useless."
"You may have to pass the wand over it for minutes, depending upon the organism, for it to be effective, not seconds," he said. More important, he said, is wiping down surfaces with a clean cloth and disinfectant. Still, he said, it's a start the industry dearly needs.


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