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Don’t Discount the Theater of Cleanliness Just Yet

Create: Jun 13, 2021     Edit: Jun 13, 2021

Cleanliness is not just about COVID-19 safety but also giving guests peace of mind through the presentation of visual cues that you are in fact abiding by the proper sanitization guidelines. Little things like a protective wrapper around the guestroom toilet seat or spraying down the lobby at peak hours instead of after midnight go a long way towards rebuilding traveler confidence.

These are but two examples of what we coined as ‘cleanliness theater’ while others have deployed similar phrasing like ‘hygiene theater’ or ‘high-visibility cleaning’. Importantly, even as we transition out of the pandemic, this theater of cleanliness will continue to play a role, albeit unconscious but nevertheless emotional, towards guest satisfaction and brand loyalty for the decade ahead.

The most salient consideration pertains to the marketing of cleanliness, both onsite for satisfaction and during the booking phase. For this, we argue that the theater takes precedent over the actual strictness of sanitization techniques deployed in the buyer’s decision-making process.

That is, from a psychological standpoint, this theater – more specifically, visual cues symbolizing good cleanliness practices – serves as a heuristic or mental shortcut to indicate that you are taking the matter seriously so that the prospective guest can check the COVID-19 safety box and move on to other considerations like location, price, in-room features and onsite amenities.

Given that heuristics favor the theater over the BOH production, hoteliers should thus rethink how they leverage all their new sanitization SOPs for their marketing efforts. Stated differently, highly visible theater will give guests a quick reference point to heighten their confidence so that they make a reservation at your property versus others in your comp set, as well as recommend your hotel to others once they depart.

Besides the listing of various cleanliness badges on your website and in your newsletters, one such idea is to recruit 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 the pandemic forcing us all to up our game, perhaps it’s time that executive housekeepers finally get the recognition they deserve.

In any case, to express your cleanliness in a theatrical manner to help reinvigorate your property for Q3 and Q4 2021, one other 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-19 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, with cleanliness staying top-of-mind for hotels and travelers for the next few years at least, you need to think differently in terms of how your brand to the world. Hygiene in and of itself doesn’t pluck at the heartstrings of your target audience, but the heuristic of hygiene does.


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