Out Damned Spot


Behind the scenes, hotel sanitation and pest control programs help keep things spic and span

The hotel business is one of first impressions that make or break a guest’s experience with your hotel or your brand. It’s why top properties spend so much time and money training the front desk and concierge staff; empowering them to make the kinds of on-the-fly decisions that wow travellers. However, put that newly wooed road-warrior in a suite with stained carpet, questionable linen or — gasp! — lipstick-rimmed glassware, and all that investment is for naught.


Good hoteliers know the effectiveness of their behind-the-scenes cleaning programs largely influence where people decide to rest their heads. That’s why hotel sanitation and pest control programs are some of the most frequently reviewed, updated and monitored programs in the country. At check-out time, their effectiveness can either help a brand shine or tarnish it for good.

Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada in Ottawa, says cleanliness is always top of mind for today’s traveller. “We do an annual travel survey and in it we ask, ‘What is the most important thing that travellers are looking for?’ The number 1 item is a clean room,” he says. “We’ve been doing this for five years and it’s the top item that keeps coming back year after year.”

But it isn’t just guest rooms that fall under a hotel’s sanitation and pest control plan. Sushma Saraf, executive housekeeper at the InterContinental Toronto Centre, says that each and every part of a hotel property must be frequently monitored and regularly treated. “It’s very important to the guests to know that they are basically coming to a safe and secure place,” she says. “That awareness of health, that consciousness, makes it all the more important that not only our rooms, but our public areas, our kitchens, our back of house are kept immaculately clean and disinfected.”

Saraf describes the sanitation plan she enforces at the hotel using three catch words — awareness, precaution and planning. First, she says she trains her staff to be aware of sanitation and pest control problems. Second, it’s about taking the necessary precautions by using proper chemicals and equipment. Lastly, she reveals there must be an effective plan in place to prevent problems before they happen. Therefore, weekly inspections from sanitization companies that check for insects, proper ventilation and clean food-preparation areas are a must.

With today’s threat of the H1N1 virus ever looming, having an effective plan to deal with a potential outbreak is even more crucial to protect both guests and hotel employees. “[H1N1] has changed every aspect of our sanitation, from how we clean guest rooms to the equipment we have available for staff,” says Dale Sammy, director of Security at the InterContinental Toronto Centre. “Whatever comes down the pipe, we knew [we needed] to have a program already in place, as well as the equipment, chemicals and the necessary items to handle things.” Aside from placing hand-sanitizer dispensers in all of the hotel’s public areas, housekeeping staff have protective gloves and stronger cleaners at their disposal, as well as literature advising what to do in case an H1N1 outbreak does occur at the property. The latter being most crucial, because the worst time to plan a strategy to protect your hotel from an outbreak of H1N1 is while one is actually happening. All employees and especially managers should know exactly what to do in the event the virus starts spreading through the hotel. And it goes without saying that sick employees should stay home.

Pandemics, grime and unwelcome critters are all realities that hotels, especially ones in high-traffic downtown areas, must guard against. Saraf says that in order to stay on top of these issues, staff can’t deviate from the detailed sanitation and pest-prevention initiatives laid out by management. “We take it very seriously and monitor that all the programs we have in place are followed to a tee,” says Saraf, who adds that it is also important for the programs to be executed subtly, so as not to make guests aware of anything during their stay.
John Cosentino, general manager of the Best Western Victoria Park Suites and the Albert at Bay Suites in Ottawa, knows exactly what it takes to expertly run a sanitation program. Last year his Victoria Park property earned Best Western Chairman’s Award for achieving and maintaining excellent quality hotel service and cleanliness. In addition, the hotel won the Best of the Best in Quality at Best Western’s North American convention last Nov-ember, making it one of 47 hotels out of more than 2,400 properties in the U.S. and Canada to have received this designation.

He maintains that everything boils down to how staff, especially those in housekeeping, are trained. “It has to start with the education of the employees,” he says. “We spend ample time ensuring employees understand the importance of sanitation, understand the commitment it takes, and that they should be keeping an eye out to make sure everything is clean.”

The sanitation and cleanliness training is done in-house at Victoria Park. Staff are quizzed on protocol and are monitored through various ‘nit picks’ — when management randomly monitor specific areas like behind the bar fridges. Currently, Cosentino’s latest sanitation initiative is switching over Victoria Park’s bathroom fixtures to be entirely automated and hands-free. Still, no technology upgrade will ever make up for employees that are unaware of proper hotel sanitation practices.

“Don’t take for granted that your employees are following the same principles and philosophies that you are,” he adds. “You have to make sure you stay on top of the education component and the training, and you must constantly review it.”

In Vancouver, hoteliers are eagerly awaiting the tens of thousands of Olympic-bound tourists who will descend upon the city in February. With the world’s gaze fixed on the West Coast jewel, hotel managers need to stay on top of sanitation and pest control like never before.

At the St. Regis Downtown Vancouver, general manager Jeremy Roncoroni is taking his hotel sanitation program to the next level by focusing on the details. “In whichever hotel I have worked at, to have the cleanest rooms in the city has not only been a personal goal but also a business goal,” he says.

In anticipation of the growing bedbug problem slated to hit North American city centres, Roncoroni says all of the hotel’s mattresses and box springs were encased in protective covers early last November. It cost approximately $5,200 to outfit its 65 rooms, but Roncoroni says the added expense was well worth it. The property also spent money on pocket-sized hand-sanitizer tubes that are now included on the hotel’s amenities tray. Guests can’t get enough of them, either. “People have been bribing room attendants to get some more of them,” he says, laughing.

The St. Regis also practises the latest trend in sanitation — green cleaning. Roncoroni notes that all of the hotel’s chemicals are eco-friendly. But perhaps the most successful part of its sanitation program, he says, is the secondary room inspection. “After our room attendant has cleaned it, we go in and make sure everything is perfect. We look inside of the ice buckets; we look at every single detail, because no matter how clean you think your room is, if there are fingerprints on the makeup mirror, it’s just not clean anymore.”

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