Here’s something driving travelers a little crazy as the pandemic drags on: How can you tell if your airline seat, hotel room or rental car is clean? Is there any way to know, objectively?
When Chip Bell checked into a Hilton hotel in Midtown Manhattan recently, everything looked clean.
“The valet was wearing a face mask and gloves,” he says. “The front desk had a large dispenser of hand sanitizer accessible to guests. The front desk person, behind protective plexiglass, told me there would be a seal on my guest room door certifying it had been cleaned.”
But Bell, a customer loyalty consultant and author who lives in Atlanta, had his doubts.
“There was no guarantee or Good Housekeeping seal,” he says. “It is a reminder that customers judge their service experiences in their own irrational, illogical and completely human ways.”
That’s the thing. The travel industry may insist that there are ways to tell whether your airline seat, hotel room or rental car is safe. But it comes down to taking someone’s word for it. There are solutions, but they’re either impractical or pricey. All of which leaves travelers with few choices on their next trip.
Travel companies are trying to assure customers that their products are safe and healthy in two ways. First, they have announced sweeping initiatives to sanitize their rooms and cabins. For example, Hilton teamed up with the makers of Lysol and Dettol to create the CleanStay program. The hotel chain promises to thoroughly clean and sanitize its rooms and public areas.
And second, the companies place seals on cleaned areas. At Hilton properties, there’s a sticker on the door to indicate that a room has been sanitized and inspected. Seals are not new to the travel industry. In hotels, a paper ring on the toilet is supposed to signify that it’s been cleaned by the housekeeping staff. But some guests don’t believe it, and for good reason.
“I would not trust a seal,” says Beverly Byrum, a nurse from Louisville.
Byrum recalls stories that an acquaintance, who works for a hotel, told her. The acquaintance said her housekeeping staff sometimes takes shortcuts to save time. One of them will place that paper ring on the toilet even if it hasn’t been cleaned.
“How would I know that wasn’t happening with a room seal?” Byrum asks.
Companies are trying to restore some of that lost confidence.
“Most of the seals that companies are putting on hotel rooms and cars are not actually a verification that the cleaning has been audited,” says Peter Clark, the marketing director for Tulu, a company that offers businesses a way to digitally audit cleaning services by recording the process.
Tulu — which is used by Thrifty Car Rental and Uber — provides a purple decal with a QR code, a type of bar code, as proof that an area is clean and healthy. The QR code can be scanned with a smartphone to get a page that shows