How Cleanliness Became a Marketing Priority
By Richard Hatter
Note: This blog was first published on 14 December 2020 on www.hotelsmag.com , where Richard has been invited to contribute a monthly blog.
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One thing is for certain now: At the top of any hospitality business strategy is the word safety. That’s the difference a pandemic makes, with services and protocols once traditionally back of house now center stage for every hotel.
Safety is the top priority for guests when making choices on hotels to stay in and restaurants to eat in, with hygiene ratings being ticked first and before booking to avoid any risk. Marketing budgets that back in January 2020 spoke to in-house promotions, tactical events and offers have now been diverted into installing safety measures and ensuring the market is aware of them. This year, with room bookings disrupted and revenues falling, finance has had to be creative and re-distribute investment quickly into innovative clean technology.
Cleaning protocols at Hotel Icon
Here at Icon, the issues around safety and security began in 2019 as the pro-democracy protests disrupted Hong Kong. Safety became high on the agenda with tear gas in the air and various assemblies taking over the streets. Media reporting of the situation was global, and this further destabilized the market. We became more and more conscious that the public were concerned about their health, and particularly the effects of the gas.
UV light air purifier
As a result, it became obvious that a move to purify the air inside the hotel would give us an advantage and a reason to further reassure guests throughout what was a chaotic situation. Air conditioning systems inside hotel have huge air intakes. We had to look at how we could clean that air, with research showing that the installation of a UV light system would help this. It was important we could state clearly that Icon was a safe hotel not only for guests but for our own staff as well.
Guest room door seal sticker
Then as the COVID-19 situation took hold in 2020, we looked to enhance the measures we had already adopted. We needed to be as “bullet-proof” as any hotel could be, so a task force was put together to inspect the building and reveal any special feature of our architecture. In the case of Icon, it’s a new-build, and that helped of course. The chief engineer informed us that all the rooms here had self-contained air-conditioning. Installing an enhanced filtration system would mean we had air as clean as it could be and we could seal rooms before each guest arrived.
We researched Tesla and their protocols and found that having the MERV-16 filtration added to the ventilation system captures up to 97% of particles or contaminates and whilst marketing wasn’t a priority, this also allowed for a clear reason to promote around. Providing MERV-16 air filtration quality for every room, which supplies hospital grade air quality certainly gave Icon a competitive edge and will help other hotels. Protecting more public spaces, so in our case the ballroom and our restaurants was done by installing a UV light system into the main filtration which cleaned the air.
As a teaching hotel it is vital we research as deeply as we can to set a standard and share learning with the industry. We looked at other industries, in particular automotive and medical, to understand and learn from their protocols and how they could be adapted. We tested an antiviral coating in our prototype rooms, more to test guest perception than efficiency. The coatig, which inhibits bacteria and virus growth, eliminates toxic matter and lasts for up to a year. It’s based on a unique and world-patented technology - Quantum-Dot Photocatalyst - that found that smooth surfaces are often highly porous and adherent which risks viruses being found in micro gaps and missed by traditional cleaning methods.
The technology in this case makes contact with specific areas and extracts any virus particles making surfaces easier to clean with traditional methods. Most importantly it is highly tested and proven to be not harmful to either the environment or humans. Our operation has always reserved resources for hygiene and cleaning, including the employment of a full-time hygiene manager and a more vital measure moving forward.
At the end of the day everything hinges on the perception of the customer. The hospitality industry is always market orientated of course, and relies on word of mouth more than ever. This past year has taught us that we must listen, respond and adapt even further than before to serve our target market looking at both short- and long-term investment plans.
The investment Icon has made this year has helped us to avoid the “price war” and justify keeping our rates high. Data shows how Icon has achieved high occupancy percentages and high RGI as a result of the safety messages. Our investment and safety-first approach has also seen Icon awarded the IEQ certificate for all guest areas, so the measures have paid off.