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With an ever-growing array of hotel cleaning programs launched in response to coronavirus, a governing body may be what gives travelers the biggest confidence boost to return to vacationing.

Another day, another cleaning standard for the world hotel industry.

Hotel companies around the world, from Hilton to Four Seasons, partnered with cleaning companies and health institutions in creating heightened health and safety standards analysts say are necessary to give guests the confidence to return to travel. But the International Well Building Institute team behind the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facilities Operations and Management say a third-party source like its own is needed to hold the individual protocols and practices accountable.

“Hospitality’s take on wellness pre-Covid had so much more to do with a more consumer aspect: Working out in the room, or yoga and on-demand offerings on the TV,” IWBI President Rachel Gutter said. “This is a paradigm shift that we’re going to see for hospitality now and how (hotel owners) define wellness.”

The safety rating for the hotel will appear on a seal, most likely posted by the front door, or somewhere on the property.

The focus on hotels comes amid the wave of new hospitality health and safety brand standards announced in response to the pandemic. Having a regulatory body over all the individual protocols could give travelers even more confidence in booking a stay. Hotel companies like Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Loews Hotels & Co., and Montage International — all of which have their own safety standards — serve as WELL advisory members.

The safety rating is an offshoot of the WELL Building Standard, a health rating for commercial buildings led by IWBI parent company Delos. Launched in 2015, the building standard is now applied to more than 560 million square feet of real estate, primarily commercial offices, in 62 countries. LEED standards are about energy efficiency while the WELL Building Standard focuses more on maximizing the health and wellness of the occupants within a building.

The wellness institute employs more than 20 full-time employees across three major cities in China, and Gutter said work on the health and safety rating began as these employees went into coronavirus lockdowns. The employees began taking notes of building features that could be opportunities to earn a certification, from air ventilation to sealed soap cartridges.

“One of the things they learned was, the best way to stay sane, was to be helpful,” Gutter said. “What we knew well before Covid touched down here in the U.S. was that the WELL Building Standard held up well for prevention and recovery.”

The Race for a Rating

The Delos and IWBI teams said they began fielding calls from building owners earlier this year for a safety seal on buildings in light of the pandemic.

They established a task force with nearly 600 virologists, scientists, building experts, and even former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona — who also serves as a co-chair on the WELL Advisory board — to address coronavirus and pathogen risks in commercial buildings like a hotel. After 45 days of review, the WELL Health-Safety Rating was the resulting product.

The IWBI aims for the rating to be less another cleaning standard and more the central source and governing body to other protocols like a Hilton CleanStay or Accor’s ALLSAFE. Operational policies, emergency plans, and maintenance protocols factor in awarding a property the rating seal to display. Because of its focus on operations, no architecture changes or significant capital expenditures are necessary to garner the seal for a property.

“You cannot design your way out of Covid-19. The second an infected person walks into a space and isn’t wearing protective gear, everyone in range is going to be at risk,” Gutter said. “This isn’t a rating to say this space is Covid-free. This says the space has put all the measures in place to protect your safety at this moment.”

There is no set timeline on how long it takes the IWBI team to review an individual hotel for the rating seal, but Gutter said the organization would look for how thorough a property’s plan is for personal protective equipment, social distancing, and employee trainings. Rather than a universal guideline, each review is tailored to an individual property.

“Many of them are already doing the right thing and are looking for the validation that that’s true,” she said of why hotels would want to get a WELL Health-Safety Rating seal to display on top of their own corporate plan. “With hotels, almost more than any other space type, perception is reality.”

Hotel industry leaders think there is no such thing as too much safety, given the current climate. A safety verification on top of an already-stringent cleaning protocol gives guests added peace of mind.

“The hospitality industry has taken great steps to establish guidelines in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the centralization of best practices across many disciplines,” said Association of Luxury Hotels International CEO Michael Dominguez, who also serves as an advisory member, in a statement. “This is an opportunity for property owners and operators to extend their work with third-party documentation review, which is a critical step in verifying the adoption of these practices.”

A Wellness Legacy

The WELL rating may also be more of a lasting movement than some of the individual corporate protocols. Executives like Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson have mentioned initial health and safety standards enforced during the initial recovery would likely diminish once a vaccine is readily available.

Many of these early cleaning procedures call for increased attention to high-touch areas with hospital-grade disinfectants. A WELL standard might offer something that could last and ultimately be kinder to the environment.

“When the fire is burning, you pick up the extinguisher and don’t care what’s in it to put out the fire,” said Horwath HTL Managing Director Andrew Cohan of the rapid launch of many of the heightened cleaning measures. “I would expect the Delos standard would focus, as with their other standards, more about the well-being of the guests and people who work at the hotels but also the surrounding community.”

Delos and the wellness institute’s experience in the sustainability, health, and wellness space could further lend credibility to its new rating. Delos partnered with health organizations like Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic on the WELL Building Standard. The Mayo Clinic collaboration also included the WELL Living Lab, a research facility that opened in 2015 for experts to study health and wellness practices in environments like a hotel.

The years of research could provide a long-term health and safety solution for hotels once early post-pandemic travel apprehension subsides.

“Some of the new cleaning protocols stay permanent and other stuff doesn’t,” Cohan said. “If the WELL standard is something people buy into and becomes the baseline, that gives companies cover to do away with some of these $20,000 cleaning spray products and down the line say that it’s now safe to revert to go back to a ‘normal’ cleaning standard like the WELL Standard.”

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Tags: cleaning programs, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery

Photo credit: A global commercial building wellness rating aims to give hotel operators a visual to appeal to travelers during the coronavirus recovery. Aqua Mechanical / Flickr

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