The New Hotel Safety Standards Planners Need to Know

With the COVID-19 vaccine now widely available, the conversation about how the industry gets back to normalcy while keeping attendees' health and safety in mind. Meeting professionals now have extra considerations to account for as you book hotels for groups. Are meeting spaces equipped with the right technology to handle the emerging hybrid meeting model that brings in-person and virtual guests together? Will meeting guests be assured that all of the touchpoints in their roomsfrom light switches to luggage racks and alarm clockshave been properly cleaned? Health and safety will remain front of mind.

To navigate this new normal, and earn traveler's confidence, various certifications have emerged to help hotels demonstrate their commitment to health and safety protocols. These protocols go beyond mask wearing and physical distancing and provide extensive guidelines to ensure hotels are safe places to stay, meet and work. They range from a third-party verification system that factors in hundreds of health and safety protocols to a hotel association's guidelines that were reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There's also an accreditation that spells out cleaning and sanitization steps in the COVID-era, which was developed by leading experts well-versed in biohazards and infection disease.

Following is a meeting planner's guide to three of the popular health and safety certification processes being used by hotels, including the expertise of those behind these certifications and insider information on the protocols.

AHLA Safe StayAmerican Hotel Lodging Association's Safe Stay

Safe Stay is an American Hotel Lodging Association (AHLA) initiative that covers guidelines like enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols to meet the health and safety challenges brought about by COVID-19. The guidelines were created by an advisory council made of leaders from all segments of the hotel industry, and it was reviewed by the CDC. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has endorsed the hotel industry's Safe Stay program.

What are the protocols?

AHLA's Enhanced Industry-Wide Hotel Cleaning Checklist features 32 checkpoints. Here's a sample of some of the protocols:

  • Dining services are updated to discontinue self-service buffets, using cafeteria style or grab-and-go services instead.
  • Elevator button panels are sanitized at least once per hour, and/or hand sanitizer is available at or in elevators. The number of guests per elevator is limited.
  • The frequency of air filter replacement and HVAC system cleaning is increased to maximize fresh air exchange.

In addition, the Stay Safe initiative has a 10-point checklist specifically for meetings and events. Here are a few of the components:

  • Provide hand sanitizing stations in meeting/event spaces.
  • Use new technologies to facilitate hybrid in-person/virtual meetings.
  • Designate entry and exist ways to manage the flow of attendees.

As part of the initiative, Stay Safe developed a common set of guidelines for hotels that go beyond cleaning. The guidance has criteria divided into four core categories: Employee & Guest Health; Employee Responsibilities; Cleaning & Disinfecting Products and Protocols; and Physical Distancing Procedures. Within each section, several up-to-date recommendations are spelled out. For example, the Employee & Guest Health category lists employees should be trained on the proper processes to report confirmed COVID-19 cases to local health authorities as recommended by the CDC.

What's the process like for hotels?

While the majority of the 32 cleaning checkpoints are required, some are optional, such as discontinuing the use of shared coffee and tea service and offering an amenity bag at check-in that contains items like hand sanitizer and masks. A hotel manager can sign the checklist certifying that the property is adhering to the standards and then receive a Stay Safe Certified window decal for promotional use. In addition to the cleaning checkpoints, the initiative also has a Stay Safe training for employees and checklists for guests on how to travel safely.

What more should hotel guests know?

The Stay Safe Program also has a checklist for guests to help them travel safer, such as choosing contactless options where available.

Find more information about the Safe Stay program here.

Sharecard VERIFIED with Forbes Travel Guide

Sharecare VERIFIED with Forbes Travel Guide

Think of it this way, two pastry chefs bake the same cake using a different recipe. They would be hard to compare. Similarly, hotel brands have their own health protocols, plus varying local requirements, which makes it difficult to draw fair comparisons among them.

To make it easier for planners to understand each hotel's health and safety measures, digital health company Sharecare has partnered with Forbes Travel Guide to provide a third-party verification process that layers in hundreds of global health security standards. These standards include CDC guidelines, as well as clinically validated standards for mitigating public health risks. 

"We're the final check to make sure hotels are meeting all the requirements," said Hermann Elger, executive vice president of travel, entertainment and health security with Sharecare. More than 1,000 properties in 75 countries have the Sharecare VERIFIED with Forbes Travel Guide.

What are the protocols?

In all, the platform has more than 360 security standards that hotels must address during the verification process. These standards span verticals that include the following: health and hygiene protocols, cleaning products and procedures, ventilation, management accountability, masks and PPE, and health safety communication with guests and employees.

What's the process like for hotels?

The platform walks hotel managers through each of the requirements. To get the verification badge, the hotel must meet all the applicable standards. There is not an onsite inspection; rather it's the hotel manager attesting that each of the guidelines is being followed. The Sharecare team can address questions.

What more should hotel guests know?

The intuitive platform is able to factor in local and national regulations for hotels, even as they change. Some examples of the standards include investing in touchless disinfecting stations, administering guest temperature checks, and having the latest electric and electrostatic spray cleaning technologies.

Find more information about the Sharecare VERIFIED with Forbes Travel Guide here.

The Global BioRisk Advisory Council's STAR accreditation

global BioRisk Advisory Council - Star Facility

The Global BioRisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of the worldwide cleaning-industry association ISSA, offers a STAR program that trains hotels (and other facilities) to establish a comprehensive system of cleaning, disinfecting and preventing infectious disease. (ISSA is the leading trade association for the cleaning industry). GBAC's council is made up of international leaders with backgrounds in fields including microbial-pathogenic threat analysis, infectious disease surveillance and biohazard mitigation. Several of these experts have experience working with universities, military branches and the CDC.

What are the protocols?

To earn the GBAC STAR accreditation, facilities must demonstrate compliance with the program's 20 elements, each of which have several criteria. Program elements range from protocols for the cleaning and disinfection chemicals used, to emergency preparedness and response. The accreditation program has step-by-step guidelines for hotels that cover cleaning and disinfection in every part of the hotel, from lobbies to rooms to pools and elevators. In meeting rooms, for instance, one of the protocols is to have at least one hand sanitation station for every 50 people, and that all touch points be disinfected. In guest rooms, there are requirements that all touch points be sanitized, including light switches, lamps, phones, TV controls, hanging rods, door handles and more.

What's the process like for hotels?

At least one staff member from the hotel needs to complete the online GBAC fundamentals certificate course, which covers cleaning and disinfection principles. The course takes two to three hours to complete and costs $150 for ISSA members; $300 for nonmembers. Hotels also need to complete an online application that demonstrates it adheres to the program's 20 elements. The application is then reviewed by GBAC's Accreditation Council. If approved, the certification lasts for a year.

What more should hotel guests know?

Business travelers can look for GBAC STAR accreditation beyond hotels. Airports, convention centers, restaurants and stadiums commonly use this accreditation program to show adherence to high cleaning and disinfecting standards.

Find more information about the GBAC STAR accreditation program for hotels here.

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