Daily room-cleaning mandates create new rift in hospitality

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Hotel room
Photo Credit: Small1/Shutterstock.com

Hospitality heavyweights are pushing back against newly enacted hotel-cleaning ordinances in San Francisco and Las Vegas, with daily housekeeping protocols emerging as a key flashpoint in both cities.

In San Francisco, tension among local lawmakers, union leaders and hotel trade groups have come to a head following San Francisco County's passage of its Healthy Buildings ordinance on July 17. The measure mandates strict cleaning protocols for large commercial office buildings and hotels, requiring the latter to implement daily guestroom cleanings and frequent disinfection of various surfaces and fixtures.

Unite Here Local 2, San Francisco's hotel workers union, has come out strongly in favor of the move, claiming the group's 14,000 members feel safer with such regulations in place.

Most hoteliers, however, had already phased out daily housekeeping and turndown services to reduce interaction between staff and guests in the wake of Covid-19 and instead have been offering room cleanings only upon request.

On July 20, the Hotel Council of San Francisco, the California Hotel and Lodging Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association jointly filed a lawsuit against San Francisco County, alleging that the ordinance's cleaning protocols are "costly and unnecessary" and endanger staff by increasing employee contact with guests.

Meanwhile, a similar housekeeping measure has been passed in Las Vegas, where Nevada's Culinary Union -- which represents roughly 60,000 gaming, hotel and food service workers -- has been pushing for mandatory daily guestroom cleanings, among other Covid-19-related requirements, since June. 

Passed in early August, Nevada's Senate Bill 4, also known as the Adolfo Fernandez Bill, mandates that casinos and hotels in Las Vegas and Reno implement enhanced cleaning procedures, including daily room cleanings. Other measures included in the bill involve access to testing, social distancing protocols and paid time off.

Earlier this summer, Culinary Union secretary-treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline told Travel Weekly that infrequent room cleanings can create a more dangerous environment for both guests and workers.

"Sometimes you can have two or three people inside a room, and if left alone for days, it's a lot riskier for everyone involved," said Arguello-Kline.

There's also the issue of job security. According to Ted Waechter, communications head for Unite Here Local 2, hotel employees are concerned that a pandemic-era reduction in cleaning services could become permanent. 

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, executives have cynically talked about how to make this crisis work for them," said Waechter. "They've said they'd like to reduce services, move to a leaner operating model and increase profit margin. And certainly, laying off thousands of women of color who make their living cleaning hotel rooms would be a way to do that."

As research increasingly indicates that airborne transmission of Covid-19 is a threat, improving indoor air quality has become a priority for many hoteliers.

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With hotel industry revenues currently at all-time lows, however, cost is a major pain point for the vast majority of operators. The California Hotel and Lodging Association released an analysis claiming that San Francisco's Healthy Buildings ordinance will cost the city's 215 hotels an additional $220,000 each on average annually.

During Hilton Worldwide's second-quarter earnings call on Aug. 6, Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta acknowledged that offering housekeeping on an opt-in-only basis has been "helpful from a margin point of view" while adding that most customers are currently bypassing daily service.

Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson was critical of the cleaning mandates passed in San Francisco and Vegas in a recent call with investors.

"We have frustratingly seen a couple of cities move [toward more intensive room cleaning], certainly at the behest of unions to try and bring jobs back, but to say that every room should be cleaned every day [means] we'll see hotels reopen slower in those markets and see jobs come back slower," Sorenson asserted.

From a public health standpoint, the safety of daily room cleanings has indeed been called into question.

Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist based in Los Angeles, said she believes daily cleanings during a pandemic are "not a good idea."

"I agree with limiting the amount of times that that housekeeper comes into the room," said Kullar. "You have no way of monitoring whether they're wearing their mask correctly. It's better to just not have that person touching surfaces or potentially spreading any virus."

Paul Medeiros
Paul Medeiros

Paul Medeiros, head of North American consulting and technical services for the public health organization NSF International, added that while that there are hazards associated with skipping daily cleanings, having a person come into an enclosed space regularly to clean can also be risky. 

"The real risk for getting infected lies primarily with the three Cs, which are closed spaces, crowded spaces and close contact," said Medeiros. "The risk of having a cleaning staff going in on a daily basis is that they could potentially be exposed to the virus, unless they're following proper protocols. If they are, then they should be fine, right? But if they're not, it's a risk. So why have them go in?"

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