Home > News > world > Hotels fund more cleaning by cutting room amenities and breakfast buffets

Hotel chains are performing a precarious budget balancing act as they scrap amenities to pay for more cleaning to rebuild consumer confidence shaken by the coronavirus pandemic and reverse steep declines in stays.

Many—including franchise-run chains—are cutting amenities such as daily housekeeping visits, hot breakfast buffets and even complimentary soaps and lotions. The moves may help defray the costs of sanitizers, protective face masks and antiviral cleaning devices for individual hotel owners.

“Lysol is the new luxury," said Chekitan Dev, a professor in the hospitality school at Cornell University.

It is one thing for high-end hotels to start implementing “operating-room level" hygiene practices, but it is an entirely different challenge for large hotel franchises, which essentially operate as a network of small-business owners, to require a new set of brand standards, said Mr. Dev, who also is a hospitality industry consultant.

Still, such changes could have long-term effects, some of which could be financially favorable. A hotel’s biggest cost is typically for labor for housekeeping, according to Scott Smith, a professor in the hospitality school at the University of South Carolina. Scaling back on daily room visits in favor of deeper cleaning before guests arrive could allow hotel owners to reduce costs down the road, he said.

“Every crisis can be an opportunity," Mr. Smith said.

Choice Hotels International Inc., which operates brands including Comfort Inn & Suites and Cambria Hotels, sees an opportunity in scaling back its hot breakfast options, a move that helps meet local food-service requirements and addresses customer concerns and expectations regarding hygiene.

Now, Rockville, Md.,-based Choice will increasingly offer its guests prepackaged breakfast options, which are less expensive than buffets that include eggs and bacon, according to Dominic Dragisich, the company’s chief financial officer.

Mr. Dragisich said he expects the savings on breakfast to offset the cost of products that hotel owners will need to buy to meet Choice’s new cleaning standards. Related costs, such as those for installing plexiglass partitions for contactless check-ins, would likely be covered by the franchise fees that hotel owners already pay, he said.

Occupancy rates at Choice’s hotels averaged about 39% in early May, just above a hotel’s break-even rate of 30%, Mr. Dragisich added, noting he expects rates to rise as consumers begin driving more and looking for overnight accommodations this summer.

To address guest concerns about cleanliness, Best Western Hotels & Resorts is focusing on deep cleaning rooms after guests leave, using electrostatic sprayers that are designed to kill the coronavirus, according to Ron Pohl, chief operations officer.

The service is a response to the Phoenix-based hotel chain’s guests saying they are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus and don’t want housekeepers visiting rooms daily, Mr. Pohl said. Housekeeping, however, will be provided upon request, he added.

Best Western has also removed items in its rooms such as decorative pillows, directories, bathroom amenity trays and certain types of remote controls to eliminate surfaces on which the virus could be spread. Franchise owners are mandated to make the cleaning adjustments but have some leeway when it comes to changing the check-in process or offering food, Mr. Pohl said.

While hotel owners may have to invest more cash upfront for such initiatives, Best Western is looking at ways to “develop a program that would be possibly cost neutral to a hotel owner," Mr. Pohl said.

Best Western expects its hotel occupancy rates in North America will average around 50% by the end of the year, or about 20 percentage points lower than last year’s average, Mr. Pohl said.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc. has established new cleaning standards that go into effect on Sept. 1, and to help hotel owners adjust it is having suppliers ship masks, disinfectant wipes and other hard-to-source cleaning items directly to its more than 6,000 U.S. hotels, said Lisa Checchio, the company’s chief marketing officer.

“We want our guests to have a sense of confidence that there will be a level of consistency as the [shelter in place orders] lift and as travel begins again," Ms. Checchio said.

Like other hotel chains, Parsippany, N.J.-based Wyndham has also waived and deferred certain franchise fees to help hotel owners conserve cash as occupancy rates have declined. Wyndham has also suspended its breakfast service requirements until January and in their place some of its hotels have started offering grab-and-go breakfast options, Ms. Checchio said.

Meanwhile, Wyndham is surveying its customers and talking to its franchisees to get a sense of what customers expect for breakfast service. “It allows us to rethink the model," Ms. Checchio said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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