Hotels, airlines and sports venues turn to Clorox and Lysol to vouch for their cleanliness

Malibu Beach Inn Hotel & Spaemployee Kevin Robbins shows how a room is disinfected at the hotel on July 28, 2020, in Malibu, California, using the EarthSafe EvaClean disinfecting system. Gregory Day, general manager of the hotel, said he sought out a third-party accreditation for his cleaning program to give his guests a sense of confidence. "Any measure of comfort that we can provide to travelers at this crazy time, I pretty much want to do it," he said. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By Hugo Martín

The Los Angeles Times

If you jump on a United Airlines flight, you are likely to see the Clorox logo on signs and posters as you board.

Check into a Marriott or Hyatt hotel and expect to see stickers emblazoned with the name of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, an arm of the world’s cleaning-products industry trade group.

Customers of Delta Air Lines, Avis car rentals and Hilton hotels might run into placards and stickers touting the Lysol brand.

Trying to reassure a nervous public about their efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, hotels, airlines, car rental companies and sports arenas have teamed up with the makers of popular cleaning products to vouch for their cleaning protocols.

These protocols focus mostly on disinfecting public spaces and high-touch surfaces, whereas medical experts note that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the air after an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales.

And the new partnerships and accreditation programs touted by such travel and hospitality companies do not guarantee that the makers of the popular cleaning products have inspected the facilities — so they’re very different from, say, restaurant letter grades, which assure that local health inspectors scrutinize the eateries on a regular basis.

Also unlike government health departments, the cleaning-product makers expect to profit by charging fees to the venues or boosting sales of their products.

Venues embrace these programs for good reason, hospitality experts say, because travelers are no longer as preoccupied with getting the best price for their next trip as they are with protecting themselves from COVID-19.

“It’s a critical move,” said Anthony Melchiorri, a hospitality expert who hosts the Travel Channel series “Hotel Impossible.” “Not only do your guests have to feel safe but your employees must feel safe.”

Although brand names can inspire confidence and comfort, human behavior is key to safety, health experts note.

“What you hope hotels are doing are things like encouraging physical distancing in common spaces and limiting the number of people who are riding in elevators,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“Those are things, in addition to cleaning, that will be very important in minimizing the risk of infection.”

The hotels, airlines and sports arenas that are partnering with the cleaning-product makers say social distancing and wearing masks are elements of their new protocols but the emphasis is still on disinfecting surfaces with name-brand products.

In some of the partnerships, the cleaning-product makers simply help draft cleaning standards for their business partners. In others, the cleaning specialists develop accreditation programs — like a pass-or-fail exam — that the hotels and arenas must pass to earn the brand’s endorsement.

The Global Biorisk Advisory Council, also known as GBAC, and Ecolab Inc., a Minnesota-based maker of cleaning, sanitizing and maintenance products, have each created accreditation programs for several hotels and sports arenas.

The accreditation is not free and it usually doesn’t involve in-person inspections.

A GBAC accreditation program costs as much as $15,000 a year per facility. Ecolab declined to disclose its fees, saying only that the costs “vary by industry and customer, depending on the components included in the program and implementation needs.”

For Lysol and Clorox, the financial benefit from such partnerships is expected to come from promoting their brands in hotels, airlines and rental car companies and from the boost in sales as the partner companies stock up on cleaning products to meet the new protocols.

The partnerships have been growing steadily in recent weeks.

Staples Center, the home of the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles, and the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, have received accreditation through programs created for them by GBAC.

Several luxury hotels in Dana Point, including the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and the Monarch Beach Resort, have committed to gaining GBAC accreditation, though none have done so yet.

The Intercontinental Hotel Group is promoting the use of an accreditation program created by Ecolab Inc.

United Airlines has adopted a cleaning protocol developed by Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s a benefit for our customers to see some of these trusted brands,” said Maria Walter, United’s managing director for integrated solutions.

The cleaning standards and accreditation programs focus primarily on wiping down surfaces with hospital-grade disinfectant, installing Plexiglas between workers and customers and requiring masks and face coverings where physical distancing is not possible.

But based on a suggestion from Clorox, United Airlines has begun offering passengers an “all-in-one” snack bag that contains two snacks, a drink and a disinfectant wipe. The idea is that the bag reduces the number of times flight attendants have to interact with fliers, Walter said.

The Cleveland Clinic also recommended that United make masks and face coverings mandatory for employees and passengers _ a suggestion United adopted this spring.

In most cases, the businesses that seek accreditation must submit an extensive report on their existing cleaning procedures, including a list of the cleaning products used. The accreditation companies, such as GBAC or Ecolab, will then review the procedures, make recommendations or suggest enhancements before approving the accreditation.

No in-person inspection of the facilities is required, but videoconferences are often used to discuss the cleaning protocols.

Some of the accreditation programs include audits that, so far, are done via phone calls, online video chats and other virtual methods.

“Right now it’s a virtual accreditation program,” said Patty Olinger, executive director for GBAC. “Eventually we will have a certain percentage that will have site visitations once a year.”

The accreditation programs at GBAC and Ecolab are designed to meet local, state and federal guidelines for disinfecting and cleaning.

At Ecolab, the accreditation program takes into account the size of the hotel and whether it has a gym or a pool, among other factors.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Kaycee Strewler, a technical specialist at Ecolab, which employs about 45,000 workers in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Gregory Day, the general manager of the Malibu Beach Inn Hotel & Spa, said he sought out a third-party accreditation for his cleaning program to give his guests a sense of confidence.

“Any measure of comfort that we can provide to travelers at this crazy time, I pretty much want to do it,” he said, adding that the price of the accreditation was “not an insignificant expense.” He declined to disclose the exact amount.

It took several weeks to document the hotel’s cleaning procedures and submit them to GBAC for review and approval, Day said. GBAC recommended changes, such as instructing hotel workers how to wipe a hard surface to ensure the cleaning agent kills germs instead of spreading them, he said.

The accreditation process included an online video meeting to discuss the changes, he said.

Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles has yet to host spectators for a basketball game or boxing match since the pandemic led local lawmakers to ban large gatherings. Still, Staples Center President Lee Zeidman said the venue sought accreditation from GBAC, hoping it would help reassure guests who enter the venue in the future.

“What we are doing is ramping it up,” he said of the venue’s cleaning protocols. “We are more visible. We are putting all our protocols in one area, one binder, to educate our team members, the public, the state and the county that this is what we are doing.”

The process involved having Staples Center produce for GBAC a report on its cleaning procedures, its cleaning tools and chemicals, requirements for staff training and personal protective equipment for employees, among others.

The report was up to 100 pages long, with several follow-up videoconference calls, Zeidman said.

No GBAC representatives have visited Staples Center, but an in-person audit is expected before the venue opens for a public event, he said.

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