Hotels Adopt New Cleaning Rules During COVID-19 Crisis

By Joyce Hanson
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Law360 (May 5, 2020, 7:41 PM EDT) -- Major hotel companies grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic have agreed to adopt new hygiene rules and higher cleanliness standards in line with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in hopes of instilling employee confidence and winning back guests once travel resumes.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association launched health and safety guidelines Monday under the direction of an advisory council consisting of 25 hospitality giants such as Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corp., Marriott International Inc., Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc. and Walt Disney Co. Called Safe Stay, the program offers protocols developed with the help of Ecolab Inc., a cleaning chemical company that collaborates with the CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, the AHLA said.

Hospitality lawyers say the AHLA's Safe Stay guidelines are a positive development in an industry that has been slammed by the coronavirus and seen huge job losses along with a dramatically high rate of cancellations as travelers and businesspersons practice safe distancing at home.

Sandi Kellman, a Chicago-based DLA Piper partner and global co-chair of the firm's hospitality and leisure practice, told Law360 on Tuesday that the AHLA standards represent "a really, really, really important step" for the industry as it struggles to move forward while averting liability if guests or employees get sick with COVID-19.

The AHLA guidelines "set a standard both for performance and for negligence," Kellman said. "Let's say someone stays in your hotel and gets sick 10 days later and claims it was a lack of cleanliness at your hotel. If you don't have these standards, that person can say you have liability for negligence. On the other hand, if you follow the industry standards, you have a defense."

Specifically, the AHLA guidelines say that hotels at a minimum must follow CDC guidelines for employers and businesses and instruct workers who exhibit virus symptoms to self-isolate and stay at home until they're symptom-free for at least three days without medication.

The guidelines detail hand-washing protocols using soap and water and use of hand sanitizers containing no less than 60% alcohol content. They also say that all employees must be trained in COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols recommended by the CDC, and that employees must wear appropriate personal protective equipment and be trained in its use. In addition, the guidelines address cleaning products and protocols used in public spaces, guest rooms, elevators and the back of the house.

"In the event of a presumptive case of COVID-19 the affected guest room shall be removed from service and quarantined," the AHLA's Safe Stay guidelines say. "The guest room shall not be returned to service until undergoing an enhanced cleaning and disinfecting utilizing Environmental Protection Agency approved products within CDC guidelines."

Individual hotel companies also are issuing their own sets of guidelines, saying they're introducing new cleaning technologies and seeking advice from Ecolab, health care providers and university professors about scientifically tested sanitation measures.

For example, Marriott has formed a cleanliness council composed of Ecolab food safety and public health scientist Ruth Petran, Adventist Healthcare infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Sauri, Purdue University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management head Richard Ghiselli and Cornell University food microbiology professor Randy Worobo.

Marriott says that under its new cleanliness rules, it's introducing electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitize surfaces throughout hotels and also testing ultraviolet light technology for sanitizing guest keys.

"We are living in a new age, with COVID-19 front and center for our guests and our associates," Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement last month. "We want our guests to understand what we are doing today and planning for in the near future in the areas of cleanliness, hygiene and social distancing so that when they walk through the doors of one of our hotels, they know our commitment to their health and safety is our priority."

Larry Eppley, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP's Chicago managing partner and co-lead of the firm's hospitality industry team, said Tuesday the hospitality industry has always maintained high cleanliness and hygiene standards, but the COVID-19 crisis has raised the bar on those standards.

He noted that the hospitality industry's big challenge — especially in large urban hotels designed to encourage sociability and collaboration among many people — is to figure out how to return to its primary mission of offering enjoyable guest experiences under the current climate of reduced contact, face masks and physical distancing.

"Cleanliness in the hospitality industry is important, but it's the confidence of the consumer that will dictate when it's OK to go back to hotels," Eppley said. "Transparency and communication have always been important in the industry, and it's even more so now. It ultimately comes around to instilling confidence in guests. We want them back."

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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