As COVID-19 Crisis Unfolds, Hotel Cleanliness Becomes Even More Critical to Customer Satisfaction


Guest satisfaction drives hotel profitability, since repeat customers – especially those in a company’s loyalty program – make up the lion’s share of bookings and therefore profit. In turn, cleanliness drives guest satisfaction. In order to retain valuable customers who book frequently, hotels must remain impeccably clean. Clean rooms are especially important now, as many states reopen after COVID-19 closures and travel increases once more. Customers are likely to be more vigilant than ever about cleanliness, and hotels will need to rebuild customer trust with demonstrably clean guest rooms and common areas. Within efforts to maintain unmatched cleanliness, odor mitigation and particularly avoiding smoking issues have significant impacts on customer satisfaction and profitability.

Cleanliness is key

Year after year, surveys and research in the hospitality industry demonstrate that cleanliness and odor are top components of customer satisfaction and thus hotel profitability. Cleanliness is consistently customers’ top priority when rating their satisfaction, and though there are many components to keeping hotels clean, odor is one of the most significant. Customers notice when their surroundings are clean – and they notice when something has gone wrong, from insufficiently cleaned bathrooms to prior guests who have smoked in their non-smoking room. This trend will likely only increase, as travel once again increases in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, since guests will be looking for signs of cleanliness as a proxy for safety and renewed trust in hotel brands.

As a result, the hotel industry and notable hotel brands are focusing on how to best ensure cleanliness, including bacteria, odors, and viruses. Though each company has its own policies and protocols, every one implements standards for a number of points in guest rooms to ensure proper maintenance and cleanliness. Managers performing daily checks follow up on cleaning and maintenance crews’ priorities, ensuring that standards are met and taking action when they are not. Even so, hotels often fall short of guest expectations and, in doing so, lose valuable business.

Smoking as a critical focus

Every hotel chain and individual location has stories of dissatisfied customers airing complaints about unclean room conditions; many customers, however, simply take their business elsewhere if hotels consistently do not meet their standards of cleanliness.

Take, for example, one hotel customer interviewed recently about his experiences. Traveling up to 200 nights a year for his work, he was a fairly ideal hotel customer, accruing rewards through a loyalty program and so focusing his stays in one chain’s hotels as often as possible. Then, however, twice in a row he was booked in non-smoking rooms that had clearly been smoked in at stays in a hotel close to one of his most frequent destinations. This customer, who had previously spent upwards of $30,000 per year at this chain, stopped staying at this and others of the chain’s hotels due to his negative experiences. He took his business to the hotel’s competitors, dissatisfied with his rooms and wary of continuing to be booked in rooms smelling of smoke.

This traveler’s story is all too common. Though the prevalence varies by region, an average of 7% of a given hotel’s non-smoking rooms get smoked in monthly. Smoking is also especially problematic among hotel staff, because people who smoke themselves have greater difficulty in recognizing when a room has been smoked in by a guest.

All of this adds up to one of the most common and most costly mistakes that hospitality settings encounter in trying to maintain cleanliness and minimize odor. Neighboring and subsequent guests become dissatisfied and may take their business elsewhere, and hotels must undergo the extremely difficult process required to clean the odor and residue from smoking out of a no-smoking room, particularly in rooms where guests have smoked a significant amount.

This process includes removing all soft goods, scrubbing down all hard surfaces, using an ozone generator to treat the room, and leaving it empty for several nights. Meanwhile, dissatisfied customers who encounter the odor and grime do not return, and hotels run the risk of overbooking. Finally, this extensive cleaning process does not fully remediate second- and thirdhand-smoking effects. Only painting completely seals in smoke residues.

Implementing a solution

How, then, can hotels ensure customer satisfaction and high cleanliness ratings where issues of smoking are concerned? The key to this issue is timely notification. If hotels can be notified that a customer is smoking in a room from the first cigarette, the need for a costly remediation processes is eliminated, as is the risk of significant dissatisfaction among neighboring and subsequent guests.

Typical smoke detectors use light or radiation to detect general particles. They aren’t specific and they require a significant amount of particles to go off. They are very unreliable indicators of cigarette or marijuana smoke and do not provide any proof of smoking.

There are, however, systems that work. The FreshAir1 Smoking Detection System is the industry leader in terms of reliably monitoring for, immediately detecting, and proving tobacco smoking and marijuana smoking. Unlike traditional methods, these sensors are capable of detecting specific molecules in tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke, and are tamper proof.

What’s more, these sensors are WiFi enabled, so they monitor for smoke and notify hotel staff immediately. As a result, staff can stop someone from smoking after one cigarette, limiting damage to the room and thus risk of widespread customer dissatisfaction. Only by protecting no-smoking areas in real time, as with this kind of advanced smoking detection device, can hotels be sure that they will no longer need remediation, avoid issues of cleanliness leading to dissatisfaction, and keep customers loyal to their brand.


Hotel cleanliness drives guest satisfaction, and guest satisfaction drives hotel profitability. Hotels that pay attention to industry trends, shaping their cleaning and maintenance policies around the issues that can make or break a guest’s stay, are more likely to keep customers happy and keep business profitable. Research showing that odor mitigation and avoiding smoking issues are key components of customer satisfaction demonstrates that real-time detection of smoking can significantly impact a hotel’s long-term success. Advanced smoking detection systems enable the kind of real-time notification that is necessary to enforce no-smoking policies, protect infrastructure investments, secure cleaning fees with scientific proof, and ensure long-term customer satisfaction.

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