Picture this: You go to the airport to catch a flight to a beautiful vacation destination, or maybe Las Vegas for a business conference. Before you go through security, you head to the restroom, where you walk on those nasty bathroom floors. You then proceed to security where they ask you to put your shoes in one of those TSA security bins. The next poor traveler puts their wallet, phone, eye glasses and keys in that same bin. Now, we wouldn’t recommend touching your face with the bottom of someone’s shoes, but that’s essentially what’s happening in this scenario. In today’s world, travelers are already paranoid about cleanliness and hygiene, but the travel and hospitality industry has done surprisingly little to address those concerns. Most of the industry focus has been on providing rapid response disinfection after an outbreak, followed by public relations damage control.
It has always surprised us when a hotel operator who is considering providing our self-cleaning travel mats to guests, says he worries the mats might imply that the room is dirty. Our research indicates that travelers are (overwhelmingly) of the opinion that all hotels, airplanes, and cruise ships are dirty. Consumers are craving proactive solutions that make them feel better about their travels.
In some cases, the disconnect between business and consumers is being corrected naturally by consumer demand. In fact, consumers are driving some of this shift in business behavior and spending through their own purchase decisions. As part of a $2 million research and development grant, we conducted research of consumers regarding the relationship between hygiene and travel. Big picture results revealed that 60 per cent of respondents were actively worried about the cleanliness of surfaces outside of their home, with 34 per cent being self-described germaphobes.
Addressing these consumer concerns is a major untapped opportunity for the travel, hospitality and cleaning industry. While most organizations believe that cleaning should be a “behind the scenes” activity, research indicates that visible indications that businesses care about hygiene and cleanliness would positively impact consumer perceptions. Basically, the industry needs to shine a spotlight on hygiene, showing the steps they are taking rather than trying to hide the problem.
If we look at hotel properties, research supports our assumption that travelers already assume hotel rooms are dirty. To prove it, just ask yourself if you’d place your toothbrush directly on the hotel bathroom vanity, even at a 5-star hotel. The reality is that most people use a towel or a glass to keep personal items from touching that surface. In the same study, we found that 50% of respondents said that providing a self-cleaning travel mat in the hotel room would directly affect their choice of hotel. That number was more than 60% of millennials. And 70% would recommend to family and friends based on that amenity. That’s the power of perception.
Obviously, many travel and hospitality businesses take great care when it comes to cleaning, deploying highly trained staff, and using the best equipment. Yet personally, the fear of surfaces and environments outside of our home persists. The main driver of consumer sentiment is perception, so businesses have to spend as much effort in providing the perception of clean as they do in actually cleaning.
Remember the description of going through airport security and how it probably grossed you out? Well don’t worry, that is about to change. This is a perfect example of an opportunity to provide a positive perception. For more than a year, we’ve been testing a custom designed NanoSeptic self-cleaning mat for those security bins, which have recently been approved for use by TSA. Akron-Canton will be the first airport in the world to use these mats starting August 2017, positively impacting the perception of the airport and TSA for 1.4 million travelers per year. And as part of their dedication to community health, forward thinking executives at Western Reserve Hospital decided to sponsor this initiative.
In other cases, businesses are adopting products that save money or labor, but also provide travelers peace of mind. A great example is how most airport bathrooms, from urinals to the absence of doors, have gone touch-free. Many times, these visible efforts can be a real business differentiator. Take Boeing’s self-cleaning bathroom for their planes that killed germs using a UV light. This visible innovation garnered a tremendous amount of media attention and positioned Boeing as a thought leader in creating traveler-friendly environments. Just like our self-cleaning surfaces for travel, Boeing’s self-cleaning bathroom provided a real benefit, but more importantly, positively affected traveler perception.
Another example of new, visible technology is UV disinfection robots. These machines eradicate pathogens in an entire room within minutes. And if cruise lines and hotels used them in a way where travelers were aware of what was being done, rather than only bringing them out during off-hours, travelers would feel more confident about the cleanliness of their travel environment. So the lesson that the travel and hospitality industry should take away from this is to look at the opportunity rather than the challenge. Look at hygiene as an issue to be embraced and advertised rather than hidden in the janitor’s closet. By embracing new technology and confidently showing it to consumers, the industry can start to turn the tide of consumer perception. Oh, and the next time you travel, remember, don’t wipe your face with the bottom of someone’s shoe.
About the Author: Mark Sisson is Co-founder of NanoTouch Materials, developer of NanoSeptic self-cleaning surfaces, which turn touch points into continuously self-cleaning surfaces. The TravelWell line of products will be featured in the Innovation Showcase at ISSA/Interclean in Las Vegas.