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AAA is upgrading hotel inspection criteria for the COVID-19 era

Door knob being cleaned Photo by Zoran Obradovic / Alamy Stock Photo

How clean is your hotel? Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, AAA is raising its level of inspections.

Peeking under bed sheets, lifting toilet seats, checking for leftover crumbs, hair, and fingerprints. For more than 80 years, AAA inspectors have been putting hotels under the microscope to ensure cleanliness and comfort for its more than 60 million member travelers.

But this year, the virus responsible for COVID-19 changed the cleanliness game. Hotels—and the companies that evaluate them—are now chasing a largely invisible enemy that’s not as easy to detect, or correct, as a stained bedsheet or dirty drinking glass. 

To provide this new level of scrutiny, AAA is adding some 25 new coronavirus-age criteria. “We’re basing it on what members tell us is most important in choosing a hotel,” says Scott Hammerle, director of the AAA Diamond program, which inspects more than 27,000 hotels in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

When the updated program rolls out, hotels will be judged on such best practices as face-covering policies, contactless services, public hand-sanitizing stations, and CDC-compliant cleaning and disinfection processes. “It’s admirable that hotels say they’re putting in clean programs. But how do you know they’re working?” Hammerle asks.  

Rather than rely on hotels’ “sanitization seals of approval,” AAA is developing its own cleanliness verification procedures. “We can’t dictate how hotels should disinfect; we can only observe, report, and determine if their methods are successful,” says Hammerle. 

Verification will add a “measuring tool to our objective, fact-based inspection program,” explains Hammerle. As the gold standard of hotel reviews, the Diamond program typically incentivizes hotels to up their quality standards. “If we change our guidelines, hotels adapt because they don’t want to lose their diamonds,” he says.

Recognizing clean

Cleanliness is such a high priority to AAA members that AAA relaunched its Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping badge last year. The badge highlights properties that have received the highest possible cleanliness and condition scores. 

“Members are now asking, ‘How can I get a list of those properties?’” says Hammerle, who suggests members use the “AAA Best of Housekeeping” filter on the AAA website’s hotel booking tool.

To meet the criteria for this award, hotels must demonstrate “housekeeping excellence” for two consecutive inspections and be free of AAA member complaints. 

Laurie Berger is a former editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter and a former travel columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She always travels with her own pillow and disinfectant wipes.

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