Before the coronavirus health crisis hit, the intricacies of a hotel's cleaning procedures weren't exactly prime promotional material.
But now, details about price, proximity to the beach or downtown, historic charm or in-room amenities have all been overshadowed by the main question on guests' minds: whether they will be and feel safe during their stays.
Hotels are talking more about what they clean, how they clean and when they clean it than ever before. It's not enough just to take the precautions — guests now have to know about it.
While at one of Lowcountry Hotels' properties this past week, director Dan Blumenstock said he heard the front desk clerk explain to a person checking in that rooms were being left vacant for at least 24 to 48 hours between each stay.
"The guest was so excited to hear that," Blumenstock said. "He said we were the first hotel to tell him something like that."
Lowcountry Hotels was one of early signers of Charleston's White Glove Pledge, a new program Explore Charleston introduced this week as way to show which visitor-related businesses have committed to following state and local-level guidance related to COVID-19.
Hotels were invited to join the program first, and restaurants, attractions and retailers are being included, too. Each business receives a copy of guidelines specific to their industry and a pledge to sign.
To join, participants must submit a signed pledge and their own specific reopening plan, which is reviewed by Explore Charleston. If the proposal passes muster, that business is given the official pledge logo, which can be displayed on their social media accounts and websites and in their lobbies.
Explore Charleston is also marking off each place that takes the pledge on its website's comprehensive list of reopened businesses. By late Friday afternoon, about 20 hotels had signed the pledge, according to the list.
Since Lowcountry Hotels has a mix of property types — its portfolio includes chains flags as well as the independently branded Ansonborough Inn — it's been helpful to have a "consistent brand" for the hospitality sector's COVID-19 standards, Blumenstock said.
"If an operator has taken the pledge, you know they've really taken the time to go through the protocols and think through this carefully," he said.
Posting the logo can also serve as a "conversation starter," Blumenstock said, prompting questions from guests about what precautions they're taking.
That kind of communication about cleaning procedures may feel unique to the current coronavirus era, but many of the actual protocols aren't, said Explore Charleston CEO Helen Hill. Hotels had high cleanliness standards before the pandemic.
"We've been cleaning hotels like we clean hospitals," Hill said, "but the general public didn't know that."
Hill is also a member of accelerateSC, the task force assembled by Gov. Henry McMaster to lead reopening efforts in the state. That group's recommendations are informing the White Glove Pledge-approved plans.
Marty Wall, managing director at Hotel Bennett, said the accelerateSC guidelines served as the foundation for their own plan, which also recently received White Glove Pledge approval.
The King Street hotel added other precautions, too, Wall said. Management is only allowing half of the rooms to be occupied, and a "COVID-19 coordinator" has been designated to oversee new safety protocols and train employees.
"We'll have that position in place as long as it needs to be," Wall said.
Hotel Bennett has brought back about 70 percent of its staff. All are being retrained and tested on safety measures, Wall said.
It's up to individual operators to decide whether they want to participate in the White Glove Pledge program — just like how following the guidelines themselves is left up to the discretion of each business owner — but Hill of Explore Charleston said the hope is that the buy-in will be widespread across the industry.
"The idea behind it is consistency," she said. "We want guests to see that logo and know those businesses are looking out for their health."