If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it is that an obsession with cleanliness may extend beyond our current routine. Indeed, it might just become permanently hardwired into our DNA when we emerge from it all. Yet this is no bad thing. And as far as local authorities are concerned, they all must ensure that landlords, hospitality operators and agencies – anyone involved in welcoming visitors back to their establishments post-COVID – make true cleanliness their number one priority.
What this calls for is the right accreditation, and never has there been a more vital time to have it in place. Not just for the safety and protection of visitors, but to establish the post-pandemic reputation of the sharing economy, tourism and hospitality sectors.
The game changer is that guests and tenants will now be considering the implications of unseen pathogens and viruses, and wondering for the first time whether the places that they stay in or visit are actually clean or not. 2021 represents a crucial opportunity to truly put guest safety first.
Trust and confidence will likely no longer be formed through online reviews or perceived through lack of visible dirt in a house let or on a restaurant table; guests may not have thought previously to ask to see the cleaning policy but this now may change. This isn’t a policy based on self-certification that enables the possibility of zero accountability, but one that stands up to inspection.
While many operators have and continue to deliver exceptional standards for their guests, self-certification allows outliers to tarnish the entire reputation of the scheme. Think unscrupulous operators who just tick to pass, those who genuinely believe they are doing the right thing, but simply don’t know the difference, and those with good intentions, but whose standards simply begin to slip. Every time a sub-standard operator continues within the scheme, it simply downgrades the reputation of that scheme until frankly, it is pretty much worthless.
The industry deserves relevant, enforceable, and accountable schemes which hold all operators – including landlords, agencies and accommodation owners - to the same standards, and which don’t allow the ‘well-intentioned’ or deliberately misleading to slip through the net.
So what can councils do to help combat this and to protect potential visitors to the local area post-Covid?
One way is to look at a self-certification alternative; an accountable, enforceable, inspected scheme that not only ensures robust practices, but physically inspects them too. One such accreditation scheme launched by Quality in Tourism, the Safe, Clean & Legal™ scheme, is already working in conjunction with several councils across the UK to ensure their communities’ businesses – including the sharing economy - are safe and compliant based on a number of strict factors, rather than personal opinion. QT also works with destination management agencies, the Isle of Man being one such destination, and Visit Cornwall another, as both seek to establish their reputation as a Covid-safe destination for 2021.
Which? also highlighted the scheme as ‘more robust’ and preferable to self-certification standards.
There are also benefits to local authorities adopting a third-party model. After operating through many years of austerity, budget cuts and resource strain, adding additional regulatory pressure is not an option. Such a scheme means reduced resource and investment, and an opportunity to generate additional income to support existing enforcement. It also promotes transparency and accountability which both fall under the duty of care aspect for local authorities.
Only by maximising standards and holding all operators to account will we ensure that the reputation of the sector remains intact. The benchmark for true cleanliness has now moved up a significant notch and now is the time to address what has been a growing issue for far too long. Let’s show the rest of the world how post-pandemic standards are done.
Deborah Heather is director of Quality in Tourism