Unhygienic Practices in Chinese Five-star Hotels

A Chinese whistleblower revealed a series of unprofessional practices in more than 100 hotels in China. Hidden cameras captured video footage showing the hotel cleaning staff is not following hygiene protocols, including actions such as using the same towel to wipe both toilets and drinking cups.

These videos shocked viewers on Chinese social media not only because of their nastiness, but also because of the hotels that were involved in the scandal. The hotels, we’re talking about, are not some random motel-style accommodation or budget price places. On the contrary, some of the names are very well known, for instance Shangri-La, Hilton, and even Park Hyatt. The impact was huge and now tourism authorities in various cities are starting to inquire into the case and planning to start investigations.

These disgusting and horrific acts are under no circumstances acceptable, yet it makes people wonder the reason behind such actions: One would assume that the hotel staff is aware of the fact that these actions are wrong, and the hotel management should be as well. But these incidents just keep recurring. In 2017, Chinese state media CCTV discovered 5 Five-star hotels falling behind in their hygienic standards. Similar to this case here in 2018, the staff of these hotels were using the same brushes and tools to clean toilets and the guests’ coffee cups.

The report from CCTV provided some insightful findings: evidently the hotel staff was not well-paid, pushed to rush the cleaning process as fast as possible, and getting paid by a system that encouraged them to conduct these practices.

One staff member was interviewed, and said that she earned 12 yuan for every room she cleaned. 12 yuan are less than $2! Cleaning a hotel room is not an easy task. From the bathrooms to the beds, the cleaning staff has to make sure everything is in place and spotless clean, frightened by the idea of losing their job.

If we put ourselves into their shoes, it is not hard to reach the following conclusion: The more they clean, the more they get paid. In addition to that, there is little supervision on how they clean the rooms. In their minds it is not a problem as long as the guests do not see it. Given that there is only a certain amount of time, they need to clean the rooms as fast as possible to reach maximum profit.

And so it goes on in an vicious cycle: The hotels push hard to lower their operational costs. The staff is incentivized by a compensation system that’s encouraging them to choose quantity over quality. The unethical practices can be exposed and create public anger and disgusted customers. When the heat has cooled off and the discussion gets old, everything falls back to the status quo, and nothing changes.

These hotel hygiene issues are a not new phenomenon. They just keep happening. And sadly, little has been done to address these issues.

Government authorities can definitely impose fines on hotels for sub-standard hygiene practices. Perhaps hotel management can also fire their staff members for not living up to the corporate’s standards. Perhaps actions like these could keep customers at bay until the next scandal gets exposed on the Internet.

To solve the issues surrounding hotels, and broadly, in service industries, it is essential to address the compensation that hotel staff members actually receive. The per-room pay system is obviously guiding the staff down the wrong path. It is critical for hotels to change how they pay their workers and address quality issues and work ethics. Indeed, it is the employees’ responsibility to ensure their standards. However, when employees are encouraged and motivated by factors that are directly impacting the quality of work, the staff should not be the one to blame.

Chinese hotel customers pay around 1000 yuan, if not more, to stay in a luxurious hotel room for one night, yet it only costs 12 yuan for the staff to clean it. The remaining portion of the generated revenue is going somewhere else, maybe they become retained profits, or maybe they are spent differently. With the sad reality being, that a hotel staff member cleaning the luxurious hotel rooms would not even be able to afford a one night stay with their entire week’s wages. That problem is just too serious to ignore.

In developed countries, hotel staff have the opportunity to form a union and fight for their rights and compensation. Earlier in October, the hotel staff of Boston Marriott’s went on a strike to be treated fairly. The strike even had an impact on the 2018 World Series as the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers insisted on staying at the Marriott for their road games against the Boston Red Sox.

In a union-management negotiation model, the management teams will need to give out a portion of their original profit to award the employees for their high-quality services. However, such things don’t seem to be possible in modern day China. What the hotel workers need, is a compensation system that discourages them from engaging in unethical practices, be it by negotiation with the management, or a change in the hotel industry’s management style.

Luxury hotels in China are operating like economic motels. Instead of investing more to ensure high quality services, they are trying their best to keep the cost down and maximize their profits. Without proper employee representation, the hotel management should be more alert and active to enforce effective changes to address the issues and move forward.

Are Chinese hotels willing to do that? Only time will tell.

Featured photo credit to Sohu