You haul your luggage into your hotel room, looking round with appreciation. Your tiring journey is over at last. In a more expensive establishment you let yourself into the hotel room and make yourself comfortable whilst you wait for the porter to bring up your luggage. Whatever the star rating of the hotel and the quality of the establishment and whether you are there on business or pleasure, the hotel room is home away from home. The look of appreciation when we walk into the room usually takes in the tidily made bed, spotless bathroom and toilet and the recently cleaned floors and vacuumed carpets. Two shining drinking glasses sit on the bathroom counter and in many hotels a kettle and coffee cups sit tantalisingly on a side table. Often we head straight to the remote control to start zapping, looking for our favourite channel. Hearty meals are an essential part of any stay in a hotel and we usually make the most of them, taking for granted that hygiene isn't even an issue, after all we aren't exactly eating in a roadside kiosk.
Semen stains "all over the place"
Appearances are deceptive and it will come as a shock to many that hotel rooms aren’t as clean as they appear to be. On 23 August 2011 it was reported in the New York Times that the Manhattan District Attorney's dismissal of the sexual assault charges against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn contained a minor detail that might disquiet the more finicky amongst us. In his $3,000-a-night hotel suite, detectives found semen stains on the carpet and the wallpaper from other men. Speaking to the NY Times, Lawrence Kobilinsky, chairman of the department of sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said "People think when they go to a hotel, they’ve got a nice, clean pristine place to stay. I did a study in hotel rooms with UV lamps and I found stains all over the place, not just on floors and furniture but on bedding, the linen, the bedspreads. I found it all over the place.”
Infested with germs
A study by researchers from the University of Houston revealed hotel rooms aren't as spotless as we'd like to believe. Jay Neal, a microbiologist from the University of Houston who supervised the study and Katie Kirsch, a student who performed the research under his supervision, took bacteria samples from hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana and North-Carolina looking specifically for e coli and coliform, two germs that indicate faecal contamination. Kirsch explained that the purpose of the study was to identify "the bacteria hotspots". She found that the places we would think are the most contaminated such as the toilet seat, are not so bad. The reason for this is that toilets and showers are regularly cleaned by staff using strong chemicals. So what are the most contaminated items in the hotel room?
- Carpet in front of the door.
- TV remote control
- The toilet paper holder
- High levels of contamination were found on the maid’s mop and sponge. This means that germs are carried between rooms by cleaning staff.
Should we stay away from hotels?
Fortunately the answer to this question is no! According to Professor Neal there is a "gross factor" but not much more than that as bacteria levels did not represent a health hazard. The advice given to the more squeamish traveller is:
- Don’t let your child crawl around near the door of the room.
- You might want to take with you disinfectant wipes to clean the light switches, remote control and other surfaces that are not routinely disinfected by room service.
- Don't lay your toothbrush face down on the bathroom counter nor food directly on any of the counter tops.
As mentioned above, hearty meals are an essential part of any stay in a hotel and we usually make the most of them, taking for granted that hygiene isn't even an issue. Unfortunately we might be wrong there too.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is entrusted by the British government with the responsibility of examining how hygienically the food is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored, the cleanliness of buildings, and how restaurants make sure food is safe. In England and Northern Ireland, when you buy food or eat out you might see a Food Hygiene Rating Scheme sticker showing you the hygiene rating of the business. Businesses are encouraged but do not have to display theses stickers. In Wales businesses who receive such stickers with the Welsh Government logo have to display it in a prominent place. In Scotland the rating scheme is different to the one in the rest of the UK. Whereas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland there is a five point rating scheme, in Scotland there is just a "Pass" or "Improvement Required".
In February 2015, a report by the FSA identified more than 550 hotels across the UK that were told to improve their food hygiene, amongst them some of the top and most expensive hotels in London and Edinburgh. Some chain hotels in and around London were given a one or two star rating. A one start rating means “major improvement” is necessary and a two star rating signifies "improvement necessary". In Scotland, top hotels were given an “Improvement Required” rating.
Hotel rooms are cleaned by staff that is often pressed for time, especially if the hotel is full, consequently there will be germs in the room as there will be in any public place. On the other hand many millions of people sleep in hotels all over the world every year and it is safe to say that the vast majority of them 'survive the experience'. Enjoy your hotel stay; just keep in mind as you would in any public place, that the room contains many traces of previous occupants.