Don't be surprised if the housekeepers look like characters out of CSI the next time you stay at a Best Western hotel.
In response to what it says is travelers' insistence on cleanliness, Best Western is equipping its housekeeping crews with equipment you'd most likely see on the forensic investigation TV series: black lights to detect biological matter otherwise unseen by the human eye, and ultraviolet light wands to zap it.
For possibly the dirtiest object in your room — the TV remote control — there will be disposable wraps.
Best Western says it's taking the steps partly because research from Booz & Company shows that travelers desire a hotel's cleanliness over customer service, style and design.
But it's also reacting to the times, in which hotels and supermarkets place hand sanitizer in visible places for germ-obsessed customers.
People also have become more skeptical about cleanliness because of headlines about e-coli, norovirus and bird flu, says Ron Pohl, a Best Western vice president.
"It used to be that you walked into a guest room and saw a stain on carpet, you'd think the room's dirty," Pohl says. "Today, guests don't see any stains, but they still question how clean the room is."
Best Western plans to have its new cleaning techniques in all its 2,200 hotels in North America by year's end. Today, about half the hotels — including properties in Tempe, Ariz., and Boston — have adopted it, Pohl says.
Best Western is ahead of the other hotel groups in its price range with its cleanliness approach, says Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University's hospitality school. And, he says, "it can have an effect on market share."
The program has already made guests happier, according to Best Western's internal measures. For hotels already using the wands, Pohl says, guest satisfaction for cleanliness of the room rose by 12 percent and for the overall experience, by 13 percent. Guests are also 12 percent more likely to recommend their hotel, he says internal surveys show.
At the Best Western Plus in Tempe, the black lights have changed the way housekeepers clean, because they highlight bacteria in places that may not otherwise be cleaned, says owner Rich Schnakenberg. The corner of a bathroom vanity, for instance, may now get extra attention.
"That's very important to a woman who is putting on her makeup," he says.
Schnakenberg says the hotel has prided itself on cleanliness. But "while we felt it was clean, in some customers' minds, maybe it wasn't," he says.
He credits the program with travelers staying longer, an increase in the average length of stay increasing to 2.3 days vs. 1.6 days. "If they like it here, they stay a little longer," he says.
The anti-microbial properties of the ultraviolet light have been used since the 1930s to kill germs. While it's invisible, it's intense enough to kill 99.9 percent of the germs responsible for causing illness, including E-coli, H1N1, salmonella and norovirus.