Years ago—2009 I believe—AAA announced that it would recognize properties that have been eco-certified with a bright green “ECO” icon in its 2010 TourBook guides. As time rolled on, that program faded away, but I reported on it because when AAA announces just about anything, you must listen. The organization has more than 62 million members and there are currently between 24,000 and 27,000 hotels in the AAA Diamond Program at any given time. Chances are that your property is Diamond rated.
This past June AAA announced that it had enhanced its housekeeping evaluation to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that meet AAA’s standards for cleanliness, condition and this new surface cleanliness testing will be recognized as Inspected Clean and then assigned a Diamond designation.
I spoke with Scott Hammerle, Director of the AAA Diamond Program, and he told me that AAA is hoping for a late 2021 Q4 or early 2022 Q1 rollout of the Inspected Clean recognition program.
Many Tests Done Before Benchmarks Established
The new Inspected Clean criteria relies on an objective method to validate cleanliness by detecting adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—an energy-carrying molecule found in all living cells. ATP is found in most food sources, human skin cells, bacteria, yeast, mold, and biological material found in respiratory droplets. Benchmarks were set by analyzing data collected from 11,000 surface tests in more than 1,000 hotels that participated in a pilot program, along with controlled testing protocols and the scientific expertise of Charm Sciences Inc.
The AAA inspector will conduct the testing on-site by swabbing a surface, adding the sample to a vial containing a special testing chemical, and then inserting the vial into a portable test machine, about the size of a large cellphone. Inspectors will measure eight surfaces in a selection of guest rooms and bathroom locations, which may include guestroom door handles, light switches, thermostat controls, guest room desk or writing surfaces, television remotes, refrigerator handles, faucet and toilet handles, hair dryers and vanity surfaces.
While the test does not provide direct identification of viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19, it will allow for confirmation of properly cleaned surfaces.
“We are just getting through the first batch,” Hammerle says. “It will take a year to get through the whole set.”
According to AAA research, 76 percent of consumers surveyed would be disappointed if a third-party inspection did not evaluate whether high-touch areas in a hotel are sanitized. “[The Inspected Clean program] coincides with the cleanliness work we had already been doing,” Hammerle says.
Hammerle says all AAA inspectors have been independently trained and certified by Charm Sciences, which manufactures the test devices AAA’s inspectors are using. “There are eight set surfaces. We want to take the variability out of it,” he says. “We like to see four rooms and ATP test in two rooms. We are not trying to inspect every open room.”
What Surfaces are Worst Offenders?
For the hotel owner, the testing may help identify weaknesses in cleaning practices, but the testing is meant to be a positive addition for all. So far, the industry has been performing well when tested. “We have had some properties fail,” Hammerle says. “There have been some staffing issues at the property level.” Interestingly, remote controls have been one of the bigger culprits for so far. So too have been thermostats—both of which have nooks and crannies difficult to clean. Bathrooms have performed well.
Results of the test are given to the hotelier as soon as they are available—typically right away—and hotels can market their results a week to two weeks after the test.
“The support from the industry has been amazingly good and excited,” Hammerle emphasized. “We have gotten great feedback that they are excited about what we are doing,” adding that the brands themselves are spending millions on their cleaning protocols.
Hammerle says AAA looked at a lot of technologies before settling on the ATP test from Charm Sciences. “It had to be an established policy that can be used by lay people,” he says. AAA also considered the environmental impact of the testing. The swabs are 100 percent recyclable, the machines are rechargeable, and the swab selected has a shelf life of one year.
Hammerle does not see the test going away anytime soon. “It will continue to be relevant,” he says. Travelers will be able to find Inspected Clean hotels at AAA.com/Diamonds.
When a AAA inspector shows up at your property, be prepared and of course it is my hope that it will be green cleaning products and systems that help you pass this new part of the inspection process.
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