WINCHESTER — The COVID-19 pandemic gutted America's hospitality industry over the past four months, forcing hotels to implement strict cleaning procedures in an effort to reassure guests that it's still possible to travel safely.
"We tell our guests when they check in that we understand that cleanliness is the first thing they're looking for," Lisa Lineburg, director of operations at the Holiday Inn at 333 Front Royal Pike near Winchester, said on Friday. "Within their first few hours in a room, if there's anything that's not meeting their need for cleanliness, we will come up and take care of it right then and there. If we can't do that, or if they're not satisfied, we'll move them to another room."
The Holiday Inn now uses hospital-grade cleaning products, Lineburg said, and people on its cleaning staff spend 15 to 20 minutes longer than usual in each guest room to ensure that every surface is scrubbed and sanitized. They even use a black light to make sure they didn't miss anything.
"Housekeeping hits every single touch point — light switches, remotes, door handles. You name it, they are on top of it," Lineburg said.
Laura Stine, director of sales at the Holiday Inn on Front Royal Pike, credits the hotel's executive housekeeper, Donna Amick, for ensuring that staff remains extremely diligent about cleaning.
"I've never worked with someone so amazing," Stine said. "She's on top of everything. She leaves no stone unturned."
As part of the strict cleaning regimen, guests will notice certain things missing from their rooms. Non-essential items — do-not-disturb signs, extra rolls of toilet paper, breakfast menus, plastic laundry bags and so on — have been removed to lower the number of surfaces that could be contaminated. Lineburg said any guest who needs one of the missing items can call the front desk and it will be provided immediately.
Guests are also allowed to use the hotel's indoor pool, but the number of people who can be in and around the water at one time is being limited in order to maintain social distancing.
Lineburg, a Holiday Inn employee for 30 years, said she has never seen something have a bigger impact on hotels than COVID-19.
"9/11 wasn't even this bad," she said, referring to the temporary shutdown of the travel industry following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
"We didn't realize, as an industry, how bad it was going to impact us," Stine said.
Fortunately, business is starting to return to pre-pandemic levels as more and more people venture back out into the world.
"It used to be more corporate [business] for us and less leisure, and now it has flip-flopped to where we have more leisure travelers," Stine said.
However, no one can say when the hotel and its conference rooms will once again become in-demand for business meetings, public events and weddings. Stine said there are still too many uncertainties about the coronavirus' lingering effects on society.
"People are still worried about traveling. They're really scared," she said.
The Holiday Inn, like most hotels across the country, is taking every possible measure to lower that fear factor, and the hard work is starting to pay off.
"It's slowly growing," Lineburg said about the number of guest rooms rented at the Holiday Inn. "We've gotten some numbers [recently] that made me say, 'Wow, we did that many last night? Cool!'"
"We will bounce back," Stine said.