Hygiene Theater Revisited – How The General Public is “Educated” — Opinion

By | February 10, 2021
Hygiene Theater for Customers and Employees
Hygiene Theater for Customers and Employees

Hygiene Theater for Customers and Employees 

Back in September, there was a terrific article related specifically to temperature kiosks which we promoted. The tagline was “Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson’s defense of “hygiene theater” shows what the business community sees as a viable alternative safety measure.”

Back then the news was all about:

  • cleaning contact points (actually touchscreens part of daily maintenance for kiosks)
  • Getting people to use cleaned check-in kiosks instead of exposing the front desk employees
  • Copper antimicrobial “grip point” (big in hospitals for controlling spread)
  • air recirculation systems for cleaning the air of microbes  (our dentists put in a new one)
  • temperature monitoring kiosks for customers and employees (multiple levels of EBT)
  • Off-hour UV light scanning
  • Robotics used in cleaning (airports use these)
  • There was no 100% certainty of anything working 100% of the time

There were more but you get the idea. Kitchen Sink. Anything and everything. Confidence by customers and employees.

Worth noting that Marriott’s business fell by as much as 95 percent domestically in late January 2020 and into February. China is the big cheese for Marriott earnings. Back then not a lot was known about transmission or asymptomatic for that matter (people without a fever develop a fever later). From Skift who we really like.

The variety of initiatives across all hotel brands garnered criticism in recent weeks, as skeptics label some elements as “hygiene theater” that aren’t necessarily effective on their own. But Sorenson defended the approach.

“A temperature check is a very dubious tool for ID’ing those who have the virus; nevertheless, that temperature check is hygiene theater, if you will,” Sorenson said. “It’s communicating to folks we care about what you feel and want you to stop and think about if you’re having any symptoms, and we also want to communicate to you that you’re now entering a place in which we’ve got protocols in place to protect you and others in the environment.”

Further, he said critics should view the measures as a package deal rather than a standalone feature for their effectiveness. Business won’t build back unless guests have confidence, even if that is achieved through a little hygiene theater.

“Somebody explained this like Swiss cheese: If you’ve got one slice of Swiss cheese, you’ve got holes and can get through it,” Sorenson said. “But if you’ve got four or five slices of Swiss cheese stacked next to each other … Put it all together, it makes a substantive difference in safety, a provably reduced risk of the spread of the virus, and collectively engaged in a theater that tells us or reminds us all to be careful. By being careful, we’ve further reduced the real risk associated with it.”

I’ll admit it. I like swiss cheese and I like that metaphor.

Recently we saw “hygiene theater” resurface in a recent Atlantic article.  We subscribe to the Atlantic (one of the few) and were surprised to see the phrase basically downgraded to just scrubbing or cleaning surfaces and then to minimize cleaning efforts as unnecessary.

Getting people to come back to your hotel or restaurant any way you can is completely necessary. If you look like you have covered any and all bases, your odds improve.

The fact the Atlantic writer tries to misappropriate the phrase “hygiene theater” away from temperature kiosks and hospitality and tries to reinvigorate the “grimy” surface world reminds us of the tabloid writers in the UK some time back with their “check your touchscreen” clickbait headlines.

And we think the pandemic and all its ramifications cannot be said to be fully and completely understood at this time despite what publications now publish.

We wish publications would not feel compelled to take the aggressive posture they seem to feel required to do.

Author: News Editor

Kiosk manufacturer experience since 1993. Projects: Verizon Bill Pay kiosk, AT&T Payment Kiosk, Amtrak Kiosk, ARMP and many more. Custom kiosk and kiosk components (specs and pricing). Kiosk software configurations for Nanonation, Sitekiosk, KioWare, Dynatouch. Kiosk association, KMA, manager. Works with U.S. Access Board on ADA and accessibility. PCI SSC participating organization. Member of National Retail Federation (NRF) and National Restaurant Association. Currently accepting contract work.