Mr. Sisson

Eco-Friendly Practices

Want a Better Guest Experience? Make Clean Visible.

By Mark Sisson, Co-Founder, NanoTouch Materials

In 2012, my business partner and I invented a line of self-­cleaning surfaces for healthcare facilities which we named NanoSeptic because they were based on nanotechnology. We knew hospitals were having a challenge with hospital ­acquired infections (HAI), some of which were being spread through contact with high traffic touch points. So our mission was to deliver an actual health benefit, creating healthier hospital environments by creating self­-cleaning surfaces for places that had the greatest chance of cross contamination. We never dreamed that these surfaces would be adopted by other industries, and more surprisingly, why they would be adopted. We found that the visible nature of the products fundamentally change how people viewed the concept of "clean." What we came to understand was just how scared people are about the cleanliness of public facilities and how much their perception of a facility changed when a visible indication of cleaning efforts was present.

As part of a $2 million grant, our company, NanoTouch Materials, has conducted extensive market research* of both businesses and consumers to identify applications for self­cleaning surfaces. What has been fascinating about the results of these studies is how much they reveal about human psychology as it relates to cleanliness. Next to healthcare, travel and hospitality is the industry where consumers have the highest level of concern about cleanliness, germs and interacting with other people. This presents a tremendous opportunity for the hospitality industry to address traveler concerns in a visible way, dramatically improving the perception of their travel experience and influencing their buying decisions.

What's more, our research indicates that millennial travelers value the concept of clean even more than previous generations. That's good news for forward thinking hotels and other travel businesses since millennials are a hot growth segment. According to a recent survey published by Expedia, professionals between the ages of 18 and 30 average five business trips a year, compared to just two for those aged 35 years and up. The emphasis on face­to­face meetings is surprising given how much millennials rely on technology for a great deal of their social interaction. Although this generation is deeply embedded in online relationship management, they crave in-­person business meetings more than previous generations. In fact, a study by the GBTA Foundation found that 57 percent of millennial travelers believe technology can never replace face­to­face meetings to get business done.

Since travelers are more socially connected than ever before, perception of their travel experience is shared with a wide audience, good and bad. This presents opportunities to gain market share by positively affecting traveler experience and is similar to what's happening in the healthcare industry. Patient experience managers are focusing on the perception that a patient has of their healthcare experience rather than the actual healthcare outcome. One type of business that manages cleanliness for facilities in just about every other industry is commercial cleaners. A study conducted by Contracting Profits found that commercial cleaners reported the most important thing to their customers was that the facility looked clean (35%). Actual cleanliness and health came in second. Call it style over substance if you want, but the bottom line is people buy based on perception and feelings.

So let's talk about what this means to hotels and let the data dispel some of the incorrect assumptions hotel operators have about cleanliness. Two products we've developed specifically for the travel and hospitality industry are a self­cleaning portable travel mat and a self­cleaning TV channel guide. We conducted market research to gauge consumer attitude towards these products from the standpoint of cleanliness, and some of the data contradicts existing hotel executive thinking. Every once in awhile we will have a hotel executive say "if I put a self­cleaning surface in my facility the guests will assume our hotel is dirty." We follow up by asking the executive a question. If you are staying at the Ritz Carlton, are you going to place your toothbrush directly on the bathroom vanity? The answer is always "of course not."

The bottom line is that consumers are suspicious of a hotel's cleanliness no matter what hotel they choose, and they appreciate noticeable clues that the hotel is taking action. Our research supports that hypothesis. 70% responded that a self­cleaning mat on the bathroom vanity would positively impact their perception of the property, with 50% of respondents saying that a travel mat would directly affect their choice of hotel. That rate was over 60% for millennials and 85% for self­described germaphobes. In fact, asked a different way, 70% of respondents assumed the rest of the room and the facility was cleaner if they saw self­cleaning surfaces in use. The conclusion was that if a hotel was deploying this new technology that the traveler could see, they were probably doing a lot of other good things to improve cleanliness that couldn't be seen.

Despite travelers increased confidence in cleanliness after having been exposed to self­cleaning surfaces, they still didn't fully trust the cleanliness of other surfaces. This really gets to the heart of the guest mentality when it comes to cleanliness. Hotel executives have to start with the assumption that guests think the room and facility may be dirty. The opportunity lies in changing that guest mentality by offering visible indications that the hotel is taking action. And if you think this mentality is specific to hospitality, you might be surprised. Almost ⅔ of respondents said they would use the travel mat wherever they traveled...other hotels, planes, cruises and restaurants. This provides some broad reaching marketing opportunities for hotels that custom brand these products. Similar to the results for the travel mat, 60% of respondents said that a self­cleaning TV channel guide had a positive impact on their perception of the room and the hotel. This change in perception was so strong that 50% of respondents said that it would affect their choice of hotel. Another interesting stat for millennials is their interest in technology based lifestyle products. While they didn't get specifically how it worked, they like the fact that the self­cleaning action was powered by nanotechnology rather than poisons or heavy metals. This mentality also aligns with the push for green cleaning alternatives.

Positively impacting the guest experience is great, but it doesn't have to cut into a hotel's already tight budget. Hotels are constantly looking for ways to cut direct costs, so asking executives to add a new line item for self­cleaning surfaces isn't always received in a positive light. Good news! The consumer research shows that not only will travelers purchase these new products, but they want to purchase multiple products. 65% said they would be likely to purchase a self­cleaning mat if it was available to use on an airplane tray table or on the hotel bathroom vanity, with almost a full third saying they would be extremely likely to purchase.

The research also showed that, on average, they would purchase 4 mats or spend a total of $36. So not only can hotels positively affect guest experience, they can generate a new revenue stream both in the room and in the gift shop. And a stat that should make hotel marketing directors happy ­ 70% of socially connected millennials said they would recommend a self-­cleaning mat, indicating a potential for viral messaging. Unlike selling a bottle of water in the room, selling these types of products satisfies deeper desires with stronger emotional drivers...an environment that is perceived to be cleaner makes people feel safer and more secure.

In the end, we all want the same thing in our living environment. 82% of respondents said "cleaner, healthier environments in which to live, work and play" was the outcome they valued most from seeing self-­cleaning surfaces. So whether you are catering to business travelers, leisure travelers or the almost 80 million millennials, if we understand human psychology and how the concept of cleanliness affects traveler perception, we can create not just satisfied customers but customers who actually share their great experience. And it's not just about new technology. Hotels should bring awareness to their cleaning efforts rather than keeping them hidden. Travelers want to feel safer and hotels can deliver that feeling by making clean visible. Who would have guessed that cleanliness could be turned from a subject of complaints into a visible business advantage.

The study included 1,182 respondents located in the US and was conducted by Montage Marketing of Bethesda, MD. Some statistics come from preliminary results of an ongoing study of commercial cleaning and facility management businesses being conducted by 434 Marketing of Lynchburg, VA.

Mark Sisson is the Co-Founder of NanoTouch Materials, the world's first and only producer of NanoSeptic continuously self­cleaning surfaces. Mr. Sisson is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in Computer Science. Prior to NanoTouch, he ran an award­winning advertising agency serving several clients in the hospitality, travel and food service industries. Mr. Sisson can be contacted at mark@nanoseptic.com Please visit http://www.nanoseptic.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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