When COVID-19 threw a major curveball at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Atlanta – Marietta, the management team took action to create a safer, more sanitized customer experience.
By Jennifer Morrell
One of Marietta’s most notable establishments is the DoubleTree (DT) by Hilton Hotel Atlanta – Marietta. The DT became a Hilton – DoubleTree in 2006, and today is a full-service Hilton brand hotel with 224 guestrooms. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting the hotel, you are probably familiar with the signature chocolate-chip walnut cookie offered to guests. In addition to warm cookies and warm service, the hotel offers king, double and suite guestrooms, complete with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-room dining. The DT is known for its Southern hospitality and Atlanta access. Located just off I-75 at Windy Hill, it is close to family-friendly restaurants and is just one block from Windy Hill Hospital. A free shuttle is offered to Truist Park for Braves games and The Battery Atlanta.
“In 2018, we completed a multi-million dollar renovation, upgrading the breakfast area, a brand-new fitness center, and an indoor/outdoor pool with hot tub,” says General Manager Gregory Brown. “The hotel has 10,000 square feet of meeting space for board meetings, weddings, and other functions.”
Back in 2019, the DT hosted more than 50,000 guests, but the hotel isn’t just a convenient place for people to lay their heads. The DT’s management sees the hotel as a community partner. Along with offering foods, beverages, and other contributions, Brown said the DT works with MUST Ministries, American Red Cross, and the American Cancer Society. The hotel is also a Dobbins Airforce Base partner. “We feel that the hotel’s contribution has been quite impactful,” he says.
The unforeseen event
To be sure, the DT spoils guests with endless amenities and offerings, but like nearly every business in Cobb County, the COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges that led to new ways of thinking and doing business.
Prior to the pandemic, the hotel employed about 85 people, contractors included. By the end of March 2020, hotel management found themselves unable to accurately assess the days to come, and they wanted the staff and guests to feel safe. Thus, they opted to suspend the operation of the hotel for six weeks. “The generous owners decided that we would send everyone home with pay during this time, and the managers would maintain the structure and cleanliness of the building,” Brown said. “We extended this time for two additional weeks. On June 15, we reopened the hotel with 27 associates, managers, supervisors, and additional personnel in housekeeping.”
The onset of COVID-19 affected the DT in numerous ways, but also provided opportunity for growth and reassessment of hotel operations. Brown and his team consider the hotel to be corporate, for the most part. “Our hotel is unlike an airport property, where you have business and leisure travelers who book adjacent to where they land, as they feel this is convenient,” he says. “Here, we have corporate travelers whose company and/or business is in the area throughout the week, such as General Electric (GE), Home Depot, Dobbins Air Force Base, Manhattan Associates, Lockheed Martin Corp., Graphic Packaging, NAPA, HD Supply, and Wellstar. Many of these companies are contracted through the Hilton brand.
“As we all know, corporate traveling was suspended, and many of these companies are traveling very little, even today,” Brown continues. “Of course, we lost 90 percent of our corporate guests. Although we are noticing a small, but steady, increase in corporate travels and guests presently, we have more weekend traffic. This is the case for most properties today.”
Keeping guests safe
The DT philosophy for keeping guests safe in the COVID-19 “new normal” is simple: Vigilance is key, and availability is the win!
“All of us are asking, ‘What should I be doing to remain safe?’ and ‘If I choose to go someplace, what are they doing that helps me to believe that things are clean for my safety?’” Brown says. “We are not confronted with a pandemic often. It’s a new day; nothing is the same.”
Brown shared with his staff that the business has been forced to shift gears into another realm of “drive.” During the hotel’s suspension period, he and his team wanted to assure that when the doors reopened, every single component of operations was upgraded. This meant that whatever request guests or even staff members had, the DT could genuinely convey that an upgrade had taken place.
Changes had to be made. “If we were doing everything the same as we had before, I considered it a problem,” Brown says. “Fortunately, the Hilton brand became the trendsetter in this industry, and Chris Nassetta, Hilton’s CEO, implemented a clean, strict road for us to drive with cleanliness in mind. Each shift, I have a person who maintains our public spaces, constantly cleaning. This is all they do during their shift.”
The DT set a few best practices and new habits into place for the housekeeping staff to make strides toward better safety. Executive Housekeeping Manager Omar Mendoza says new training on how to clean and disinfect the rooms and public areas, including the 10 most-used spots, was a necessity. In every room, areas that are given special attention include lights, lamps, switches and electronic controls; handles and knobs; major bathroom surfaces; the climate control panel; the remote control, telephone and clocks; beds and bedding; tables, desks and nightstands; irons and safes; and food and beverage amenities.
Partnering for safety
DoubleTree developed a partnership with Lysol when Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta gathered information from the World Health Organization, Mayo Clinic, and the Centers for Disease Control, with an attempt to tackle cleaning material that would handle COVID-19 and any other viruses. Nassetta learned what it would take to maintain the proper cleanliness for COVID-19, and then met with Lysol.
“Everyone knew that Lysol and other disinfectants were unavailable,” Brown says. “Although stores were getting shipments, studies showed that the merchandise would [sell out] less than 15 to 30 minutes after arrival. An agreement was made with Hilton that would place all Hilton hotels on automatic shipment for the upgraded Lysol products for commercial cleaning. I sincerely believe Mr. Nassetta works with great diligence in maintaining good rhythm and harmony in the flow of hospitality.”
Hilton created the CleanStay program, which went into effect June 15, 2020. The program consisted of many components. Examples include the use of the new, commercial Lysol spray and wipes, and CleanStay seals for guestrooms. Hilton quickly became a trendsetter in this regard. Brown rolled out the program with the word “upgrade” in mind, since he and his team had to upgrade everything after being confronted with COVID-19.
Mendoza is a fan of the partnership with Lysol. “I think it has been great, because it not only provides security to travelers, but also to employees, by having the necessary tools to do the job,” he says. “We can also provide personal protection, especially in moments where nobody knows how to act with new procedures that should be performed in cleaning ours rooms and public spaces. These are important advantages that this partnership brings to Hilton.”
Mendoza says the key Lysol products that the DT is utilizing are Lysol Commercial Use Disinfectant Spray and Lysol Disinfectant Wipes.
Brown reiterates the importance of vigilance and availability. Having a dedicated person, in addition to the staff, to maintain a superior cleaning level is important. The DT has a person on each shift who walks behind each use of areas in our public spaces. If something is brought to the staff’s attention, this dedicated person allows immediate interception of any potential issues and concerns.
Brown says that, to date, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Atlanta – Marietta has had no issues, for which he and his staff are grateful. “It is a new day, and many things have happened around us. We have upgraded our training on unconscious bias and proper decision-making in an ongoing effort to prevent misuse of decisions made in our new world. It’s the thought of knowing we need each other, in more ways than one.”
Mendoza furthers this mentality. “As the type of travelers change during this time and are more transient than the executive, the main challenge is to keep a deep cleaning on every single room,” he says. “This is not only because of the overall condition of the rooms, but because we must disinfect them properly. It takes more time to get the rooms clean, disinfected, and ready to sell.”
Brown’s final take on the measures being taken by the DT are clear. “My background is compliance, and I like to ascertain that those around me understand the small difference between rules and guidelines,” he says. “In this, we need to understand that empathy and genuine spirit of servitude always stamps success on those who we welcome here at our hotel.
“Things happen, and seasons change,” he continues. “However, we are giving our guests the view that we understand what is around us, and that where there is a need, we are available. Our hotel won the 2019 Hilton DT CARE Award. This is an award based on compliance, service, and cleanliness rankings. I remind our team in empowerment that we can maintain this honor. We just need to upgrade.”