A Q&A with Debbie Shepard, Strategic Hospitality Advisor

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Debbie Shepard has spent more than 25 years working in the hospitality space. Her experience ranges from recruiting and global hotel sales to hotel operations and international tourism for brands such as Hilton Worldwide, Caesars Entertainment, and Tourism Toronto. Now the Managing Director behind Shepard Consulting, Debbie offers her take on the evolving needs and circumstances of the hospitality industry.

Q: What would you say to someone in hospitality who says, “Well, we’ve done all that we can to keep our guests safe?”

A: “While I believe hoteliers have done a good job and have done everything that they traditionally know how to do to keep their guests and team members safe, I think there needs to be some more investigation into additional technologies. How can we leverage innovation in science and technology to elevate cleanliness and hygiene without the burden of increased labor costs? How can we use science and technology to create a cleaner environment that enhances the guest experience, not disrupts it?”


Q: Even before the pandemic made guests hypersensitive to hygiene, how would you describe the reputation of hotel cleanliness – particularly with guest linens?

A: “I think for the most part, hotels do and have always done a good job when it comes to cleanliness. In regards to linen cleanliness, I don’t think most people thought about it, to be honest — I know that I didn’t. It is something that we really didn’t think about before the COVID-19 pandemic. Did we look to see if the towels and bed linens were changed? Yes, we looked at that, but if they looked clean, we assumed they were clean. Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way over this past year with the pandemic that it’s what you can’t see that’s the most dangerous to our health… we’ve now learned that invisible disease-causing germs can cause the most destruction to our health and our economy.”


Q: How would you advise hospitality management to go about balancing spending on new health science technologies while dealing with reduced revenue?

A: “Be open to learning what innovations are out there… and do your homework. Make sure that the technology solution that you’re considering is rooted in science, clinically proven, and has been approved by the EPA. I know that hoteliers have been inundated with a lot of solutions lately, particularly those that are COVID-induced. Just do your due diligence to make sure that they have the scientific studies to support their validity. Ask yourself, “is this a solution that can help solve my current business challenges and help meet our objectives now as well as potential challenges in the future?’”


Q: What are some of the biggest changes that you have seen in the hotel industry since COVID, and which do you think will be long term adjustments?

A: “I think the increased cleanliness protocols and elevated guest expectations regarding cleanliness are here to stay. While the hospitality industry has always done a good job, this pandemic caught all of us off guard. Continuing to be diligent and consistent in elevating cleanliness and hygiene standards will help us now through this pandemic and have us better prepared for future public health issues moving forward.”


Q: How do you think new technologies can benefit the hospitality industry?

A: “I think for the most part guests see that hotels are putting in the effort to create a cleaner environment to help them feel safe, however there is room to improve by seeking to learn what technologies are out there that they just may not know about yet. People are quick to embrace technology in every other sense of their lives – the latest phone, the latest computer, TV, whatever it is. Looking at technology from an infection prevention standpoint is something that is often overlooked. I know that it’s being overlooked right now in regards to linens because every hotel cleanliness protocol program out there right now is only addressing hard surfaces. This is by no fault of their own, they just may not know what high-tech scientific innovations are out there for fabrics. Fortunately, there is a technology called SilvaClean that can help solve the issue of soft surface contamination and help to close the cleanliness gap that will help create an overall cleaner and more hygienic environment… they just don’t know about SilvaClean yet.


Q: What’s your hope for the near-term future of the travel industry?

A: “The hospitality industry has been decimated by the pandemic and is continuing to struggle, despite the well-meaning efforts of conventional cleaning protocols and solutions. It’s time to think outside the box, like never before. The pandemic has caused a huge ripple effect way beyond just the travel industry. My hope is that hospitality folks will see the value in the SilvaClean technology that can help to create a cleaner environment both today and into the future that will help to rebuild traveler and team member confidence and get us all back to what we love – traveling and exploring and making memories, not having to constantly worry about germs that could make us sick.”