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Illustration: Peter C.Espina/GT

Lying on a soft bed after a bubble bath at a five-star hotel is no doubt a bonus. But is it still a fabulous experience if the bedding is unchanged and bathtubs unsterilized between guests? A video released by Lanmei Test, an independent watchdog, has raised concerns over hygiene conditions in Beijing's five-star hotels.

The team marked the bed linen, bathtubs, toilets and tumblers with invisible stamps, which can only be seen under UV light but come off easily in the laundry, at five international hotels - the Intercontinental, Shangri-La, Hilton, JW Marriott and its subsidiary W Hotel - in Beijing. The stamps remained after the team returned the second day. The video concluded that the bedding hadn't been changed, and that the bathtubs and toilet seats hadn't been wiped down.

Although the jaw-dropping findings have yet to be verified, the video has thrust hygiene management in China's hotel industry into the spotlight. In the wake of a series of scandals at hotel chains, the group was alarmed to discover that hygiene standards at five-star hotels are also an issue for concern. "The first thing I will do after checking in is to ask for the bedding to be replaced," a netizen said.

Poor management is undoubtedly a key reason for the disappointing hygiene conditions. For years, five-star hotels have been focusing their attention on brand promotion and marketing, pouring large sums of money and resources into advertisement and public relations. In most cases, ordinary people get acquainted with Hilton, Shangri-La and other big names and their so-called first-class services from advertisements, rather than actual experiences. With marketing as a priority, five-star hotels have gradually lost the motivation to optimize their services, and as a result, allocate a decreasing amount of funds and energy to maintain hygiene conditions and other room services. Meagerly paid and laxly supervised, housekeepers' unwillingness to perform their duties is a predictable result.

Other external factors are also to blame. Customers, who often pay excessively high room rates, assume high-quality service from five-star hotels as a matter of course. While there are always independent investigations into the cleanliness of express hotel chains, few people examined or doubted the hygiene standards of five-star hotels in China before Lanmei's investigation, which was inspired by an exposé in New York last year where nine upmarket hotels were found to have hygiene problems. The sad truth is, five-star hotels lack effective supervision both from customers and the relevant authorities. Private spaces, for instance, such as guest rooms, are most likely to become dead zones of regulation.

The hygiene scandal at upmarket hotels will undoubtedly have undesirable repercussions. The public has gradually lost their confidence in the cleanliness of hotels at various levels, prompting many netizens to vow to bring their own sheets and quilt covers before visiting a hotel. Worse still, public confidence is seeing a downward trend not only in hotels, but also in catering and other industries, in the wake of scandals in other fields, such as one over hotpot chain Hai Di Lao's sanitary problems. This is undoubtedly a sad reflection on society, where trust is supposed to play a vital role.

Therefore, it is high time to address the problem and strengthen supervision on hotel management so as to revive the public's confidence in the industry. It is unrealistic to rely on hotels to impose stricter regulations to improve their services on their own initiative. Customers, in this situation, can pressure hotels by turning to other alternatives. Some netizens have already suggested customers form an alliance and leave invisible marks on the bedding and toilet seats so that the next customer can check for themselves.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.