China Tourist

No stars out of five

Premium hotels in damage control after cleanliness survey spooks guests


But what lies beneath?

In 2016, American news magazine Inside Edition released a report suggesting that three out of nine New York hotels in its study weren’t changing bedsheets after guests checked out. A separate 2012 review on contamination levels in hotel rooms led by the University of Houston revealed that fecal bacteria was found on 81% of surfaces – the worst culprits being remote control buttons and bedside lamp switches.

Hotels in China don’t fare much better, it seems. Last week, Lanmei Test, an independent research team, released a video of its investigations into five (five-star) international hotel chains operating in Beijing. The footage quickly went viral in social media, prompting an outcry over disturbingly poor hygiene in the hospitality industry.

The Lanmei investigators marked bed linen, pillows, cups, toilets and bathtubs with stamps visible only with ultraviolet light. Then they messed up the rooms to simulate using them before checking out. The next day, another investigator booked the same room. With the UV test, they soon discovered that none of the hotels had cleaned their bathtubs, while the toilets were not cleaned thoroughly. Some hadn’t changed the bedsheets.

At JW Marriott, investigators even found a used condom in the bottom of one of the beds, reports Hong Kong’s Apple Daily.

The five-star hotels quickly issued statements saying that they would investigate the allegations.

“We take hotel hygiene and cleanliness very seriously,” said W Beijing (part of the Starwood Group).

Taking the matter into their own hands, Beijing authorities then kicked off a city-wide survey of the capital’s hotel hygiene.

The Beijing Tourism Development Committee announced it would “strengthen supervision” on the management of both star-rated and budget hotels, after a meeting with the five international hotels last week.

Industry insiders mounted a partial defence of the hotels in question. Although Lanmei claims that its reviewers had rumpled the bedding to look like someone had slept there, it is impossible to tell how convincing they were, Wu Ben, an assistant professor of tourism at Fudan University, told Caixin Weekly. To save resources, it’s not uncommon for housekeepers to skip washing “visibly unused items like bedding, and towels”, he claimed.

But Lanmei’s chief executive Zhang Lu says that is no excuse: “Whether or not the guests actually stayed the night, or used any of the hotel amenities should have no bearing on the housekeeping staff’s decision whether to change the sheets or clean the room. According to the management requirements for five-star hotels, all sheets and other personal items are changed after the guests leave,” he told

It is also not the first time that hotels in China have been accused of poor hygiene. The clientele doesn’t always help: it has widely been reported that hotel guests scrimp on laundry costs by relying on in-room kettles to boil their underwear.

But the domestic media has been offering advice to guests on how to tackle poor cleanliness at hotels across the country. For instance, Sina, a portal, suggests that they bring their own paper cups instead of using in-room glassware because most housekeepers merely rinses glasses in water without sterilising them.

Other commentators proposed that guests even bring their own sleeping bag to avoid sleeping on hotel bed sheets.

Capitalising on the scare, sales of collapsible silicon kettles, disposable liners for bathtubs (imagine a large plastic shower curtain) and a range of other sanitising products have gone up dramatically on Taobao, the e-commerce site.

“Sales of disposable toiletries and beddings spiked within two days of the report’s release,” a vendor of disposable sleeping bags told Beijing Morning Post.

“Knowing that they are clean helps me sleep better at night,” one customer wrote.

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