Hygiene is the number one demand from guests and diners, above luxury or value for money, hotel industry chiefs said.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought unseen levels of scrutiny from the public and now positive reviews about cleanliness are critical.
"It used to be the case that cleaning staff were kept in the background but now they are being put front and centre by hotels," Michel Augier, Middle East and Africa regional director for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, told The National at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai.
“There has obviously always been a focus on cleanliness – but now it is like never before.”
Following news Abu Dhabi is to allow quarantine-free travel from July 1, Mr Augier said he was optimistic, but operators had to remain vigilant.
“While we are over the worst of it, we certainly need to keep the precautions in place,” he said.
“Look at how touchpoints like lift buttons are being cleaned regularly throughout the day,” he said, adding interest from guests about cleaning was at an all-time high.
His company was one of many that had to adapt to the demand for evidence of hotels going above and beyond.
“Each one of our hotels has a 'hygiene hero' who champions the protocols in each property,” he said.
“And we are developing touchless technology that allows guests to check-in and access their rooms all through their phones,” he said.
Michael Zager, chief operating officer of Hospitality Management Holding, which runs 10 hotels in the Middle East, said the pandemic quickly changed the industry.
“When 9/11 happened, security was a completely different ball game the very next day,” he said.
“Something similar is happening with hygiene as a result of the pandemic.
"Hygiene was always crucial but the pandemic has created an extra layer of importance.”
He also said UAE authorities tackled the pandemic to the point where major in-person events, such as ATM, which runs this week at World Trade Centre, can cater for thousands of people.
“ATM could easily have been cancelled, but it was important to send a message,” said Mr Zager, whose company runs the Coral brands and will soon open its Ecos Hotel near the Expo 2020 site in Dubai.
“Every barometer is showing we are on the road to recovery and people want to travel again.”
He said travel restrictions have created a hunger for travel, especially among younger people.
“Millennials, in particular, want to travel. They want an experience and expect value for money,” he said.
“They are living for now and are not just saving their money for when they are 75, something that might never come.”
While he predicted the industry was on the road to recovery, it could be several years before the Gulf and wider region return to normal trading.
“You have to be positive, especially after the success of the vaccination drive. But you also have to be realistic,” said Mr Zager.
“It could be three, four or five years before we return to normal, whatever that normal will be.
“We just have to take it month by month or quarter by quarter for now.”