Are the cheapest hotels the dirtiest ones? Don't believe it


Which? Holiday,

a British consumer reporting magazine, recently ran tests on the cheapest hotel brands in England, and evidence of questionable hygiene was found at two low-cost chains, Ibis and Travelodge, that included mold on mattresses and urine tracks down the side of the toilet. Unwanted bacteria was also found in some of the rooms.

The hotel cited as the dirtiest was the Ibis near Euston station in London. I have personally stayed in that hotel and inspected it in my duties as a travel writer, and although I didn't bring my petri dishes and sterilized swabs with me to make sure, I didn't find the cleanliness to be so alarming that it deserved the nickname of The Dirtiest Hotel in Britain. Maybe I got the good housekeeper that day. (Or maybe I'm the one who left the problem stains behind.)

The findings got a fair bit of attention in the press, but that's because they confirm existing biases about budget lodging. I certainly don't find the methodology to be fair. First, the magazine only tested sixteen rooms, which is not a decent number by any scientific standard. The magazine also made allegations that it didn't have the budget to test properly--one hotel was accused of having something that looked like a bloodstain on a bedspread. (Unacceptable, to be sure, but to call it a bodily fluid without knowing for sure seems a little like railroading to me.)

Simply to single out the cheap chains for investigation, as the magazine did, is downright skewed. We've all had hotel horror experiences, but they happen across price categories. I'd like to know how the bacteria counts would differ at the Dorchester or Brown's, two institutions that charge ten times what the average Travelodge does.

There are strict laws governing restaurant cleanliness, but hotel management is mostly given free reign. Cleanliness is completely up to the competency of the person cleaning the rooms, and hotels of any price level can unknowingly harbor a lazy cleaner.