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2018-11-16 08:01:26  + video 

Enjoying a glass of wine in a luxury hotel suite would typically sound appealing to many in China, but a viral video on Wednesday of disturbingly unhygienic cleaning practices at some of the country’s ritziest hotels may change that.

Such a drinking glass may have been “cleaned” with a used bath towel, according to an 11-minute video called “The Secret of the Cups,” which exposed hygiene problems at 14 five-star hotels in Beijing, Shanghai, Fujian, and Guizhou. Rooms at the most expensive hotel shown in the video — the Bulgari in Shanghai — start at around 4,000 yuan ($580) per night.

In footage recorded by a hidden camera, an employee at the Bulgari appears to reach into a bathroom trash can to retrieve a disposable plastic lid for cups and wipe it on his work uniform so it can be used again. At the Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai, meanwhile, a housekeeper is shown wiping down a room’s sink, toilet seat, and cups with the same sponge.

The authorities, including the tourism bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai, have said they are investigating and will work toward strengthening supervision. By time of publication, apologies and promises to reform cleaning practices had been issued by 12 of the 14 hotels named in the video, including the Bulgari and Waldorf.

The whistleblower’s video ‘The Secret of the Cups’ shows cleaners at five-star hotels wiping down cups and glasses with guests’ used towels. From @花总丢了金箍棒 on Weibo

The video’s creator — a man who goes by the alias “Huazong” and has more than 320,000 followers on microblogging platform Weibo — claims to have spent over 2,000 nights at around 150 hotels over the past six years. He told Sixth Tone on Thursday that hygiene problems plague budget and luxury hotels alike, and that there may be other unsanitary practices even more egregious than those shown in the video.

“I used to worry about sanitation problems at domestic hotel chains, but actually it turns out that even the international ones in China are problematic,” Huazong said. “It’s not about the brand — it’s a problem with hotel management in China.”

The idea to make the video came to Huazong in October 2017 after an experience at a hotel in the eastern city of Nanjing: He came back to his room one afternoon to find a housekeeper cleaning the room’s drinking cup with a used bath towel.

“Both of us were really embarrassed, so I pretended I hadn’t seen anything and left the room,” he said. Afraid that the woman might lose her job, he opted not to report the incident — and even after making his video, Huazong stressed to Sixth Tone: “These employees should not be blamed; rather, it should be [the hotels’ responsibility] to recognize and correct any hygiene problems.”

Fearing retribution from the hotels he stays in, Huazong has not revealed his real name. In September, another hygiene whistleblower found that he had been flagged in a hotel chain’s guest database as someone who “obtains evidence by installing cameras in the bathroom.”

According to financial news outlet Jiemian, the number of five-star hotels in China has risen from 615 in 2011 to 789 in 2015 — but average profit margins over the same time span have shrunk from 430 to 370 yuan per room. Housekeepers’ meager salaries, meanwhile, put them on the very bottom rung of the service industry.

Hygiene problems have been an ongoing issue for China’s hospitality sector, with stomach-churning sanitation offenses making headlines from time to time. In April 2016, budget hotels that outsourced their laundry services landed in hot water after their bed linens were found to have dangerously high pH levels from being washed with sodium hydroxide. And in September of last year, an independent watchdog group revealed that a number of luxury hotels in Beijing had a habit of not changing bed linens or cleaning toilet seats between guest bookings.

Online, netizens’ comments suggest that they have become resigned to the frequently exposed problem. “For a student like me, a 500-yuan hotel could be called an expensive one,” wrote one user. “I’m so glad that a 5,000-yuan hotel is just as dirty as a 500-yuan one.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A screenshot from the whistleblower’s 11-minute video ‘The Secret of the Cups’ shows a cleaner wiping a glass with a used towel at a five-star hotel in Guiyang, Guizhou province. From @花总丢了金箍棒 on Weibo)