Poor Hygiene Practice in South Korea’s Five-Star Hotels Sparked Uproar

By April 10, 2018Travel

TL;DR – Your five-star hotel (in Seoul) might not be as clean as you think.

In a formula developed by Hotels.com for the perfect hotel stay, it is revealed that one of the most important attributes affecting a traveler’s hotel preferences is cleanliness.

The study shows that, “Cleanliness and comfort are 35 times more important than a sumptuous breakfast, a luxurious pool or a deluxe coffee machine”.

Surely, when you put up at a five-star hotel, you don’t expect yourself to worry about the cleanliness nor comfort. You’d only expect a five-star quality service be delivered to you.

But what if your five-star hotel isn’t as clean as you think?

On the 4th February, South Korean nationwide general cable TV network and broadcasting company, TV Chosun, unveiled a video footage of housekeeping conducted in one of three five-star hotels in Seoul, through its current affairs programme, CSI: Consumer Scene Investigation.


Check out the footage below which sparked an uproar amongst consumers when the programme was aired in South Korea. We’d added English subtitles here.

Questionable Ethnics in Luxury Hotels

In every hotel, there should be a set of housekeeping standard operating procedures (SOPs), though they may differ slightly from hotel to hotel. For instance, a different colour gloves should be used for different chores. Similarly, mops and scrubs should also be classified according to their use. However, these standards are not observed. What you use to clean the toilet bowl should be used to clean the basin or the cups. Yes, the CUPS.

On average, housekeepers clean 15 rooms a day, and the working hours in a typical workday are usually nine hours excluding lunch break. If housekeeping is done based on the prescribed SOPs, it will take about an hour to house keep a room. This means each housekeeper will take 15 hours to clean the 15 rooms he or she is assigned to. So what do you expect the housekeepers to do when they have only nine hours to clean 15 rooms?

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What about how well are the housekeepers paid in South Korean to clean the rooms in these luxury hotels? In most cases, the hotel housekeepers are engaged by subcontractors, with a basic salary of 1.7 million – 1.8 million Korean Won (approximately S$2,000 – S$2,200). Housekeepers may receive higher pay if they get allocated with more rooms to clean. Hence, in order to earn more, they would clean 4-5 rooms more than their usual allocation. This is commonly known as “Over-room”.

A former hotel employee said, “It is very rare that people work with a conscience”. Therefore, in places whereby people do not value work ethics, basic professional ethics are not observed. A couple of housekeeping employees shared, “If I don’t have the time to, I will not change my gloves and mops”.

Another employee who works in a five-star hotel in Seoul said, “Initially, I tried to keep up with the SOPs and with the hygiene standards like how I was trained. However, as time goes by, cleaning as quickly as possible became more important”.

Not Possible for Hygiene Checks

Many consumers responded in anger to the footage. A hotel guest who has visited 1 of the hotels commented, “If this is the hygiene standard I get from a first-class hotel, where else can I go?”.

Another hotel guest expressed her disappointment, “It is a hotel that I have recommended to my friends when they came to visit from overseas. It’s disappointing.”

Director of Seoul Metropolitan Health and Welfare, Mr. Kim Seon-chan, said, “According to Korean Public Hygiene Management Law, it is a requirement that each municipal administrative unit conducts hygiene checks for lodging facility. There is also a set of cleaning and disinfection procedures that they must adhere to. However, unless there are cameras installed, otherwise it will be difficult to monitor the cleaning process.”

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A hotel representative said, “With the recent increase in number of hotels in Seoul, the demand and competition for the pool of skilled workers are even more intense. The main reason is that these employees do not understand cleaning regulations.”

Another hotel representative shared, “You can’t possibly supervise them because they belong to a subcontractor and I will be violating against the current law if I do. Moving forward, I will be implementing measures such as increasing the frequency of inspections”.

Professor Kim Nam-jo from Faculty of Tourism at Hanyang University said “The price and brand of hotel should be reflected in the quality of service. It cannot be a luxury hotel only in terms of appearance.”


Of course this TV programme is only showing what they have found out in Seoul and is not representative of hotels the world over. We also believe that there are conscientious housekeepers who want to do a good job of keeping hotel rooms in clean condition for the guests.

Let’s hope more can be done in terms of training and remuneration so that the industry can attract and retain good people.



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Joey Wee

Author Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

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