What Protocol Does a Hotel Follow When a Guest Is Found Dead in a Room?

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Answer by Mike Holovacs, 10 years front-facing experience, front desk, concierge, valet/door supervision; 2014 master’s in hospitality:

I’ve not caught a body while working myself, but my current boss’s body count is eight, and a prior boss of mine is well into double digits. I did have someone drop from a coronary in front of me, but he died in the ambulance. (Yes, hoteliers know exactly how many on-property deaths they have been privy to in many cases. Unless you’ve lost count … )

From what I know, and based on talking with them about the process, the room is immediately sealed and taken off the market. The hotel cannot use the room until authorities have released it back to them, and it still needs to be cleaned and disinfected after that. This process could vary greatly from a strip and replacement of affected linens to a total renovation of the room from the walls out. It is my understanding that this decision is undertaken (no pun intended) based on time elapsed from death to discovery and nature of the death. As an example, someone who took pills and is found soon after may require less work than if the method of exit was, say, a shotgun … or if many days or weeks elapsed. Before you say that weeks can’t elapse, tell that to the guest at my boss’s former hotel who called the front desk to report a smell. Four words: stuffed in the mattress.

Employees at every level are generally forbidden from dealing with the media via employment handbook language, and in the case of a death on the property, the embargo may extend up to the general manager. Large flags may refer inquiries to corporate brand PR or management.

Also, a great effort is made in the case of medical emergencies that lead to death to not have the place of death listed as the hotel if at all possible. Listing the hotel as the place of death causes a lot more paperwork for the hotel, and it is avoided except in the most obvious of cases.

Once the room is sealed, it is off-limits for any reason not having to do with the investigation. It is essentially treated as a crime scene until law enforcement officials are done with what they need to do.

Once the room is released back to the hotel, that’s when cleanup starts. Again, this varies tremendously. Replacing a bed is vastly different than removing the smell from drywall and carpeting. Materials that come from such a room are treated as hazardous material and must be disposed of as such, by people wearing the appropriate gear to do so.

Once the room is cleaned from a medical perspective, it goes back in service. Hotels go to great lengths to not release room numbers, especially in cases of celebrity deaths. This prevents dark tourists and whackjob fans who want to stay exactly where their hero died. Room numbers end up becoming public knowledge thanks to 911 tapes or court papers, but you will never hear of a hotelier discussing a specific room and such topics. The staff at the Beverly Hills Hotel more than likely all know where Whitney Houston died, and the staff at the Hard Rock more than likely all know where John Entwistle died, but good luck getting them to cough it up. It’s patently offensive to hotel staff to press this issue, by the way.

In the end, the room goes back on the rack as if nothing ever happened. The show must go on.

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