A good inspection shows a hotel is clean, the rooms are inviting and everything is running smoothly. There are also horror stories.
She lifts up the toilet-seat cover and handles the TV remote in a downtown Orlando, Florida, hotel room, knowing full well she would use hand sanitizer later. She also travels to new cities, eats at fancy restaurants and checks into hotels — all while making sure her identity isn’t leaked.
The AAA inspector aims to be an independent voice as she reviews hotels and restaurants for the public. AAA allowed a Sentinel reporter to shadow her as long as she was not named because of the nature of her job.
In an era of Yelp and Google reviews, the public is empowered to shout their opinions on establishments. Terrible service! The food was cold! Don’t stay in this dump! I love this place!
That’s why it’s important for travelers to get an unbiased review, said Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA-The Auto Club Group.
“They can count on knowing what review they are seeing is legitimate, not from someone who has an agenda,” Jenkins said.
In turn, it also gives feedback to the hotel and restaurant owners on how to improve.
The woman is one of about 45 inspectors for AAA who visit establishments across North America.
Last year, AAA approved 59,000 hotels and restaurants while 1,185 others failed their inspections, according to the company, which declined to say how much the inspector job pays.
The Volusia County, Florida, inspector alone conducted 982 on-site inspections in 2016, primarily in Central and North Florida.
While plenty of travel reviews exist in publications, Jenkins said what makes AAA stand out from its competitors is their national scope. The reviews can be found on AAA’s website or its app.
A good inspection shows a hotel is clean, the rooms are inviting and everything is running smoothly.
There are also horror stories about the bad inspections over the years: A handgun found in the sofa cushions, discarded needles or dirty magazines and a pyramid of empty beer cans stacked in connecting hotel rooms.
On a recent August afternoon, there were no terrible surprises as the woman — known by her inspector number, 591 — toured Aloft Orlando Downtown.
Normally when inspectors stay overnight, they book rooms under their friends or family members’ names.
But since this was a day inspection, she showed up at the hotel unannounced and let Mario Villegas, a relaxed chief engineer from the hotel, join her. She toured the public areas of the hotel and then randomly picked three hotel rooms to check.
“If you have a good team in place, you shouldn’t be scrambling,” Villegas said about the hotel.
One of the first places the inspector surveyed was the pool, where a woman was sunbathing in a bikini.
Bonus point — an inviting patio overlooking the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
“I could see this being a cool spot,” the inspector said as music played and lights were strung up near brightly colored chairs.
Her eyes locked in on a towel left out under a bench.
“That needs to be addressed,” she told Villegas.
In the guest rooms, she pulled back the sheets on the bed to look for mysterious stains and checked for dust along the walls.
“I come and inspect with my hands, my eyes and my nose,” she said.
Dog dishes and a fluffy pup bed were set aside in a pet-friendly room — another positive, she noted, snapping a photograph.
Nothing suspicious. No red flags, at least on this day.
For the inspector whose daughter is grown, she enjoys the job that led her to Mexico, New York and Canada on inspection assignments. Her credentials include a career working in the hospitality industry and a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Georgia State University.
“I’m single. I don’t have anything tying me down at home at this stage in my life,” said the woman who has been an inspector for three years. “I wanted to travel and see things. It’s been pretty amazing.”
With that, the inspection was over — not that the easygoing Villegas was sweating it. The hotel will maintain its three-diamond rating at AAA.
The inspector thanked Villegas for his time.
See you again within 12 months, she promised.