Closing the Gaps in Hotel Housekeeping

April 10, 2019

As far as the public is concerned, housekeeping is the most fascinating aspect of hotel operations. Just search a phrase like “shocking hotel housekeeper secrets” and behold the plethora of results – many of them from major news outlets. People want to know what goes on behind the scenes of such a seemingly straightforward profession. They want to know how far off the rails previous guests have gone. Above all, they want to know if rooms are as clean as they’re supposed to be.


Those of us who make a career out of managing hotels are fascinated by housekeeping for another reason: The massive difference it makes to the bottom line. Most negative hotel reviews revolve around cleanliness, and the daily housekeeping process is infamous for the wrench it can throw into daily operations. Keeping the core of the hotel product (the guestroom) in professional shape is central to the guest experience, and to the overall health of hotel operations.


In my personal and professional visits to hotels across the world, I often notice gaps in the way housekeeping operations are run. Many of these gaps would be easy to fill – if their importance would only be understood and acknowledged. Here are a few things to consider for better hotel housekeeping in 2019-2020.


1. Manage housekeeping digitally


For a long time, clipboards and checklists were indispensable to the housekeeping department. Managers would provide fresh lists each morning. Staff would go about checking things off. This still goes on today, but the reasoning behind it grows weaker all the time. There are so many apps that that are part of – or integrate seamlessly with – popular PMS options. With these digital tools, the status of rooms can be updated in real time to facilitate arrivals and manage stock. The process of room inspections is streamlined. Checklists are accurate and easier to follow. Breakdowns in communication are more infrequent.   


2. Lose the carpet


The de-carpetisation of hotels has been going on for years, and housekeeping is one of the main reasons. It’s easier to clean tile or vinyl, and guests tend to trust it more. Carpet is a trap for residues of all kinds, and it costs more to maintain. Low-cost options that look great further strengthen the argument for carpet-less guestrooms.


3. Know your departures


Precision and efficiency in the housekeeping department is, of course, directly linked to room turnover. The ability to grant late check-outs or early arrivals is made eternally easier by gleaning information on when guests leave, or are planning to leave. It isn’t always possible, but improved communication (between housekeeping, managers and guests) makes it easier to grant requests and remove the drag on daily operations.


4. Upgrade your cleaning products


Nobody argues the fact that bleach is an effective cleaner, but there are several reasons to move toward bleach-free cleaning. Bleach is irritating to the skin and eyes of hotel staff. The same goes for guests, and many don’t like the smell of it. Bleach can also deface textiles and surfaces, which hurts the appearance of the room over time. The effectiveness of natural cleaning solutions is on the rise, but managers are right to be careful here. Getting the job done right is supremely important.


5. Work smarter


Many of the modern tools and technologies that make housekeeping better have nothing to do with the digital world. A plastic tool that works as a mattress lifter for changing sheets – and doubles as a sheet smoother – is one example. Vacuum covers to prevent the gradual accumulation of dings and scuffs on furniture are another. Next-gen caddies with upgraded ergonomics and smart fluid dispensers can bring fast improvements to the bottom line – and to employee morale.


6. Empower your staff


Housekeeping departments have one of the highest turnover rates in the business. This hampers hotel performance. To prioritise employee training is a good step, but empowering staff means going beyond that. Housekeeping staff should feel valued and appreciated for the vital purpose they serve. Empowering people to shape best practices, and to make some of their own decisions, goes a long way. Tactfulness around the inspection process is another key.


Are schedules flexible? Are benefits and retirement plans attractive? Is good performance rewarded? Are housekeeping staff prepared for guest interactions? Answering these questions helps us to change the perception, real or imagined, that housekeeping is a “faceless job” rather than a highly-meaningful role in which personality matters.


The single most important thing


Given the impact housekeeping has on guest experiences and hotel performance, more time and energy should be spent in the way of innovation. Many hotels do have housekeeping practices that are highly-refined, but there is never a point at which the process becomes perfect.


In the conversation around best practices, however, there is one thing that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Taking care of employees, making them feel valued, and changing negative perceptions around this vital role.


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