Many people are familiar with the name Marie Kondo, whose best-selling books help people to organise their homes. In regards to cleaning, Kondo has said: “The objective of cleaning is not just to clean, but to feel happiness living within that environment.”
Now, obviously cleaning one’s home is not the same type of experience as cleaning a series of hotel rooms in a single day. Most hotel housekeeping staff would tell you that the objective of cleaning has less to do with ‘feeling happiness in that environment’ and more to do with re-setting each room to a high professional standard within a pretty tight time schedule. Mistakes can be costly. There are inspections, and guest reviews are powerful.
When you think about it, though, Kondo’s philosophy is very much applicable to the hotel housekeeping world. The people who clean rooms every day need to feel happy, valued, and motivated in their work environment, and they need to create clean rooms for guests so that they too feel happy. If staff don’t feel happy, negative effects will reverberate through the operation and find their way to the guest experience. The same goes for hotel staff in any department – but we all know that housekeeping is especially important. Employees who feel highly-valued are a key driver of success for the operation at large. And if guests aren’t happy, well then we may as well close the doors.
We’ve written recently about ergonomic tools, housekeeping apps, and other tools that modernise housekeeping operations and make employees happier. But could we be inching – or racing – toward a moment when human beings don’t clean hotel rooms at all? Many industries, such as mining and manufacturing, are moving quickly down the path of automation. Self-driving cars are already in service. Why shouldn’t housekeeping become fully-automated as well?
As reported by Skiff, there is a Danish hotel that has taken a step in this direction – and not in a way you’d expect.
The hotel employed a technology known as ClearCoat, and was developed by ACT.Global. It consists of a clear and odourless coating of anti-bacterial spray that is professionally applied like paint throughout a hotel room. Whenever sunlight touches the coating, microscopic cleaning power is activated.
Testing carried out by the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark shows that this applied coating is effective at breaking down a long list of microbes. It can purify air and remove contaminants for a whole year, after which time it would be re-applied at a cost of approximately AUD $3,500 per room. Amazing isn’t it?
The Danish hotel in question is the Hotel Ottilia in Copenhagen. Karim Nielsen, CEO of the hotel’s parent company, told Skiff that it has reduced the hotel’s housekeeping labour needs, made cleaning easier for staff, reduced water consumption, minimised the use of abrasive chemicals, and lowered maintenance requirements.
Whilst this is a groundbreaking initiative, it’s too early to say whether the technology will catch on. Rigorous testing, public trust and social license will play a large part in determining the outcome but either way, it shows that automation isn’t just about droids and rovers. Things that happen on a smaller scale could actually make automation more realistic from a housekeeping perspective.
That’s not to say the robots aren’t coming. Autonomous vacuum technology is improving rapidly, and is already less of a novelty. Some hotels have robots that deliver items to guestrooms. Soon enough, you’ll see hotel guests with travel robots designed to blast hotel beds with cleansing UV-C light. These, too, are ideas that could sink or swim.
As to the question of whether housekeeping will ever become fully automated, I would refer you to recent events at the Henn-na Hotel in Japan – a property that this blog has referenced in the past and gained mainstream attention for being the first hotel largely staffed by robots. As reported by the Wall Street Journal in early 2019, the hotel has decommissioned roughly half of its robot workforce due to unacceptable performance. I suspect though that they will eventually recommission them again (after all that was their main point of difference) but perhaps in a more modified form.
If we do reach point where robot housekeepers can do everything a human can do, we will be living in a different reality. Until then, building a happier housekeeping team that creates happier environments should be at the top of every hotel manager’s to-do list.
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