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Auditing Odds in Hospitality

Auditing, of course, has been a synonym close to Taxes but in the present context @pandemic, cleaning auditing takes precedence, with hospitality taking the lead. If one is familiar with a Hygiene Specialist – is the one who ensures the nitty-gritties of putting government diktats in place. This is a post which is a mandate in most countries when it comes to hospitality. Interestingly, when we set out to write on this topic, there were very few who could speak on the subject or for that matter provide technical information, until I met Vaishali Sinha, Director-Housekeeping, Meluha The Fern. Deloitte India, the professional body that undertakes auditing with certification had recently concluded its 8/8 report at The Fern. Well then, what is this auditing all about?

Before the pandemic, two types of audits were common: mystery audit and TAC audits.

When a mystery audit is to be conducted, the staff at the hotel that is to be scrutinised remains unaware of the audit throughout the audit process. The auditor checks in to the hotel like any other guest, although he has been hired by the management team itself. This person shows up unannounced, and proceeds to examine every guest-facing service to ascertain the quality of customer experience.

For example, this auditor will check if and how he was welcomed by the doorman, whether the doorman was smiling, if he sanitised your bag or not. Once he enters the hotel, he will note down the duration of the check-in process (was it seven minutes or more?), and the attitude of the front-desk staff towards him. After entering his room, he will check for himself if the AC vent is cleaned, the temperature shown by the thermostat, whether bathroom amenities are in place.

While these are par for the course in any reputable hotel, the audit does not stop here. The auditor will also create artificial situations to gauge the ability of the hotel to respond to an unexpected situation. For example, even if the TV is working just fine, he will complain that it isn’t, to check the response time to the complaint. He may deliberately spill something on the carpet, and carefully observe whether the correct equipment and chemicals are being used to clean a specific surface. He may suddenly inform the staff that it is his birthday today, and see how they respond to make his day special. Staff behaviour is monitored throughout, and the staff members discover that they were being audited only when the mystery guest i.e the auditor checks out.

A TAC (Technical Audit Committee) audit does ascertain all this — since the team stays at the property — but it consists of members of the management team, who will of course be known to the hotel staff. In this type of audit, the team checks service delivery as well as adherence to SOPs. For example, if the SOP states that the housekeeping team needs to take an inventory once a month, the auditors will check if this was done in time or not, and if any discrepancy was found. Hence, this is more of a process-oriented SOP.

“Our SOPs require us to allocate a separate washroom for vendors; not only did the auditor scrutinise our documentation for this, but he also went and verified it himself”.
-Vaishali Sinha

Customers’ safety expectations during the pandemic

According to a report published by Deloitte on the changed attitude of guests towards hotels during the pandemic, “One of the biggest challenges companies (hotels) now face is the dynamic nature of (guest) expectations and how quickly the expectations can change. Everyone, regardless of what segment a customer falls into, has changed safety expectations.

” It goes on to say: “People’s view on safety is binary – it either leads to increased trust or no trust at all. Safety and cleanliness have gone from assumed items to single points of failure. If a company fulfils the safety and cleanliness requirements, it is one step closer to a chance of re-engaging with a customer and employee. If customers and employees don’t think their needs have been fulfilled, they could easily select another brand.”

Clearly, safety is the new currency to re-establish trust. According to the ‘Deloitte HX in Uncertainty Survey 2020’, 62% of guests find it important that surfaces are cleaned after each interaction, 59% look out for extra cleaning precautions and preventions taken, and 57% would prefer regular spraying/fogging to disinfect shared furniture/spaces.

About 85% or more of customers surveyed found visible cleaning and hygiene mechanisms to be most or somewhat important to them, and 82% of customers surveyed feel that companies willing to take extra steps to  ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees would make them – the customers – more likely to visit the business.

Most importantly, over half of those surveyed felt that a certification of cleanliness from a trusted authority would make a difference to their perception of a hotel.

A pandemic-oriented audit

Deloitte India combined the findings of the survey along with government guidelines for the hotel industry to come up with a safety and hygiene practices audit that checks the following parameters:

  1. Social distancing and minimum contact between staff and guest
  2. Availability of sanitizer at reception (min 70% alcohol strength)
  3. Guest temperature check using thermal gun at entrance
  4. Availability of proper cleaning equipment and disinfectants
  5. Daily temperature checks of all employees/ vendors entering premises
  6. Guidelines in place for handling suspected and COVID positive guests
  7. Guidelines in place for cleaning room of suspected and COVID-positive guests
  8. Guidelines in place for handling suspected employees and vendors/ service providers

The audit experiences

The Fern group of hotels decided to get all its properties audited. Vaishali Sinha, Director of Housekeeping at Meluha The Fern (Mumbai) said, “Since guests are now more conscious about safety and hygiene, the management chose to get this audit done to make them feel more secure. An auditor from Deloitte came to our hotel after giving 48 hours’ notice; we were also informed of all the documentation he would need to examine. Over four to five hours, he checked all cleaning and hygiene processes, on paper as well as in practice, such as if we are blocking rooms for 24 hours after a guest checks out (for sanitisation), whether we have separate rooms for quarantine if an employee is unwell, our protocols for what we do if a guest suddenly falls sick, etc.”

She continued: “We now have separate checklists for how we are cleaning and sanitising rooms, kitchens, F&B areas and front desk. These were checked by the auditor. Our SOPs require us to allocate a separate washroom for vendors; not only did the auditor scrutinise our documentation for this, but he also went and verified it himself.”

Hence, the auditor’s findings state that all the parameters were physically verified. Meluha the Fern scored eight out of a  maximum score of eight.

This certification allows hotels to publicise their safety and hygiene guidelines as being audited by an independent third-party. This can play a major role in reassuring guests about the hotel’s commitment to Covid guidelines, and hence help it retain existing customers as well as attract new hygieneconscious customers to their property

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