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Continuing pre-eminence of good housekeeping

In the past few years, the hospitality sector has rapidly expanded with the rise of online aggregators such as AirBnb and Booking.com, which have brought a diverse range of staying options under their ambit. Individual rooms in houses, homestays, service apartments, affordable hostels, luxury villas and other unique alternatives have all become available to discerning customers, in addition to conventional hotel rooms, which also continue to grow exponentially. With this trend, many departments in conventional departments have become less relevant for these newer options, but the housekeeping department remains as important as ever.

A survey of travellers found that after the location of the property, the next most common factor which customers use to choose a stay option is the cleanliness of the hotel – the responsibility of which falls entirely on the shoulders of the housekeeping staff.

Perception of housekeepers

Despite how integral they are to the working and the image of a hotel, the housekeepers still receive step-motherly treatment from hotel managers. This is principally because by definition, they work behind the scenes; they do their tasks before a guest arrives or after the guest has left, and rarely get to interact with the guest himself. They are expected to remain unseen. When the guest encounters a cleanliness problem, the housekeeper is blamed but if the guest praises the neatness and cleanliness of his room, the housekeeper is not given credit.

On the other hand, there is an emerging trend for housekeepers in the industry to be able to rise to the level of general managers.

Dwindling interest in becoming a housekeeper

The single biggest challenge that many housekeepers face is the lack of properly trained staff. In recent years, housekeeping is not being perceived as a desirable profession. The intake of women joining the profession is particularly low, while the retention of existing staff also poses a challenge. At great risk to personal safety, many women are taking up jobs in the service sector abroad, rather than working in their home countries.

The housekeeping sector needs to work as one to find innovative ways that can collectively solved this problem. One is to introduce school and college students (as well as their teachers and principals) to the vocation, by organising tours of hotels and their back-end areas, to showcase a hospitable work environment and good staff facilities. It is important to impress upon them that there are structured avenues for career development available in the profession; today’s room attendant can become tomorrow’s housekeeper.

The bottom line remains that after including service charge and bonuses, a member of the housekeeping staff can earn a good living and live comfortably.

The effect of social media

Customer expectations are changing at a very rapid pace, and they are becoming increasingly demanding. Their expectations – even from housekeeping – are Influenced by what they see on their social media, which has become a substantially powerful tool for consumers.

A good review can elevate the perception of the property, while a bad one can send its fortunes into a nosedive. A guest who shares a negative experience at your property in their network will never come back to your property, nor will anyone in his social network. In today’s reputation economy, customers can view reviews of other guests and make purchasing decisions based on this.

On the other hand, a rare appreciative post from a guest can make the hotel more attractive to others than any conventional form of marketing.

Tech and housekeeping

Technology has streamlined housekeeping operations. It helps staff make in-the-moment job decisions, and helps reduce the time interval between a guest checking out and the next guest checking in, making the latter’s wait shorter. It prioritises which rooms need to be cleaned first, and pays special attention to late checkouts that require prompt cleaning and larger rooms that require more time for cleaning.

The cleaning status of a room can be communicated to the front desk in real time; the latter can manage check-ins accordingly. It also helps rationalise room inventory and restocking. Checklists can be brought online. When relying on technology, supervisors need to spend less time on monitoring the cleaning and can have the bandwidth to add special touches to the room, such as chocolates or flowers. They have the time to identify specific guest preferences, and cater to them.

Tech has to be an enabler rather than creating a barrier between people. By going digital, one can reduce costs, improve access to information, have more flexibility in working, and gain better procurement intelligence.

Source of solutions

Gone are the days when one or two people decided how to solve a problem, and implemented their solutions using a top-down approach. Team members who actually do the task themselves can come up with ideas to improve productivity, which improves the hotel’s bottom line. They need to be incentivised to come up with ideas, and rewarded for them, since very often, they know best.

Nor are all solutions the products of the brainstorming of just an internal team; solutions are now co-created with suppliers.

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