Participants of the discussion:
Priya Nandakumar, Executive Housekeeper, The Oberoi, Bangalore
Usha Ramalingam, Corporate Housekeeper, The Raintree Hotels, Chennai
Asha Premkumar, GM-Housekeeping, Royal Orchid Hotels, Bangalore
Shirin Jayaraam, Executive Housekeeper, Vivanta By Taj, Bangalore
Bindu Neel, Corporate Housekeeper, The Paul resorts and Hotels, Bangalore
Vinita Chaudhary, Director- Housekeeping, The Park, Bangalore
Vijaya Lakshmi Rajkumar, Corporate Manager, GRT hotels and Resorts, Chennai
Bharathi Kamath, MD, Carewel Facilities India Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore
Rajani Ghatage, CEO, Comfort Inn Vijay Residency, Bangalore
Jayashree Nagraj, Vice President-Operations, SA Group of Hospitality Management & Consultancy, Bangalore
Sunita Srinivasan, Principal, PES Institute of Hotel Management, Bangalore
Non-availability of professional service providers befitting hotel’s specialised requirements dwindling skilled labour and decreasing brand image consciousness could be some of the main reasons for hotels outsourcing. However, a select few hotels have engaged professional service providers who are in tune with the quality and standards expected of such premises. While value addition and upgradation are common to all sectors, service providers too have evolved with the quality of deliverables bringing in some visible changes in the housekeeping scenario in hotels.
“Housekeeping has undergone a sea of change in the years. The technological advancement has yielded better and efficient results in the sector, but the fundamentals have remained the same,” said Bharathi Kamath, of Carewel Facilities India Pvt. Ltd. “Today, housekeeping is cost centric but it plays a pivotal role in building and enhancing the image of a hotel.”
There is no denying that even though a hotel’s image is judged through the rating, guests assess the appearance of the interiors and exteriors as they arrive and scan the litter-free walkways, shining floors, stainless carpets, dust-free furniture, organized room accessories, stain-free bathrooms, fragrance in the air… which all indicate the cleanliness levels the hotel maintains.
Checking the cleanliness standards of the hotel has become the guests prerogative in order to ease anxiety over germs, bugs and grime as they look forward to their stay. Indicating a change in the customer’s profile as well, Priya Nandakumar of The Oberoi said, “The profile of guests has changed leading to a change in the expectations from the industry. Quality services and value for money have become major concerns forcing the housekeepers to adapt to the changing trends to make sure that the guest satisfaction levels are always on the top. Indian travellers have gained global experience on the service standards in the hospitality sector and demand only the best.”
In agreement, Shirin Jayaraam of Vivanta By Taj commented, “The guests now do not accept any imperfections and expect high quality customised services. They are always on the lookout for the ‘wow’ factor that can make their stay at a hotel memorable.”
No more a backdoor process, either due to the rising expectations from guests’ side or to keep up the demand, housekeeping has got central attention in hospitality. Vijaya Lakshmi Rajkumar of GRT Hotels said, “The availability of options has allowed the guests to pick and choose the kind of service they desire. The housekeeper now has to pay special attention on guest requirement and comfort. The guest needs are given high priority and are now considered right from the project planning stage.”
Hence, the cost of housekeeping is not an expense but investment. Sunita Srinivasan of PES Institute of Hotel Management highlighted the essentiality saying, “Every hotel has to invest in housekeeping, as every guest entering a hotel, even budget hotels, feels the need to be treated like a king. Standards have to be maintained and cost cannot be a factor for it. Innovative methods can be used to provide quality services at low cost.”
Guests returning to a particular facility depend very much on the connect they have established with it. Therefore, guests are expected to visit again. The long lasting relationship has to be built through turn-down/value-added services of housekeeping. “Besides cleaning, the housekeeper has taken on more responsibilities and has also become the marketing and relationship manager of a hotel. A relationship is built with the guests and a link is always maintained. In case of long stays, parties are organised for guests where the HODs including the executive housekeeper are invited. The housekeepers now intimately interact with guests to know more about their preferences and needs,” says Vinita Chaudhary of The Park.
Inculcating the Next level Need
Housekeeping in real sense, in today’s world of hospitality, is no more about mere cleanliness and upkeep. These elements form a fundamental expectation for discerning travelers.
The industry is currently witnessing one of the most challenging phases with poor growth of the Indian economy, low growth in inbound travel, a weak Indian rupee against the US dollar, and room supply overshooting demand. There is a need to pitch housekeeping services as one of the key differentiators for guest choice. This involves ‘holistic management of guest experience and expectation in highly customized and innovative ways.’
Housekeepers need to review their role as far more than monitoring and delivering a clean and hygienic product. A Housekeeper also needs to have a better understanding of what housekeeping as a strategic management entails.
In a popular survey conducted across over 7000 discerning travelers, “ quality of housekeeping services” and “quality of sleep” were the two top notch criteria most considered while choosing hotels. Customer retention is a huge responsibility and the role of housekeeping in this regard can be manifold. A clean and well maintained product combined with efficient services can definitely tip the scales in the required direction.
Housekeepers need to emphasize on recruiting right personnel and even more so on retaining them. However the entry level housekeeping job is extremely laborious, hence only an enlightened and a more open societal approach can help newcomers understand the opportunities ahead.
Hotel management institutions need to paint a more realistic picture in terms of sharing timelines to make it big, as there is a gap between aspirations and reality.
In housekeeping, the management is mostly remote; in other words, the employees who are at the forefront and deliver the service are the entry level team, hence there is a huge need for communication to be not just basic but impactful enough to meet not under the expected result but also to sensitively deliver the unexpected.
The new age guests are well informed travelers who have experienced almost every kind of technology, hence the product itself has little chances to overwhelm- it is the softer aspects and personalized service which can make that connect.
Executive Housekeeper, Trident, Mumbai
There several success stories quoted. Soma Bay in Egypt, once a moony land has become one of the most preferred destinations of tourists in the world. Such changes are partly due the turn-down services provided by five stars hotels.Turn-down services have been in practice to keep up the value added services helping in connecting the chord.
Speaking on the same, Shirin commented, “The term turn-down comes with services like removing the cushions, lowering the duvets and opening or closing the curtains according to the time of the day; thus increasing the comfort of the guest. Such services are essentially refreshing, customized and provided undisturbed without infringing on the privacy of the guests. This is a recent trend seen in the housekeeping sector.” For such services the staff has to be trained to be an observer and assertive for the comfort of the guests.
The ambience of the hotel, amenities and services along with the replacing of used products from the room can surprise and engage the guest. Things are done keeping the guest in mind. A gift for a single traveller, a surprise for first time traveller, considering preferences of a long staying guest and taking special care for a jet lagged guest like ear plugs, sound proof room or special menu do add value to guests’ experience making it memorable.
Guests are now accustomed to high quality services. Bindu Neel of The Paul Resorts indicated, “The guests are traveling more globally and are aware of the services entitled to them. The housekeeping cannot afford to be lax in providing services.”
Not every hotel can afford to provide the turn-down service argued Asha Premkumar of The Royal Orchid. “A turn-down service is expensive, but for a five star hotel, it is a necessity as a guest pays accordingly and the expectations are high too. But, in the case of two star or three star hotels, it would not be feasible to provide the same five star quality service. It is important to be alert and know the guest well, so that only required services are provided without escalating costs.”
Arguing from a practical point of view in the present scenario, Rajani Ghatage, CEO, Comfort Inn Vijaya Residency adds “In the middle-range hotels, the turn-down service has become redundant, since many corporate clients are hardly in the room to make use of this service that is done twice in a day. It is a waste of time and energy of the housekeepers.”