Budgeting for housekeeping and cleaning is probably the topmost question which is being much debated at many forums and needs to be zeroed in with the New Year setting in.
Why is budgeting for housekeeping and cleaning a big question today?
What is vital when it comes to making a spend on cleaning in the present scenario?
Are we prepared to make a decision on increasing the allocation of funds for housekeeping in the coming budget?
In the following article, Clean India Journal takes you through various discussions, decisions and debates giving insights into what kind of allocations will go into housekeeping in the coming budget and how to make an effective plan.
This topic was also discussed at the opening session of the just-concluded International Housekeepers’ Summit 2020. As Tatjana Ahmed, Housekeeping Manager-Grand Hyatt Dubai, the moderator for the conversation bluntly put it on the behalf of the hospitality housekeepers, “We have already been struggling with costs before the pandemic, but the optimism for a quick recovery from the financial hardships of the Covid-19 economy quickly evaporated.”
Instead, housekeepers across the world were scurrying to guarantee guest safety during a period when no one really knew how that was possible, and information from reliable sources kept changing as scientists investigated the virus and its transmission more and more. Business continuity became paramount, and housekeeping was critical for this; no one had the time to budget. As Ahmed put it, “It is easier to commit to safety protocols than to budget for them.”
For too long, housekeeping has been perceived merely as an expense department. Hotel management has never regarded it as among the most important departments, until now. So, it was particularly rewarding to hear a hotel manager acknowledge its impact, and role in the new normal. Explaining why housekeeping budgeting is necessary, Aveek Sengupta, GMTaj Ahmedabad said: “The housekeeping budget is tied to the hotel budget, and the hotel budget to the company budget, which in turn is under the scrutiny of shareholders and investors”. Hence, the housekeeping budget has a tangible impact on the financial health and reputation of a hospitality company.
Can one plan a budget in a pandemic?
With second and third waves manifesting themselves in some parts of the world on one hand and some countries reopening fully with no restrictions on the other, no one knows what’s coming next. At first thought, it seems as though housekeepers in each region will have to wait for restrictions to be lifted to assess demand, and tie this to the budget. But can they afford to wait for demand to rise before responding to it? Earlier, the budget — if decided — was decided on the basis of historical sales and occupancy figures. These bear no relevance anymore; a hotel that was almost empty in une may find itself declining enquiries in August, based on multiple factors. Ruvini Ranasooriya, Housekeeping Consultant and CEO-The Skills Developers, Sri Lanka, suggests: “Assume you have zero occupancy, then see how much you need to spend. Public areas will still need to be cleaned every day. Determine which other areas are being used, and which are dormant, and budget accordingly.”Meenu Tognatta, Divisional Housekeeper-ITC India suggested preparing budgets in advance for two situations — 35% occupancy and 65% occupancy, and implementing one of the two plans based on sales. These budgets are not static, but should be reviewed every month or every fortnight.
How to curtail the budget
“Since leisure travelling is low,” said Marika Vekakis, Executive Housekeeper at Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, Egypt, “The budget will depend on sales and revenue”. While many premium hotels have been indiscriminately spending on disinfection and sanitisation – and understandably so – there will have to be some tightening of the drawstring when it comes to other housekeeping spends. Amenities may be the first casualty. Does every room need flowers? Do all public areas need to be covered in petals? Why not ask for flowers only in the areas with the most footfall, like the front desk or dining areas? It is a hard truth, but some contracts will need to be discontinued. As we have laid out in previous articles, many hotels are going in for clutter-free rooms where amenities are provided only on request.
Manpower — Retain or cut?
Housekeepers across the board are unanimous in insisting that all full-time staff need to be retained. When demand rises again — as it is bound to at some point — these people will need to be ready on the ground, prepared. Vekakis suggested not hiring anyone new to replace employees who leave or retire. Productivity has taken a hit; with new norms, it takes longer for an individual or a team to clean a room. Financially speaking, less work is being done for the same amount of money, but this is not an accurate inference. According to Sengupta, “Low productivity is okay, since long term reputation — which depends on consistently maintained safety and hygiene standards — is more important.” He stated a cold truth: “Room attendants are already the\ lowest paid associates of a hotel. A one-month salary is approximately equal to the cost of two room nights. There is nothing much to be gained from firing employees.”
ITC has decided to spend more on consumables which are guest facing, which are necessary to maintain standards. Attendants still need to be well dressed, linen needs to be replaced if worn out — one cannot be stingy when it comes to basic guest experience. Responding to a new virus, it is also investing in ozonators, backpack and cordless vacuum cleaner, and compensating for the difficulty in finding skilled manpower by procuring robotic window cleaners. Even during economic hardship during a pandemic, ITC is investing in its reputation and future. In her last word, Tognatta pointed out something that all housekeepers need to stand up for. “We have a separate budget for PPE and chemicals, which are used by all other departments but billed as an expense to housekeeping.” CFOs need to realise that when housekeeping buys, it buys for everyone.