As the world starts to reopen, consumers will slowly return to traveling in a world that may be waiting for a vaccine for some time yet. Managing the threat of local outbreaks is ever-present. It is now becoming each hotels' worst nightmare that a guest may be able to prove that an infection was contracted in the hotel and worse still - that a hotel will become associated and identified with an outbreak or a hotspot.
While clean rooms have emerged as a competitive advantage, managing the perception that rooms are clean and sterilized has emerged as even more important than the actual quality of cleaning itself.
While room attendants and supervisors have traditionally moved around discreetly to be as invisible as possible, is it time that they now become frontline public relations ambassadors to proudly show off the cleaning effort and visibly engage with guests (at a 6-foot distance) on the floors?
The revision of cleaning standards in hotels had started immediately with the outbreak of the pandemic as some kind of panic erupted. Traditional cleaning methods and the way rooms are checked and released had to be looked at.
Hotel Housekeepers who keep themselves in the loop on new hygiene practices and are pioneers in the testing and evaluation of new cleaning techniques surely could adapt quickly to new cleaning practices.
In fact, infection control has been a subject for many years and should have been implemented in hotels a long time ago.
The pandemic has not only brought the basics to light but has urged hotel chains to come up with more rigorous methods of sanitizing their public and private spaces of the hotels, such as the electron static sprayers
Cleaning is no longer a cost center. The pandemic has thought us the value of clean and the importance of well-sanitized guest rooms. A hotel's reputation can quickly go down by not following protocol and having loopholes in the standard cleaning practices. Remember: Housekeeping provides a service with a human touch; they underpin guest's safety and support the business to be successful. Before, during, and after the pandemic.
Cleaning is an intangible service. For years we have put points on toilet paper and done special touches to make cleaning visible, while in fast food restaurants, companies have posted an “inspected by” list. These are examples of what Dr. Theodore Levitt of Harvard called “Tangibalising the Intangible”. In the time of COVID, we need to look for more ways to make cleaning evident to the guest.
Hotels have tried to do this by rolling out programs, often with partners such as cleaning companies or hospitals, to assure the consumer that spaces will be clean. The fact that every brand has done this means that there is no competitive advantage in these programs - they are merely what is required to get into a consumer's consideration set.
Cleaning has now become theatre. We need it to be visible and constant, and nothing may detract from that perception. Never before has grooming been more important for our staff and maintenance been more important for our facilities. Tools like robotic vacuums and floor scrubbers can provide constant reminders to guests of cleaning underway.
Evidence of inspection and measurement is also important. This is often done by visible and frequent supervision, but with margins under attack, that becomes expensive. I would strongly suggest that the industry start to set standards and measurements for what “clean” actually is. Standards today speak to the lack of dirt or visible marks. However, we know that just because a surface looks clean, it may still be very contaminated. I would strongly recommend that hotels use A3 technologies to measure the actual cleanliness of key areas. This should form part of the evaluation of cleaning performance for Housekeeping teams and could be published to customers. If companies start to do this, it will push others to adopt these rigorous standards thus resulting in higher standards for our industry. Remember, as a destination or an industry, we are only as strong as our weakest link…
There is an expectation from our guests and our team members to maintain social distancing as we carry out daily tasks in guest rooms. Therefore in order to create "peace of mind" our sanitation and hygiene protocols are communicated electronically via in-room/guest elevator information channels and social media.
Public area attendants who I refer to as our "frontline team" have become more visible with the increased frequency of cleanliness and sanitation specifically washrooms and high touch areas where there is an expectation from our gaming, retail customers, and team members to have a visible presence in front and heart of house areas.
The evolution of our guest's needs never ceases to amaze me but the one priority that runs through all is confidence and trust in the hotel management team. The housekeeper team is no longer a silent contributor but an active advocate and communicator of not just what they are doing but what policies are in place to ensure the safety and security of Guests and at present that centers around hygiene.
I would certainly hope so. After all, the main purpose of any hotel is to provide the customer with a clean and safe environment where to spend one or more nights. Sadly, over the years, this focus has somehow shifted.
The pressure of margins has ensured that most hoteliers went for the cheapest option, the less possible cleaning time spent in the room, using as uncomplicated protocols as possible.
Too often, whenever Housekeeping got media attention, it was because of negative messages.
Having developed a safety and hygiene protocol, we have been receiving feedback from guests to the effect that they are interested to know how their room has been made clean and safe.
We're convinced that adding the WHO did this, is a welcome and positive message, showcasing the room attendants and giving them back some well-deserved attention.
After all, they are essential in the process of providing clean rooms to the customers.
They deserve some time in the sun. After all, the rooms department contributes to much more procentual profit.
And it can add some more human factor, some more emotions in an industry that needs it.
Everybody agrees on one thing - guests are trying to keep away from the Housekeeping staff, and the housekeepers are trying to stay away from the guests. Many hotels are not even offering room cleaning throughout the guest's stay and when they are, many guests are declining the service. This is not the case for Public Areas, however, particularly the F&B outlets and bathrooms, where it is increasingly important that cleaning is more frequent and very visible.
Therefore, it is still not the time Rooms Attendants and Supervisors become public relations ambassadors. But should a guest ask any member of staff a question on their cleaning protocols it is critical that every employee be able to respond with clarity and confidence?
Hotel brands are putting their cleaning staff more on the forefront now to showcase the (additional) cleaning that takes place in marketing videos. It is vital during this pandemic to have clean surfaces that might be overlooked at different times.
The new way of cleaning, which is also more sustainable, could move to deep-cleaning/disinfecting at check-out only. More time should be given to housekeeping to clean rooms between check-out and check-in. Now, most room attendants receive 20 minutes? Then with stay-overs, less time can be spent on cleaning, where only turn-down service/touch-up service can be delivered with a PR possibility of these room attendants to show off their cleaning effort. Additional cleaning efforts in communal areas will also be appreciated by both guests and staff to ensure less exposure to the virus.
I totally agree that housekeepers should walk tall and proud during this time. At LUXXE, we celebrate our "Hygiene Heroes" and they all wear a badge so guests and management are intrigued to ask them "what is a Hygiene Hero?" The staff member can then proceed to explain that they have been elected to this role by their peers and they are given special training and paid a higher hourly rate to take on the added responsibility of ensuring the Housekeeping Department is compliant and that COVID safe cleaning methodologies are being upheld at all times. They conduct weekly audits and observations that are recorded on one of our online platforms and can then be audited further by our Compliance Manager on a national level.
The expectation of a cleanroom has evolved from one that is 'dust and debris free' to one that is 'germ-free'. Even a sticker seal in the door cannot ensure that trust. The value for hotels however lies in turning a guest's trust into confidence that a germ-free environment awaits them in their room.
So how can we instill that confidence? One option is for an independent body to provide regular auditing and testing, with those test results having the visibility to come to a prospective guest's attention. This body does not exist yet and hotels are still building trust based on either a self-assessment of service and obvious advertising work, negating the efficiency of those measures.
Humans trust what they observe and see the most.
Observing room and public area attendants at work may therefore be the most effective way to convert trust into confidence - confidence that a hotel is taking their duty of care seriously and guests are therefore in good hands, being able to trust the hotel with their life.
We should no longer try to hide the activities of our cleaning team but make their activities obvious. As guests walk through a corridor we want them to observe attendants in clean uniform wearing the appropriate PPE, we want to ensure that room service trays, dirty linen bags, and other used items are hygienically handled and out of sight, we want the tools visible and teach our people not to discreetly disappear when a guest approaches but proudly show off the care they take, all while stepping aside to provide appropriate distance. We may even place a sign outside the room to advise that we are creating a clean and virus-free environment for the next arriving guest. Only when we enable a guest to observe the care we take with their own eyes, will we be able to turn an expectation into trust and then confidence. The confidence that they are safe.
And by the way - the same goes for public area attendants - only that they are even more visible. It may even be argued that a visible cleaner in the lobby area is just as important as an ambassador for the hotel as an engaging doorman!
Housekeeping professionals always played an important role in delivering the guest journey: behind the scene [Heart (not Back!) of House] and guest-facing.
While the service delivered by housekeeping professionals in hotels is designed to be invisible - just as cleaning happens by magic, the presence of the housekeeping team as ambassadors of the hotel was always part of the role. Most hotel guests interact with the housekeeping team on a regular basis.
Housekeeping usually only gets noticed when the service delivery goes wrong - despite attempts to make it visible and give it a 'name' by e.g. providing cards stating who took care of the cleaning activities. In light of the pandemic, hotels are making an effort to highlight their housekeeping activities, which hopefully leads to giving the housekeeping department the attention it always supposed to get.
For housekeeping professionals, it is important to be equipped with the right tools and knowledge to deliver (enhanced) cleaning routines. Not to forget the additional training requirements needed to ensure the team members can deliver the right (marketing) message consistently to the guests. It's a great opportunity to review risk assessments, training documentation, and methods to ensure the housekeeping operation can firstly operate safely for guests and employees alike, and secondly, the communication is spot on delivering key messages managing the guests' perceptions.