TORONTO — In partnership with Ecolab, Hotelier magazine hosted its first-ever Housekeeping Forum yesterday at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto.

The forum, designed for housekeeping, industry and commercial cleaning professionals, brought together approximately 80 attendees from across the country to exchange ideas, network and examine current trends in the sector — including outsourcing, the challenges of hiring top staff and the impact of technology and products on the housekeeping department.

The event included four panels addressing important industry topics as well as a number of Power 10 — Tips in 10 Minutes sessions conducted by forum sponsors Canadian Hotel Supply, Knowcross, Novility and Ecolab. The sessions included product demonstrations and insight into ways to run housekeeping and laundry operations more efficiently.

People Count
Hiring, training and diversity were the first topics of the day. Panelists, including Richard Croshere of Novility, Isabel Carreiro from Doubletree Hilton Downtown, Margaret Readings, operational consultant for CK Atlantis and Park Hyatt Toronto’s executive housekeeper Paul Gingras discussed how they find, train and retain good housekeeping staff.

According to Carreiro, hiring for the housekeeping has become easier, thanks in large part to online recruiting sites. “There’s a lot out there now for hiring and posting positions, versus the word-of-mouth and referrals we relied on in the past. It’s much easier now to find applicants who meet the job qualifications,” she said.

Gingras taps schools, such as Toronto-based New Arrivals, when he needs to hire in his department. He also recommended local schools and institutes as a source of employees. But, he warns, how you interview potential employees is very important. “If they are intimidated when they arrive, it’s hard for them to come on board; if you make them relaxed in the interview, they will do better.”

Another resource, said Readings, is the Hospitality Workers Training Centre, a not-for-profit organization, which trains new immigrants and refugees as well as people with disabilities for entry level positions.

All the panelists agreed that language barriers aren’t as prevalent a problem within hotel housekeeping departments as they once were, thanks to new training technology/programs available in a number of languages. “We’ve found if employees learn in their native language, they retain the training better and for a longer period of time,” said Croshere, whose company created a gamified training program available in dozens of languages.

“Also, applicants are more educated now,” said Carreiro. “Many hold bachelor degrees in other fields but can’t find positions they trained for.”

The case for outsourcing
The second panel of the day took on the sometimes contentious issue of outsourcing hotel housekeeping and laundry operations. Supplier panelists Evan Chu from Jani-King and Paritosh Kumar of Knowcross sat down with housekeeping executives Philippa Akyeampong from Westin Harbour Castle and Nicole Stewart from the Fairmont Royal York to discuss the pros and cons out outsourcing operations in order to increase efficiency.

According to Stewart and Akyeampong, the decision to outsource some or all of a hotel’s housekeeping needs comes down to hotel-specific operational needs — mainly cost-savings and labour. “You have to look mostly at the bottom line,” says Akyeampong. “If you’re outsourcing, it has to be profitable to your organization.”

“I find I need to remind [housekeeping departments] our goal is not to come in and take control,” said Chu. “It’s about working together. At the end of the day our goals are the same — we want to ensure the customers walking in are satisfied with their stay. In order for that to happen the rooms have to be cleaned properly.”

Guest satisfaction is important because “if you outsource but it results in lower guest satisfaction, there’s no point,” Akyeampong added.

According to Kumar, there’s a fine line between financial efficiency and guest satisfaction. “In order for us to walk that fine line, the whole process needs to be less people-oriented. Time and effort has to be invested in defining and standardizing the functions and processes because once that is done, whether its internal people or outsourced, they can simply follow that process and get the same results.”

“Maintaining communication is extremely important when outsourcing aspects of hotel cleaning,” said Akyeampong, adding the communication has to be ongoing. “You can’t wait two months and then bring all your complaints to your outsourcing partner at once.”

Keeping it green
A panel on trends in Sustainable Products and Practices wrapped up the morning, starting with insight from Rachel Dobbs, director of Sustaining Tourism. She focused on what hotels are doing to create more sustainable housekeeping operations. “There are four major trends — outsourcing, continuous batch washing (using water from first load to wash the next) and waterless washing, staff training and linen re-use programs.”

Cost has emerged as a major driver for sustainability efforts. For every dollar a hotel spends on housekeeping, cited Dobbs, 35 to 55 per cent goes to labour costs, 15 to 25 cent goes to linin replacement, energy use accounts for 10 to 30 per cent and chemicals eat up five to 10 per cent. “That’s where today’s trends are moving,” said Dobbs, “to address to costs.”

For hotels, there are a number of advantages to undertaking sustainable practices — and for working with suppliers that think the same way, said Frank Stripoli, director of Operations at the Toronto Marriott Downtown. “It’s not only on the cost per room occupied perspective, but it’s also feeling good about the community and lessening the pollution out there.

“Guests in general are starting to look for it more,” said Gillian Carnovale, director of Housekeeping at the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. “It’s starting to be something in their own personal lives that they’re very conscious about. It’s starting to be reflected in their travel and hotel choices. Hotel brands need to be mirroring that.”

Suppliers also have to do their part, said Masoud Roomani, district manager at Ecolab. “The demand is there and everyone is trying to do their part. As a company we’re doing our best to satisfy the demand [for sustainable products, such as our cold water washing system and offering products in bags instead of buckets to reduce packaging. We train staff to use the products in an efficient way.”

The bottom line, said Dobbs, is that “Guests expect hotels to be greener. They aren’t going to ask about it at the front desk they just expect it.”

Expert insights
The final panel of the day brought together hotel housekeeping veterans to talk about major trends impacting industry. Caring for staff was a hot topic, with all five panelists agreeing the health and well-being of room attendants needs to be a top priority for hotels.

“We’re really focusing on the health and safety of our workers,” said Gillian Jarromillo, director of Rooms at the Chelsea Hotel. “We want them to be able to work comfortable and safely so we’re switching our training to spend more time on health and safety. In the future, we’d like to see this focus from the beginning of training for new room attendants.”

Changing the perception of the job was another focus cited in the last panel of the day. According to Denyse Fishwick, director of Housekeeping at the Sheraton Centre Hotel Toronto, that starts from the top. “We give our room attendants pride…I think that’s really where we can take our performance to the next level.”

Hanging over the heads of all hotels, according to the panel, is the increased use of online review sites when selecting hotels. “The information is all out there, from room rates to the state of the hotel, and it’s hard to keep up with,” says Jarromillo. “People want to go online and talk about what they like and don’t like. I’m not sure it’s a good trend — people are so quick to criticize. And they’re shopping around.”

Technology is giving hotels a leg-up in all departments, and housekeeping is no exception. From equipment that helps room attendants do their jobs more efficiently, to scheduling software that saves managers’ time, to data-collecting tools that help operators better know their guests.

“I think we look at our data much more than we did before,” said Fishwick, citing customer information as valuable insight into how her staff can help enhance guest experience.

Industry Excellence
Rosanna Caira, editor and publisher of Hotelier, also presented the inaugural Housekeeper of the Year Award to Paul Gingras, executive housekeeper at the Park Hyatt Toronto. “This award is for everyone here,” said Gingras, who has been a staple of the hotel industry for 50 years.

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