Behind the comforts, perks and amenities of any hotel lies a well-oiled machine that keeps sheets crisp and clean, bathrooms sparkling, rooms functional, staff safe and the property secure. As with any other area of hotel operations, housekeeping is changing with the times in order to ensure the best experience for employees and guests.
Most properties have long committed to leaving a light carbon footprint by adopting recycling and reuse programs, incorporating solar energy and sourcing environmentally friendly products and suppliers.
“It’s certainly important for our group of hotels to use green products,” says Tyson Ghostkeeper, director of Operations for Mouallem Management Group, which operates five Best Western hotels in Alberta. The group sources these products from Ecolab — a global provider of water, hygiene and energy services to food, healthcare and hospitality industries. The company’s products include phosphorus-free, concentrated solid detergent, de-stainers, softeners and neutralizers, as well as EPA-registered alkaline bathroom disinfectants and Green-Seal-Certified plant-derived cleaners.
“They’re concentrated powdered chemicals, so there’s less water used and less water in the chemicals themselves,” says Ghostkeeper, speaking of Ecolab’s products. “The only time we use warm water is when there are stains we can’t get out. But we still don’t have to use scalding hot water and that reduces the [environmental] impact.”
“Sustainability and environmental stewardship are core values of Ecolab and our solutions,” explains Deanne Middleton, Ecolab’s senior Marketing Communications manager. Building on its existing product portfolio, Ecolab also recently launched Aquanomic 2.0, which, according to the company, delivers results using low temperatures.
Gary Collinge, general manager of the Hilton Vancouver Airport, says all Hilton hotels follow standards regarding eco-friendly cleaning solutions, including non-toxic, non-phosphate, non-chlorine and biodegradable products. “They’re all water-based; we don’t use the pre-mixed chemicals,” he says of Hilton’s cleaning systems. “They’re concentrated, so we don’t use as much. We’re also able to use cooler water as opposed to hot.” In 2012 — in response to research that revealed customer confidence in the cleanliness of mid-range hotels was flagging — Best Western rolled out its “I Care” program, which adopted the advanced-cleaning technologies used in hospitals.
“All our housekeepers are equipped with ultra-violet wands that sterilize high-touch points, such as the TV remote, door handles, light switches, telephones and toilet seats,” says Ghostkeeper. “And, they use black lights to show [unclean] surfaces that may not be visible to the human eye.”
In some Best Western properties, blankets and pillows are also sealed in recyclable and biodegradable single-use wraps — providing added peace of mind following recent reports of bed-bug infestations across a range of hotels, costing not only reputations but revenue. “Not being proactive [in pest prevention] can cost a property tens of thousands of dollars, not including legal fees,” says Roger Doyon, senior vice-president and general manager of CleanBrands, which manufactures and supplies bug-bucking encasements for mattresses, box springs, pillows and sofa beds to Marriott and Wyndham hotel properties. The company will soon release a quilted waterproof mattress pad — an encasement that protects against liquids, allergens, bed bugs and financial loss. “In fact, we have developed an ROI tool that will help a property owner calculate these costs. These go beyond remediation to include loss of revenue from the affected and adjacent rooms, loss of restaurant revenue, et cetera.”
With the trend to larger beds, thicker mattresses and pads, open closets and off-the-floor night stands, housekeeping is both helped and hindered in the course of its work. On the down side, a study of 900 Las Vegas housekeepers revealed roughly half of them suffered severe neck and back pain from using heavy vacuum cleaners and pushing loaded carts (some can weigh up to 500 lbs), as well as repetitive-motion injuries from lifting bulky mattresses, making beds that are too close to walls and stretching and stooping while cleaning.
According to the Hamilton, Ont.based Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, a housekeeper changes position every three seconds, with an estimation of 8,000 body positions for every shift. But hotels are designed for the comfort of the guests, not the workers. Still, to reduce injuries, some hotels have invested in lighter vacuum cleaners and carts (with better wheels designed for carpets), implemented job rotation so workers use different muscle groups and instituted team work so housekeepers can alternate between tasks. They’ve also provided training to ensure proper lifting habits, as well as prioritized heavier work for the start of the shift rather than the end, when injury risk is higher.
While most hotels don’t typically make significant design changes with housekeeping in mind, Tru by Hilton offers open closets, wall hooks and shelves tucked under the TV, all for the convenience of its guests, of course, but the extra space also makes for a faster and easier clean for housekeeping.
“There are several trends in room and building design where suppliers have to adapt to bring new solutions to customers,” says Barry Nelson, senior vice-president of Facility Solutions for Veritiv Corp., which provides logistics efficiencies to a wide range of industries, including hotels. “For starters, minimalist design, personalization and smaller spaces are driving changes in inventory requirements, [such as] smaller and more discreet supply carts, increased demand for single-serve coffee brewers…[and] the reduction and sometimes elimination of bathtubs, which are being replaced by showers.” Nelson says that, while rooms are becoming more minimalist, common areas, such as lobbies, are expanding, not only to provide a social space for guests — particularly millennials — but to allow for an increased number amenities, such as fitness/wellness facilities, self-service food options and charging stations.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Most housekeepers work alone, leaving them vulnerable to threats from unsavoury guests and intruders. Ghostkeeper says Best Western protocol is to position carts across room doors, whereas Hilton’s housekeepers pull the carts right into the room with them. “They also close the door behind them and dead bolt it,” says Collinge, “and hang a sign noting that housekeeping is in the room. And they won’t let anyone in.”
At least not without verification. “The housekeeper will always verify the guest’s name with the front desk,” says Ghostkeeper. “They’re also empowered to check guests’ ID and will often escort them down to the front desk to get their forgotten or lost key.” Housekeepers also carry walkie-talkies and enter specific codes from the rooms to signal when they’ve entered and exited.
The balance between guest convenience and property security is an ongoing challenge and most hoteliers have invested in extra training for housekeeping staff, who are often the eyes and ears of management.
“I wouldn’t want housekeeping to engage with [troublesome guests],” says Collinge. “I would want them to get in an elevator and come down to the front desk. But they get training in that kind of thing.”
Ghostkeeper concurs, “It’s always best to avoid confrontation and we discuss [such issues] during onboarding. It’s [revisited] on a case-by-case basis.”
Fortunately, most guests are able to recognize such measures are for their own safety. “We get a really positive response from our guests,” he says. “They see that we’re doing it to protect them.”
Written by Robin Roberts