Hotelier, GTHA Housekeeping Forum Event

TORONTO — More than 260 hospitality professionals gathered last week on June 3, 2024 at the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto for Hotelier’s ninth-annual Housekeeping Forum and the Greater Toronto Hotel Association’s (GTHA) third-annual Hotel Summit, marking Hotelier’s first hybrid event in partnership with the GTHA.

The afternoon program kicked off with Nicole Di Tomasso, associate editor at Kostuch Media Ltd., leading a panel discussion on innovation from the supply side, and how suppliers are helping to make the housekeeping department more efficient and hygienic, especially during these days of labour shortages.

Panellists included Andrew Rees, Corporate Accounts manager, Ecolab; Shivank Savant, director of Housekeeping, Marriott Downtown at CF Toronto Eaton Centre; Greg Staley, GM, E-Pro Bot; and Devin Kufske, Business Development manager, Maxtech Innovation.

Savant set the stage for the discussion by highlighting changes in standard operating procedures and the housekeeping department over the last few years. “We’ve all seen this big shift since the pandemic when it comes to disinfecting high-touch areas in the hotel. It’s something our guests want to see, especially in the public areas — it’s those doorknobs, front desks, credit-card terminals — that’s a big deal for our guests right now,” he said, adding the ongoing labour shortage as well as shifting guest preferences is seeing a rise in opt-in housekeeping services. “That totally changed how we how we manage our labour and it’s caused that trickle-down effect into our checklists.”

He said his team has tried to incorporate more technology into its day-to-day operations. “Just a couple of years ago, we used to use radios to communicate throughout the building. Now we moved to iPhones. Earlier today we spoke about GXP as well, and GXP headsets have been a big change for us.”

His team also focuses on tracking guests’ preferences and requests to personalize each guest experience.

According to Rees, suppliers have also had to innovate to keep up with these shifts, and many cleaning products have undergone a revolution and are more efficient and less harmful to the environment.

“Ecolab has always designed products and programs to maximize positive impact and our goal has always been to help our customers with their sustainability goals, their safety goals, and their productivity gains within their operations. And we look at this at every level,” he said. “There’s a lot of challenges that are posed post-COVID with disinfecting cleaning. Did we have one product for cleaning? Then did we have another for disinfecting? What was the dwell time? So now we’re designing products that can be used on multi-surfaces, multi-areas and it’s easier to train the staff and onboard them with becoming familiar with them. We’re also thinking about the packaging they come in, the concentration, what our use cost is and how long the product will last.”

The conversation shifted to the use of robotics in the hotel industry, which Staley said has been slower to be adopted than in other parts of the world. “It’s been huge in Europe and Asia since about 2010 and it keeps getting stronger. In fact, most hotels you go to in Europe already have room-service robots that will take goods from the kitchen to deliver room service, or take care of laundry needs.”

He said the slow adoption rate in Canada is due to few factors, including awareness and fear of job losses. “We never sell robots to replace people. This is one of our policies,” he stressed. “They’re the ultimate assistant so we actually sell robots to help keep people employed.”

A topic that garnered interest among attendees was bed bugs — more specifically, how technology can help eliminate the problem — as Toronto was recently named as the ‘buggiest city’ for the seventh-consecutive year by Orkin Canada.

“Seven straight years as the bed buggiest city is something we want to turn around,” said Kufske, whose company has introduced a new bed-bug trap that draws the bugs in and then has an indicator light to let housekeeping staff know the trap has done its job. “A housekeeper can now walk in to a hotel room and instead of inspecting it for bedbugs, they simply look at the device and if it has a red light, you have bedbugs; no light, carry on to the next room. So, we’re saving hotels a lot of time and time is of the essence.”

The Fight for Talent

The topic of recruitment and retention strategies was next on the agenda, with Dr. Altaf Sovani, founder & CEO, Alzen Inc. leading a panel that included Anna Chartres, Human Resources executive, Fairmont Royal York; Bonnie Strome, GM, Park Hyatt Toronto; and Adam Morrison, president & CEO, OTEC.

The conversation focused on the importance of understanding and catering to the needs and preferences of different generations in the workforce, particularly millennials and Gen Z. Leadership was emphasized as crucial for retaining talent through a shared purpose of caring for people to do their best. Speakers also discussed challenges of employee retention, particularly for international students, and the need for a balance between work and life. Additionally, they highlighted the importance of showcasing diversity and inclusivity in employer branding, leveraging technology in recruitment, and addressing workforce challenges faced by immigrant groups.

“Our industry strives for quality of service, and that’s what we provide to our customers,” said Sovani to kick off the discussion. “The customers have changed since COVID and expectations are higher so we have to look at are we spending enough training dollars on our workforce to offer that level of service?”

He then asked panellists to share the most pressing recruitment and retention challenges they currently have in their organization, and how they’re addressing them.

According to Strome, the challenge lies in telling the story of what they do as a hotel and then figure out how to get employees on board. “We also have a shared mindset across the leadership team that it’s everyone’s job to retain, and it’s everyone’s job to make sure that we are making employees the best that they can be at the job they’re hired for. So really making sure that purpose permeates throughout all levels of our organization is the piece that I find to be a challenge, but a rewarding challenge that we’re still on a journey towards.”

Chartres said today’s employees want to know the value proposition when looking for a job. “People that are applying are tech savvy. So don’t kid yourself, every room attendant has a phone in their pocket and they’re using it. They’re reading the reviews online, they’re finding out about you as a business and what’s important,” she said, adding the industry as a whole has some reputation damage to fix, “so attracting the young millennials and the younger kids out of school and trying to figure out how to attract people back into the industry is important.”

Fostering Workplace Mental Health

Fostering mental health in your hotel’s housekeeping department is crucial for the well-being of staff. But conversations around mental health can be difficult to initiate and many employees are unaware of what supports are available to them. In a panel discussion led by KML’s managing editor Amy Bostock, panellists examined employee-wellness strategies from the perspectives of hotel HR departments, third-party support providers and the housekeeping department itself and provided advice and how to access support, both in and outside the hotel.

Bostock was joined on stage by Holly Esnard, director Of Housekeeping, St. Regis Toronto; Debbie Garshon, senior director, Clinical, Greenshield Health; Georgia Sanderson, director Of Human Resources, Hyatt Regency Toronto; and Hassel Aviles, founding director, Not 9to5.

The discussion touched on the crucial need for mental-health support in the hospitality industry, particularly in the housekeeping department and the panellists addressed the importance of easily accessible resources, culturally sensitive and trauma-informed support, and creating a safe space for employees to discuss their mental health. They also emphasized the need for accommodations in the workplace to support mental wellbeing and the importance of confidentiality in mental-health resources.

Sanderson said one of the biggest issues she’s seeing in the hotel space when it comes to workplace mental health is burnout and the long hours. “The other big issue most employees are dealing with now is heightened customer problems. And the way that customers deal with those problems is very different post COVID. People are demanding more and there’s more avenues for them to get the social-media pictures out [when they’re unhappy] and that causes stress for housekeepers.”

Esnard also pointed to trying to achieve work-life balance as a stressor for housekeepers and all areas in the hotel. “Trying to balance everything in our lives, from being a good parent, a good family member, good brother, good sister, good employee and trying to pay the bills.”

Not 9to5 did some research because, said Aviles, “we wanted to figure out what are the primary concerns of the industry? Because when you say ‘mental-health challenges,’ that can mean a million things. So, what challenges in particular is our industry facing?”

Respondents answered that symptoms of burnout were as high as 87 per cent, anxiety was as high as 84 per cent, depression was as high as 77 per cent and eating disorders was 63 per cent, which is two thirds of the industry. The last one is substance use. “So, if you are wondering what kind of resources our industry needs, those are the five primary concerns that are really key to focus on.”

Winning Ways

The day concluded with the awarding of Hotelier’s annual Housekeeping Awards. Marilu Calagui from the Delta Toronto was named Room Attendant of the Year, while Deepti Kurian from the Hilton Mississauga Meadowvale won Executive Housekeeper of the Year honours.

Click here for a recap of the morning session from the Housekeeping Forum and the Greater Toronto Hotel Association’s (GTHA) Hotel Summit.


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