TORONTO — The fourth-annual Housekeeping Forum was held recently at the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto on April 8. Hosted and presented by Hotelier magazine, the event brought together housekeeping staff and other hotel professionals for a day of discussion and learning.

The day’s program addressed a range of topics impacting hotel housekeeping departments — from ensuring health and safety, to excellence in cleanliness and addressing challenges facing this vital department.

The first panel of the day, moderated by Hotelier editor/publisher, Rosanna Caira, featured three GMs from some of Toronto’s most iconic hotels: Edwin Frizzell, GM of the Fairmont Royal York; Tim Reardon, GM of the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel; and Tim Terceira, GM of The St. Regis Toronto. The panelists discussed the vital role housekeeping departments play in the success of a hotel and the training that goes into making sure guests are comfortable and taken care of at all times.

“Any little mistake is a big mistake for us — there’s no room for error,” said Terceira. “Rates are higher, expectations are higher so, from a technical perspective of being surgically clean, everything needs to be organized. We spend a lot of time on the soft-skills side, discussing how to engage with guests when they’re in the room.”

Terceira added that The St. Regis, its team of approximately 60 housekeeping attendants who are training between eight and 10 hours annually on soft skills alone. Leveraging the benefits of the Forbes five-star training program for all of its housekeeping staff, he says the training aspect — both technical and social — is not inexpensive, but has proven its value.

Reardon agreed that, at a time when customers are more demanding about cleanliness and service from housekeeping staff, the margin for error is slim. “Are you paying attention to the details? Because if you’re not, your customer is,” he said. “It’s less about the building, the renovations, the amenities or the structure these days — cleanliness and service has been the focus.”

The GM’s also noted that as technology continues to evolve, hotel operators are obligated to provide consistent, almost round-the-clock training and tools through engagement, audits and programs designed to make staff the best they can be.

Next, Hotelier managing editor, Amy Bostock, led a panel on ensuring the safety of housekeeping staff. Panelists Parminder Batra, founder of TraknProtect; Brian Cammack, VP of HR, Marriott International, Canada; and Liam O’Brien, manager, Security and Emergency Management, Fairmont Royal York, weighed in on this timely topic.

As Batra pointed out, when people stay in hotels, “behaviourally, people are not necessarily at their best. And, unfortunately, the heart of the hotel, which is the housekeepers, get to see the guests at their worst.” This, she said, is a key reason why personal alert devices as so important. “[Your] housekeeper doesn’t know what to expect on the other side of the door,” she added. “We’re empowering employees to be able to call for help when they need it most.”

“We want to make sure we’re doing whatever we can to reduce the risk, the anxiety, the nervousness that [our housekeepers] may have, so they can focus on what they do best,” said Cammack, noting that this involves ongoing training and putting clear procedures in place. 

The morning agenda also featured breakout sessions on the changing role of the room attendant and advances in housekeeping technology.

During the technology panel — moderated by industry veteran Larry Mogelonsky — Jason McLeish, Canadian sales director, Amadeus; BJ Garvida, assistant director, housekeeping, Westin Harbour Castle; and Nicole Stewart, director of Housekeeping at the Fairmont Royal York, discussed the significant impact technology is having on this department.

Garvida noted that Westin Harbour Castle, which uses Amadeus’ HotSOS mobile-software platform, communicating with housekeeping staff used to be difficult; with 60 floors spread across two towers. He added that in a department such as housekeeping, where the demographic spans generations, it was hard to get the older employees on board at first. “They weren’t used to it and wanted the old ways,” said Garvida. “We [ultimately] got their buy-in because we sold the idea it would make their lives easier. We had an associate who has been with us for 40 years and doesn’t own a cellphone, but has learned to embrace [the HotSOS] system.”

For Stewart, who also uses HotSOS at three Fairmont properties, the value-add was recognized almost immediately. “If you were at the Royal York three years ago, the room expediting was less than stellar,” she noted.  “We’ve increase guest satisfaction, which has now translated to financial results and increased revenue due to room readiness.”

The panel also discussed the future of technology as it relates to artificial intelligence, however it was agreed that housekeeping is still one of those areas where the technology isn’t yet viable. “Guest interaction is still critical and housekeeping staff are integral for that service,” noted Mogelonsky.

Following lunch, Caira presented the event’s annual Housekeeping Awards. Julita Fontanilla of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Toronto Downtown was named Room Attendant of the Year and Nicole Stewart, director of Housekeeping at the Fairmont Royal York received the coveted Executive Housekeeper of the Year Award.

This year, the Houskeeping Forum also featured the inaugural Bed-Making Olympics, which saw three contestants from different hotels compete to see who can make a bed in the quickest and most efficient manner. Lourdes Constant of Alt Hotel Ottawa, Jaya Dhondge of DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Toronto Downtown and Wilfredo (Wil) Brown of the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto battled against the clock in front of attendees and a panel of judges. Dhondge was ultimately named the winner and took home a prize curtesy of LG Electronics Canada Inc.

During the afternoon breakout sessions, attendees chose from discussions on room cleanliness and attracting the millennial cohort.

Moderated by industry consultant Paul Gingras, the cleanliness session focused on strategies and challenges in this area of operations. Centennial College instructor, Kim Greasley noted that room design often doesn’t take the housekeeping department into account and popular design features — such as rainfall shower heads and full-glass showers — can be challenging to clean.

To round out the day, health and fitness experts educated attendees about the importance of health and wellness — especially for housekeepers. Nadia Vandal, trainer at GoodLife Fitness and Brian O’Keeffe, fitness manager at GoodLife Fitness, also led the audience through a series of exercises and provided tips and tricks for GMs and housekeeping directors to take back to their respective teams.


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