Hotelier’s Housekeeping Forum 2023 event

By Amy Bostock and Nicole Di Tomasso

TORONTO — More than 100 housekeeping professions gathered last week at the Chelsea Hotel Toronto for Hotelier magazine’s annual Housekeeping Forum. The event shines the spotlight on “the heartbeat of the hotel” — the ever-important housekeeping department — through panel discussions including how to advance your career in the department; how hotels are adapting new cleaning technology; how the pandemic has changed how hotels run this department; and how to ensure your housekeeping team is mentally and physically healthy.

Charting a Path

The housekeeping department is one of the most crucial parts of the hotel industry. A team this important needs solid managers with strong leadership skills who understand the inner workings of the hotel. The hotel housekeeping career path is perfect if you can handle an entry-level job that requires some physical labour but is also the first step on your journey to becoming a manager. The program kicked off with a panel of experts who offered practical tips on how to get you through the entire process – from interviewing and onboarding to how to plan your career path and reach your development goals.

Moderated by Amy Bostock, managing editor of Hotelier magazine, the panel included Amy Hara, Talent Acquisition manager, The Fairmont Royal York; Hanan Haddad, director of Human Resources at Hilton Toronto; Sharon Alexander, director of Rooms, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel; and Chris Giang, Human Resources manager, Chelsea Hotel Toronto. All four panellists began their careers with entry-level positions within the housekeeping department and were able to share personal insights with attendees about their own career journeys, as well as actionable advice on how to get hired, noticed and grow within their organizations.

“We’re looking at the college aspect, or schooling aspect, because that’s super important as well. But the majority of the skills within housekeeping are teachable skills,” said Hara.

Alexander told attendees that she believes in hiring for attitude and training for skill when it comes to entry-level positions. “We need to acknowledge that housekeeping involves physical labour, and it’s physically demanding, but if you find candidates that are willing to do that work, are willing to learn and have a positive attitude, that’s what’s important.”

“A lot of it is attitude,” agreed Haddad. “And a lot of it is a willingness to do the job or an understanding of the job. When it comes to recruiting [criteria], it varies depending on the position you’re recruiting for. If you’re recruiting for a housekeeping manager or executive housekeeper, you need experience, you need to understand how to schedule for housekeeping, you need to understand what that entails. If it’s a union environment, you need experience, because it’s the largest department in your building. If you’re hiring for a room attendant or house person or laundry, that really is attitude — do they understand the scope of the job and the physicality of it? Or is it just, ‘let’s stick my foot in and see what I can do?’ because then you’re just going to be recruiting all over again.”

For Giang, who began his career as an intern at the Chelsea Hotel Toronto, it’s all about attitude when it comes to hiring for the housekeeping department. “I can’t teach you how to be friendly. I can’t teach you how to have a work ethic, but I can teach you how to clean the room. So, we really look for the attitude, the willingness to work, willingness to work with our guests, make sure they come first.”

The group also shared some tips for attendees on how to get noticed and be considered for advancement within the department.

“Be engaged, be present and be involved. It starts with owning your role and your job and contributing to your department’s success. And then being engaged and involved in terms of taking initiative,” advised Alexander, adding “leaders also need to know your goals and aspirations so they can work towards the learning path.”

Hara’s top tip to the audience was “get your foot in the door with a company that you see yourself growing with. And then once you’re there, in the cafeteria, sit with the department that you see yourself in. So, when it does come time for them to recruit or hire a co-ordinator or supervisory role, they might go back to that conversation in the cafeteria.”

Hara says a lot of the time, career advancement comes down to the individual and how much they want it. “Because it’s there if they want it. It’s just a matter of showing their face and making those connections. So don’t be shy, don’t be nervous.”

The panellists also had some advice for their younger selves, knowing what they know now and having undertaken this career journey.

“I wish I had travelled more before settling down,” said Hara. “I did work at Whistler and that was pretty much it. I’m at that point right now where I’m encouraging my kids to travel when they graduate because there’s a whole big world out there and I regret not travelling more and seeing the world.”

“I’ve travelled a lot,” said Alexander. “I was privileged in that respect, but something I would have told myself is to be a little more courageous and take a little more risk. I’m doing that now as I progressed, but I think early on, I was probably a little more shy or more reserved.”

Changing Technology and the Supplier Equation

The second panel of the day, Changing Technology and the Supplier Equation, dived into how automation, robotics and cleaning products are helping to make the housekeeping department more efficient and hygienic, especially during these days of labour shortages.

Moderated by Adam Mogelonsky, partner at Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, the panel featured Cam Carnegie, Innovative Solutions Specialist at GT French; Francis Léonard, founder of Tip&Go; Andrew Rees, corporate account manager at Ecolab; Greg Staley, general manager, E-Pro Bot; and Alexander Srodes, Sales director at ALICE & Transcendent by Actabl.

During the discussion, the panellists highlighted their products and how they can help housekeeping departments.

ALICE by Actabl can be leveraged by housekeeping departments to co-ordinate activities and remain in constant communication. “We have a solution that’s specific for breaking out room attendant boards and managing the entire room production process that doesn’t require [members of the housekeeping department] to go back down to the office from the 20th floor,” said Srodes. “[ALICE] allows for effective communication across the entire team automatically and reduces steps. We’ve also integrated translation capabilities for added value.”

Carnegie said GT French has had a great deal of success with their electrostatic sprayers. “It’s an effective product that applies disinfecting chemicals quickly, reducing sanitization by two or three minutes per room,” he said. “It also makes employees and guests feel more confident knowing the hotel is using innovative solutions to keep everyone safe, and minimizes repetitive strain and labour intensive movements for housekeepers.”

Rees’ work at Ecolab aligns closely with Carnegie. “We launched our on-demand digital platform for training last year. We’ve talked a lot about the recruitment process, but there’s also the onboarding process, which takes a lot time and money,” he said. “We now have a portal that’s available to executive housekeepers and managers to access training modules on all different roles and procedures in the department. They can also track the results of their training.”

“We all know there’s a labour issue. Sometimes people don’t show up and sometimes [businesses] are short staffed,” said Staley. “The great thing about robots is they’re always there. We never sell a robot to replace a person. The robot’s job is to be the ultimate assistant to people. They can do the walking and heavy lifting, so a person can be more efficient somewhere else on the property.” He added E-Pro Bot also has sanitizing robots and is currently working on tackling the bed-bug problem. 

Finally, Léonard said Tip&Go offers a quick and easy way for hotel guests to tip when they don’t have cash on hand. “The executive housekeeper can also review KPIs online to learn who’s doing the best job and who might need to improve,” he said, adding the next version will be released in the following months.

The panellists also talked about how implementing innovative technology could significantly reduce repetitive strain and increase the overall wellness of housekeeping departments.

“Back injuries, for example, can be caused by a number of different things,” said Staley. “When you’re able to put heavier things on the robots and send them, they will walk at the speed of people and they have obstacle avoidance systems. It also increases your staffing potential pool, [eliminating the need to recruit someone sturdier who can carry heavy things.]”

Rees said removing harmful chemicals, such as phosphates, from Ecolab’s products “is important to acknowledge from a health and safety standpoint. [In terms of packaging], we’ve eliminated the process of having employees manually decant the products. We don’t want them having access to any chemical in its concentrated form.”

To wrap up the panel, the speakers offered their advice on how to successfully manage inevitable technological changes.

“Technology relies on cell phones and nowadays everyone has a phone in their pocket,” said Srodes. “There’s less barrier to entry for being able to use the mobile apps that are required for different operation softwares. People are ready for it, and the barrier to entry for cost has come down as well. You can buy refurbished devices easily that staff can use intuitively.”

“Bringing in technology shows your staff that you care about them and that you’re willing to work with them to provide the best experience in order for them to perform their tasks well,” said Carnegie.

“Our customers have changed and your guests have changed,” said Staley. “Anybody out there that’s on the slow uptake to bring in new technology is going to lose their business. If you wait for it to come up, it’s not going to come up because your guests are going to seek out places that have invested in the technology that they expect. If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you always got until somebody takes it.”

Crafting Cleanliness and Care

The final panel of the morning, moderated by Hotelier editor/publisher Rosanna Caira, featured executive housekeepers who discussed how the pandemic has changed their department, what they’re doing differently to ensure their departments are efficient and their staff happy and healthy and how they’re working to ensure that room attendants have everything they need to do a great job while feeling safe and healthy doing it. Participants included Mary Ann Soriano, executive housekeeper, Westin Toronto Airport Hotel; Deepti Kurian, director of Housekeeping, Hilton Hotels; Sandra Jauregui, lead tidiness enthusiast, Canopy by Hilton Toronto Yorkville; and Vanita Rathore, Operations manager, Holiday Inn Express Toronto Downtown.

The discussion began with the topic of housekeeping as an art form and a role that requires workers to be passionate about their jobs.

“It’s all about creativity and how, in your mind, you know what’s the guests want,” said Soriano. I always say to the housekeeping staff, ‘imagine you’re the guest; what would you expect?’ There are so much that the room attendant could do. We know that their purpose is cleaning, but it’s up to us as their mentor to introduce those things to them; to encourage them and empower them [to be creative].”

Jauregui told the audience that she starts every day with a clean canvas, “and it could be a really good day or it will be a really bad day so we have to start with empowering the staff, encouraging them — you just have to give them good vibes every morning. Because [housekeeping is] a repetitive job, you have to make sure that they’re happy to come to work every day by finding different ways to create the atmosphere that makes them want to come to work.”

She compared room attendants to chefs who are creating an experience for guests. “These days, a lot of chefs are celebrity chefs and gaining recognition. So why isn’t housekeeping being recognized? Housekeepers do the same thing. We have to do better, we have to recognize the art of housekeeping and start recognizing the housekeeping department and then start awarding the housekeeping as well.”

For more coverage of the 2023 Hotelier Housekeeping Forum, check out the Thursday issue of Hospitality Headlines


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