Despite the high-tech world that swirls around us, simplicity is comforting. This is a fundamental truth in the hotel industry. “People want simple things,” says Joseph Clohessy, general manager of the Calgary Marriott Downtown. “They want their room to be clean because this is where they recharge.”

Ernest Hemingway called it a “clean, well-lighted place” to spend time in. From an aesthetic point of view, the trend is toward uncluttered hotel rooms with clear, smooth surfaces. With this aesthetic, it is more important than ever that rooms be tidy and spotlessly clean.

When it comes to hotel housekeeping, the first aspect to consider is who will do the cleaning. According to Jani-King Canada’s national general manager, Robert McNamara, outsourcing of housekeeping services has not been as popular here as it is in the United States and Europe.

“It’s been harder to penetrate the market here,” McNamara says. “Most hoteliers feel they have to protect that side of the business. They’re cautious about giving up responsibility and working with a partner. They don’t mind outsourcing the restaurant and grounds work but are more protective of housekeeping.”

But Paul Gingras, executive housekeeper at Toronto Park Hyatt, disagrees, estimating 90 per cent of hotels in urban areas have outsourced their laundry needs. With the logistics involved and maintenance costs, he says it just makes sense. Philippa Akyeampong, director of Rooms at Westin Harbour Castle — a Toronto-based hotel that outsources its laundry — agrees with this assessment, adding she sees an increasing number of hotels taking this route.

“It’s more cost-effective because you don’t have the big labour expense. It’s also more efficient and there’s more accountability,” says Akyeampong.

McNamara says higher minimum wage and overall labour costs, along with the cost of finding, training and retaining staff can make in-house services a significant cost. Out-sourcing, he says, shifts that expense from a variable to a fixed cost. Regardless, sometimes the numbers still work — as does the history, according to Clohessy at Calgary Marriott Downtown, which was renovated two years ago. Its laundry has been done in-house for 42 years; he says it’s invested in the process to make it as efficient as possible, including equipment modifications and environmental steps which have resulted in increased sustainability.

“We’ve run the scenarios and it is still, at this time, more efficient to have that operation within the hotel,” Clohessy explains.

The new trends are the old trends — and it doesn’t matter to the customer if there’s in-house or outsourced operations. Issues that were once primary — meeting and exceeding customer expectations in cleanliness and using green products — are still demanded today, according to McNamara. “If we get to [decide] what products to use to clean rooms, we will select green,” he says. If not, they fall into line with what the hotel wants. In Calgary, Clohessy says a new program was started in January that gave guests reward points for declining a housekeeping visit. “We’ve seen great success and it creates an environmental awareness. It comes down to training guest services to make sure they explain the program correctly to customers.” There are, of course, “degrees” of green, and sometimes this is driven by the customer expectations of the geographic location. Such is the case for Castle Mountain Chalets, an Alberta-based AHLA’s 2016 Housekeeping Awards winner that has been operating since 1939.

“We do our laundry in-house as we are only 25 rental units,” says general manager Laurie L. Wallace. “We conserve water because we are located in Banff National Park and use eco-friendly products where and when we can.”

“We’re green, too,” Gingras points out but agrees that geography can play a role. While a card indicates to his Hyatt guests the option of not having towels washed daily, he says they are not always popular. “You’d be surprised how many guests don’t make the request. Maybe they are saying that they are paying good money and want their linen changed. I was in Vancouver for 18 years and maybe they think differently. It’s much greener [out] west.” Regardless, efficiencies can come into play in the quest for green. According to Akyeampong, the staff at Westin Harbour Castle does more with less; where there were once four or five different cleaning solutions, there may now be only two. “We have fewer solutions that can do more jobs,” she explains. “It’s good for the environment and for the safety of the room attendants.”

One green aspect that carries across virtually all sectors, but especially food and hospitality, is allergy sensitivities, which have become first-tier concerns. According to Gingras, guests routinely request fragrance-free linen that has also been cleaned without bleach, due to environmental awareness. “It’s not like the old days. It’s often no scent and no powder. People are very sensitive to that,” he says, adding that adapting to what the market demands is at the heart of the industry. As Akyeampong points out, the ubiquity of the issue has actually made it easier to accommodate guests because there are more product choices available.

Closely allied to shining cleanliness, Akyeampong sees design trends moving away from darker colours and towards brighter palettes. With more white decor in rooms and better lighting, she says that makes cleanliness an even more difficult standard to meet. “We’re moving into a design that highlights everything in the room, which also highlights the cleanliness.”

Clohessy agrees, noting bathrooms are becoming brighter, with mirrors featuring built-in lights. “We’ve learned lessons from our customers about good lighting in the bathroom area.”

To get things looking spotless under the bright lights, water is a key commodity. Most people pay twice for water — once to have it piped to homes or businesses and a second time when it is taken away as waste. A single dripping tap and leaky toilet can amount to eight litres of water wasted each day — and with it considerable cost. Multiply that by several hundred hotel rooms — not factoring in other water use — and the numbers climb quickly. Commonly, hotel guests are incentivized to not take room servicing as a green choice, Akyeampong says. “That reduces water consumption,” adding if 200 rooms a day were to make the choice in a week, that’s 1,000 rooms and again the numbers start to add up. Training can make a difference too, she adds, and room attendants are the frontline staff who can control water use. A lot of water is wasted when room attendants enter a room and turn on the sink and bathtub faucets and then go and collect the garbage and perform other duties. “We’ve changed the process,” Akyeampong says. “Attendants apply the cleaning solutions and don’t turn on the water until they come back into the bathroom and turn one faucet on a time and use medium as compared to scorching hot water.”

Seven years ago, the Calgary Marriott Downtown installed a 64-sq.-ft. water-recycling system by Georgia-based AquaRecycle. Clohessy says it has proven to be very efficient for laundry-water recycling. Closed loop wash-water recycling means reduced incoming water usage of approximately 80 per cent, a reduction of heating of up to 50 per cent and reduced sewer discharge of 95 per cent. Figures provided by AquaRecycle’s website suggest a two-year ROI.

At New Brunswick’s Algonquin Resort, washing machines have a special rinse cycle to conserve water. “We don’t use any product in our washing that has a fragrance and everything is balanced to a neutral pH,” says Heather King, executive housekeeper at Algonquin Resort.

The latest and greatest in technology, water reduction, in-house efficiencies and design trends are well and good, but the basics of laundry and housekeeping operations in hotels small or large have never really changed. Guest expectations — perhaps especially where cleaning is concerned — continue to go up, McNamara says. “They want more,” he says. “Everyone judges the experience based on how clean it was. If it’s not clean, it’s not going to get a high score.”

With two decades in the industry, Akyeampong has also seen more being demanded by customers than ever. “If you don’t take care of the bathrooms and the beds properly, it ruins your loyalty,” she says. However, she notes she has seen a slight change in this regard. “If anything, it’s become more important now. In the past, people were less critical.”

That said, the core aspects of housekeeping operations haven’t changed over the years — you have to get the basics right, agrees Clohessy. “There needs to be a great arrival experience for guests and followed up by top-notch cleanliness in the room. Once they walk into that room and turn on those bright bath-room lights, it has to be spotless. That’s fundamental.”

Volume 29, Number 4
Written by Andrew Coppolino


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