While the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has helped restore traveller confidence, the hospitality industry is still struggling to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic. This is especially true for inefficiencies in housekeeping departments due to staffing shortages. To keep up with rigorous health-and-safety demands, hotels are deploying new equipment and technology to streamline daily housekeeping tasks and improve guest satisfaction.
At the beginning of the pandemic, hotels ramped up communication with frontline staff, as well as guests, regarding enhanced cleaning-and-safety protocols. In May 2020, Choice Hotels Canada created its Commitment-to-Clean program in collaboration with Ecolab.
“[The program] was started to give hotels the guidance needed to address new health and well-being concerns as a result of the pandemic. The enhanced protocols and new best practices include reducing touchpoints, more frequent cleaning in high-traffic areas, hand-sanitizing stations, opt-in housekeeping, grab-and-go breakfast options and social distancing,” says Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada. “We have continued to put emphasis on the Commitment-to-Clean program as it will be crucial for boosting guest confidence and comfort as travel picks up.”
“The work housekeeping departments do, which used to happen primarily behind the scenes, was thrust to the forefront due to the pandemic,” says Kaycee Strewler, principal technical account specialist at Ecolab. “Not only did this change require a new level of transparency, but it also forced hotels to communicate directly with guests about efforts to mitigate public-health risks through increased cleaning and disinfection.”
Of all these changes, Leon says opt-in housekeeping has been the most noteworthy. Instead of housekeeping cleaning a room every day throughout a guest’s stay, it’s now only cleaned upon guest request or check out.
Choice Hotels Canada’s technology supplier, the Hotel Communications Network (HCN), headquartered in Ottawa, has developed the HCN Navigator Tablet for hotel guestrooms to allow for opt-in housekeeping. In addition, the tablets feature voice control, UV sanitation and other customizable requests for options such as maintenance, towels and linens or coffee and tea. Not only is this tablet more convenient for guests, but also saves costs for housekeeping and increases guestroom turnover from an operational standpoint with its Ready Room function.
Many hotels are upgrading to all-in-one property-management system software to streamline internal communications and improve productivity. Choice Hotels Canada recently updated its system, choiceADVANTAGE, to perform a range of tasks, from reservations to direct billing. For housekeeping, the software’s functions include room maintenance and management, cleaning schedules, assigning tasks and status management.
“Other digital advancements deployed by hotels – especially those that allow for contactless handling of guests – not only increase guest confidence but allow for re-allocation of non-housekeeping resources to help with pressing tasks like stripping beds or processing dirty laundry,” says Strewler.
Although the opt-in housekeeping model has its perks, Strewler says it’s important to recognize the unintended implications that might follow.
“When combined with the current higher-touch guest profile, this model all but guarantees increased time and effort required to clean rooms as staff are tasked with removing several days’ worth of built-up soils,” she says. “Additionally, hotels that follow this model tend to encounter more prevalent and persistent odours and increased occurrence and longevity of stains. While this model may have helped hotels manage staff shortages and guest expectations in the short term, it’s important to recognize that this may lead to increased labour hours required to clean guestrooms at check-out.”
In terms of equipment, the most prevalent is the use of electrostatic sprayers, a handheld or backpack device that uses potent disinfectant on high-touch surfaces. It’s a quick and easy way to achieve contactless sanitation.
“Over the course of the pandemic, there was a noticeable rise in the popularity of tools such as electrostatic sprayers, which promote efficiency and minimize physical effort,” says Strewler. “This tool, well-suited for large-scale application, was a common choice for hotels with sizeable public areas and conference spaces to efficiently apply disinfectants and help promote guest confidence.”
The Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, for example, has introduced Victory Innovations’ electrostatic sprayers into its re-vamped COVID-19 cleaning protocols.
“By utilizing this equipment and following cleaning protocols, the housekeeping team remains in good health, which is paramount for the hotel,” says Gillian Jaramillo, executive housekeeper at The Chelsea Hotel Toronto.
When implementing any new technology or equipment, training is crucial. “Many hotels have embraced bite-size, digital training to ensure their staff has access to on-demand resources, allowing them to onboard, re-tool or upskill staff more efficiently,” says Strewler. “Training on topics related to proper use of cleaning products and selecting the right tool for the job is critical to achieving desired outcomes in the least amount of time.”
Through its long-standing partnership with Ecolab, Choice Hotels’ Choice University offers online training modules for housekeeping staff. Topics include reducing the risk of infection, hand-hygiene training, lobby and entrance way cleaning procedures, room condition, knowledge checklist for housekeeping staff, and more. In many cases, hotels have appointed someone to champion this new way of working.
“New educational resources were made available at each of our hotels and a designated ‘captain’ is responsible for championing the execution of these new initiatives and ensuring that the mandatory training takes place,” says Leon.
Looking at the long-term impact, adjustments to housekeeping procedures will continue post-pandemic. It’s only the beginning of another technological revolution.
“Cleanliness is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but a ‘must-have,’ so maintaining strict policies around safety, cleanliness and hygiene post-pandemic will be important for guest and employee safety, as well as overall business health,” says Strewler.
By Nicole Di Tomasso