I am a well traveled hospitality professional with two business degrees and extensive experience within the Hotel & Spa segment. My main capabilities vary from streamlining cost and operational models, strategy yielding, business development, and marketing to digital marketing. I will be publishing a book this year about Hotel strategy. This article is a snapshot of the book, which will include real examples and ways to improve the business.
The title of the book ‘A Hotelier’s Mind’ Setting Strategy for the Future. The reason for writing the book is first hand experience of some amazing clichés that this industry and certainly other industries are challenged with as well. Also I would like to protect and educate those who have a heart in their hotel, whether they own it, run it or work in it. With the book I want to create a culture that is open, for questions, for displaying pains, efficiencies, combined with all the fun that hotels have to offer, the amazing guests. After all the people, they are the reason we are in the industry after all.
The internal or external inspection, one of those stumble blocks in the final review after a surprise or secret inspector had stayed at the hotel. Yes they still exist and whether it is an inspection for Guide Michelin or local rating board, they will always trip over the Housekeeping efforts.
My nearest friend pointed out to me what a beautiful word Housekeeping is, and how meaningful. According to the Victoria Era, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household management, the housekeepers second in command in the house. The housekeeper must consider his/herself as the immediate representative of her mistress.
I remember having a boss who was so surprised that the inspector had not found any hairs in the bathroom, that he went to check himself. He was very happy to say he had found a few, and that the inspector had missed them. In fact he found some more stuff in the room that was missed, like a layer of dust on the back of the TV (no, they were not flat in those days), and the bathroom was missing a small wash towel.
Housekeeping is the department with the highest percentage of sick leave, in my years as consultant I even registered an average of over 40 working days a year, at a number of large properties. With a standard of between 14-16 rooms to clean per employee, the physical and mental demands are big. Expectations are high, irregular working hours, on your feet all day, carrying, lifting and awkward working positions are some of the challenges that come with the job. Mentally there is inventory, planning, standards and the complexity of self motivation as well as working as a team and naturally working under high pressure, with lots of simultaneous guest check ins and outs.
Working in the Housekeeping requires a lot of training, like how to handle chemicals, efficient working, guest communication, brand standards just to name a few.
Often the role is seen rather prejudiced as a dirty job. Fact is that I have worked with many highly educated and skilled people, lawyers, doctors who are not able to find a position at home, and move away in the hope for work and better conditions, often sending a large portion of the wage to support the family. Luckily those are often the colleagues who bring true pleasure to the workplace, with serious dedication, motivation and happiness, and they have a lot to teach the westernized cultures. However it can be a dirty job, cleaning up after people is never a joyful experience, certainly because when people in general are away from home, the sofa becomes much more than a comfortable place to sit in. In a hotel, a sofa is attacked with chewing gum, spills of red wine, becomes a playground for children and armrest become bar stools, basically all the stuff that at home would not happen or hardly. Reason for bringing this up, is that there is opportunity in strategizing this department, by revising the department, structure, changing roles and responsibilities, and challenges the ancient old traditions that exist not here and there, but literally every when in the world. No matter what brand, what size, what location, what type of guest, the age of the hotel, the departments rules and regulations are set in stone and copied again and again.
The financial target
Starting with the hot potato in the industry. The housekeeping department is a cost, that’s the traditional way of looking at it, that’s how it is presented to the owner or companies, and the more a hotel has saved compared to previous years, the better. Sure cleanliness is a measure, guest happiness and employee satisfaction are measures. But the winner above and beyond remains the financial performance. Like many other industries, goal setting is an element that is a minimum requirement for employees to be understood to perform. So what are goals for a housekeeping department? Where do they come from, and how can they be measured for success. I mentioned the most important one; financial performance.
Who sets that particular objective? The General Manager does, with help of the Financial Controller. Fabulous one would think, but where does that come from, is that based on history, size of hotel, type of property? Indeed those are factors to determine the budget. And you guessed it, is that enough? A question not asked enough as most of the calculations are standardized, based on years and years of tradition, practices that are not questioned enough. And above all my team has hardly ever seen those objectives been communicated to the Housekeeping employees, and trust me that is not the only line staff who hasn’t ever heard the management objectives. You may think, sure but surely experience is a serious factor in that too? Now don’t get upset tradition and best practices play a large role, but objectively a best practice is only good enough when it’s results are continuously questioned and measured.
Setting the financial goals are a basis for developing a department that in fact can be a stand alone as well as part of an entire picture. Should we even call it housekeeping? It really is an integrated part of an overall service or final delivery for guests, and colleagues. What better way to look at it objectively, than to have the department be evaluated and measured by a potential external partner, who can comes with a cost calculation and structure that has the forecasted results with regards to financial performance. A review from an external source is a very healthy process for any hotel, small opportunities or low hanging fruit can be spotted quite quickly through rigid methods and use of tools.
The outsourcing solution
What happens is the following, the potential outsourcee presents themselves as an amazing company, and has all the questions ready; how many people are working here, what areas do they take care of; like kitchen public areas, rooms, meeting space, how many people work at night, what are current issues and so forth and so on. Mostly the outsourcee already has established a team of employees, and clients. This offers great flexibility and mobility within a city, ensuring time efficiency and optimal use of skills. Results are obvious for any hotel, cost savings, improved flexibility, decreased maintenance of relationship and decreased planning effort, and by far the most complex and difficult part, the scheduling, interviewing, training, rewarding, and implementations of all the laws and regulations. In particular in Southern Europe and the Middle East the rules and regulations can be extreme difficulty for companies to manage.
So what’s keeping any hotel from outsourcing? Outsourcing is complex, much more so in the hospitality industry, main reason being the service element, and just as important the variation in occupancy and business levels. The service element, which I have explained in more detail in the human resources department, is extremely complicated. Everyone is different; every person has a different expectation and definition of service, guests and employees. It’s incredibly difficult and much effort has to be made to create a team, train a team, not just within the housekeeping department, but also as part of the entire hotel team. Training is not enough, sure the brand knowledge, complaint handling etc. are a vital part of the skill set, but there is also motivation, product knowledge and communication, which are often an issue when outsourcing. However beautiful it seems to move responsibility to another player, and safe costs, these are factors that play a large role in the final delivery of the service.
Accountability cannot be outsourced
That says it all, however wonderful it sounds from a cost and efficiency perspective, truth is, control is lost, accountability is becoming a vague definition, or grey area. Even when responsibilities are clear the actual delivery to guest is becoming nothing more than a promise. I can’t tell you in how many meetings with outsourcees I have been, where I got the yes promise on deliveries, which simply never came true. I understand, don’t get me wrong, because when all the previously mentioned elements have to be understood, implemented, trained and documented, there is a cost involved. A cost that has not been taken in consideration in the initial calculations. It’s not all black and white; there are outsourcees with great success, who have control over motivation, education of the brand and communication. They stand out and win accounts.
Besides housekeeping there are many other parts of the business that can successfully be outsourced, like valet parking, concierge services, security, stewarding and finance. My advice is to keep control over the service, when outsourcing is on the table. Make sure you make not only the right calculations, but also set the correct expectations. This means that you cannot loose control over the process, it means that accountability lies with you and the management team, and should at all times remain there. Outsourcing 100% is a total mistake; keep control over 20% of the business as a guideline. Make sure you review working schedules, to make sure efficiency remains, and preferably the same team returns to the hotel as much as possible to create a team within the entire hotel, not just the department.
Important is to keep aligning responsibilities, review results on a monthly basis. Adjust goals and objectives where needed, in line with the business levels in the hotel, changing markets, or management instructions. Measure success, and reward accordingly, like reduction in use of chemicals, increased guest satisfaction, improved cleanliness or guest feedback about a certain employee.
The housekeeping solution
I can’t speak about this enough, and you will notice throughout the book I am writing, that I strongly recommend to start looking at each department or outlet as a potential revenue generating source, whether that is a direct or indirect source, a product or service. The management needs to decide how to define this best. It is a struggle many companies have already, an excellent example is Public Relations. Ever since ROI is an abbreviation of the now, PR has been challenged with how to present a client brief that has a financial value against it. I am a strong believer in PR, but have serious doubts with the monthly retainer concept that is driven by the company or person that has no relation to the hotel or hotel goals, in fact a bit like the outsourcing solution, I wrote about before. Make sure you keep control of about 20% of the process; regular reviews are a part of that.
There is not just one solution, there are numerous, but start moving away from seeing the housekeeping department as a cost center. Simply because it already sounds horrible, and gives a nasty taste in the mouth, as cost is something we want to decrease and get rid of. News for you, it’s there to stay, and the more you cut in it the nastier it gets, unhappy employees, bad tools or useless materials, unsustainable chemicals that ruin the environment and your furniture, and eventually decreased guest satisfaction. Yes you might reach that striking goal of decreasing the costs compared to the year before but long term, you loose, big time. That’s something you will have to explain to your boss, one day. So start implementing a change, make it a department that is fun, invest in it, create objectives that can be measured, start to innovate. In the book I will give you some examples that are much more than fun, they are way to improve guest satisfaction, create an additional revenue stream, and reward teams and individuals who create success for you. Lead them; manage the processes, as you should.
Jeroen Gulickx is originally from Holland, where he obtained two business degrees. Later in life he also certified as black belt in Six Sigma.
He is Managing Director of Mocinno International, a hospitality consulting company that started in 2006, focused on delivering incremental revenues for hotels, spa’s and hotel suppliers. Jeroen is well travelled and has extensive experience in the luxury travel segment. The main capabilities vary from streamlining cost and operational models, strategy, yielding, business development, and marketing. Mocinno International works with a network of highly experienced, energetic and yet innovative people, based in key locations.
Jeroen leads Mocinno originated projects and companies within the luxury spa and travel industry.
Lean Thinking – James P Womack
Sanitation Management – Sichy
Lean Six Sigma for Service – George
Mocinno International consulting