The challenges of pandemic housekeeping requirements

woman with gloves cleaning counter
Determining the room cleaning schedule is now far more complex and can also double the amount of expensive management time to the morning administration and allocation process. Photo credit: yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Different markets are seeing surges in demand to near maximum capacity from near closure (and then back down again) in a matter of days. As any general manager will know, having the right team in place to serve the unknown quantity of guests that may walk through the door at any time, in the way the hotel can still be proud of, is no small undertaking in the current environment.  

Layered on to this are the well-documented changes to the cleaning protocols, all of which need to be implemented without fail, rigorously checked and traced. Some hotels have introduced disinfectant sprays that require the room to be left untouched for a minimum of three hours; others are requiring that rooms are scheduled to be taken off the allocation list for 24 hours after guests leave to allow for the correct cleaning procedures to be followed. There is no “one size fits all” solution—each hotel group has to decide what is best for their unique environment to keep staff and guests safe. 

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And as travel starts to pick up again, the profile of guests, and the services they require, is shifting too. Business travelers and large groups are not booking in anything approaching the normal numbers (and are not expected to for some time). City business hotels and resorts must work through how they will manage the different requirements of the transient, family leisure traveler and the different operational requirements that come with that. 

In an environment where we estimate that around 90 percent of hotel operations are managed with pen and paper, it is easy to see that many of these departments may be struggling, or at least have significant pinch points. The stakes are high and the demands of keeping everyone safe as well as the wheels of the hotel turning and up to expected standards cannot be underestimated. Many hotels are running on skeleton teams, and managers are having to multitask, sometimes doing the cleaning themselves to stay on track.  

Operational Implications of New Cleaning Protocols

To understand more about how the new cleaning requirements are playing out across hotels and resorts in practice, we spoke to 13 hotels across the globe that have 100 to 1,500 rooms. From this we have charted the average room cleaning times in November 2019 and compared this to the pandemic cleaning environment in July.  

We found that the guest departure room cleaning time has increased an average of around 15 percent for half the hotels we spoke to. For some resorts or hotels with large rooms or kitchen facilities, for example, the new time taken is much much more. Ivaylo Ivanov, SVP of hotel operations for the Okada Resort in Manila, Philippines, estimates that for his resort, around 35 percent more time is now spent on cleaning. 

Determining the room cleaning schedule is now far more complex and can also double the amount of expensive management time to the morning administration and allocation process. No matter what the cost in additional personal protective equipment and time though, there is no doubt that being able to certify a room is clean will be a paramount priority for some years to come. 

Where the Changes Go Beyond Numbers 

There is a softer side to operations management that also should not be overlooked. Morning briefings can now no longer be held, and many staff are told to stay away from guests for fear of contravening social distancing in the new world order. Apart from the obvious logistical challenges this delivers in terms of delivering information to staff or customers, it also means that housekeeping departments are dealing with a very different operating environment.  

For many people who joined the sector because they enjoy interacting with people, this new world is a much more hostile place, which also contributes to the challenges faced by operations teams since the pandemic broke out.  

What Steps Should Hotels Consider to Support Operations Teams? 

One of the key things that makes the difference in managing an efficient and effective operations department, pandemic or no pandemic, is clear communication. Delivering the tools to teams to be able to quickly and easily deliver the work requirements, changes to the cleaning protocols and generally keep in touch with staff makes a huge difference. Craig Coughlin, CEO of Luxxe, an outsourced hospitality operations company in Australia, said, “we have had to work hard to help our teams of housekeepers adapt to this new environment. Technology is now deployed to replace the traditional morning meetings and enables us to share photos and checklists to make sure everyone is clear on the jobs to be done that day.”

Technology—and, more specifically, artificial intelligence—can make a significant difference when applied to understanding cleaning times and mapping corresponding schedules. When tackling the days cleaning roster looks more like a mathematical challenge than a planning exercise, technology can cut the time and increase accuracy of the exercise.  When every penny of staff time is important, these are the areas where investment will pay dividends. 

Staff that are trained in the company culture are valuable and taking some time to think about the tools that may help them in these unprecedented times may be worth more than you think. As Matthew Lauzon, resort manager for La Cantera in Texas, said, “As we continue to rebuild our occupancy, the predominant guests we see coming back are our valued repeat customers. They know our brand and they know our people as our turnover of staff is low.” Looking after the people that have built the reputation of great hotels so that guests still receive a familiar welcome will be one of the core tenets of rebuilding people’s confidence to travel. 

Katherine Grass is CEO of Optii Solutions.