Housekeeping communication gets more efficient, high-tech

On the old cartoon show "The Jetsons," the future is a world filled with top-notch technology that provides immediate, convenient service—especially when it comes to cleaning and maintenance.

These fictional housekeeping amenities might never see the light of day, but in our current world there are several devices that can significantly streamline the maintenance of a hotel, making the lives of guests, owners and housekeepers easier.

The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C., a 150-room, five-diamond luxury property, is largely outfitted with the latest in housekeeping technology. In particular, The Umstead has implemented tray detection technology from Axxess Industries. When a guest puts a tray outside of the door, housekeeping is alerted from a triangle sensor on the tray that triggers another sensor in the doorway. This immediately alerts the staff to the waiting tray by way of a blinking light.

"We have a 30-minute response time. ... That's our personal goal," managing director Bob Schofield said. "From a productivity standpoint, [it saves] from staff walking up and down [the hallway]. It streamlines the process." Schofield said The Umstead especially benefits because its doors are inset into the wall, making it more difficult to see if a tray is outside a door.

The Umstead housecleaning staff also is alerted when a room is available for cleaning. Guests click a button, which sets off another sensor, to indicate they are gone and the room can be cleaned.

"You have the same number of staff, but you can manage them on their daily assignments on a more efficient basis," Schofield said.

The Marriott Shadow Ridge Resort in Palm Desert, Calif., has improved its overall hotel maintenance with GuestWare 3.0 from GuestWare. This system uses interactive voice response to link the housekeeping staff with the property engineers.

A housekeeper will go through a typical routine in a guestroom, and if he or she notices a problem, like a broken toilet or a malfunctioned thermostat, the housekeeper will pick up the room phone and follow through a protocol to identify that specific problem. The report immediately alerts the proper engineer via the engineer's wireless phone.

"[The whole process] works within minutes," said Kirby O'Gara, chief engineer at Shadow Ridge. "If [the engineer] can't get there within 10 minutes, he should call for some help."

If an engineer takes too long to address the reported problem, an alarm will sound and send the request to other engineers. Systems such as this speed up and clear up communication with the back of the house that makes each worker more efficient.

"[Before] there was no tracking and no accountability," O'Gara said. "The work orders would get lost and there was no accountability. You're supposed to have [documents] for three to five years, so it's automatically saving the file, and you can save it forever."

Chuck Marratt is the director of information technology for MTM Luxury Lodging. He has seen a dramatic change in housekeeping because of technology, especially at the Bardessono Inn and Spa in Napa Valley, Calif., which is scheduled to open in February 2009. The approach there may be one of the most advanced yet. Thanks to MTech's REX system working in conjunction with the hotel's property-management system, housekeeping staff will use iPod Touch technology to keep up to speed with the hotel's housekeeping needs at all times.

The iPod will show each housekeeper his or her list of rooms for that day, and once a guest checks out—or even leaves the room unoccupied—the housekeeper is notified a room is ready to be refreshed or turned over. This keeps the housekeeper from knocking on doors or making unnecessary trips.

"It leverages the fact we have a converged network," Marratt said. "The housekeeper has no way of knowing if you are in the room or not. So that's where you're really starting to talk efficiency with the routine cleaning of guestrooms.

"Before [cell] phones, you contacted everyone via pager. When I started in '81, you paged someone and then they had to find the nearest house phone. It allows [the hotel] to give guests the service they want without disturbing them."

Maybe these aren't robot maids, but it's a start.