The housekeeping department is the very foundation of any good hotel, yet it is also the most unglamorous department, renowned for its operational complexity. What are the biggest concerns and challenges? Will any of the e-solutions work? Donald Gasper talks to people in the industry.

While sometimes considered a back-of-house Cinderella function, housekeeping is often the first point of contact for guests, and therefore key to ensuring they receive the best hospitality and service possible during their stay.

Some of the biggest and most consistent challenges experienced by hotel operators who rely on traditional, paper-based systems and processes, include an inability to keep track of all room statuses; overwhelmed housekeeping staff trying to juggle and stay on top of numerous tasks; poorly allocated resources; unpredictable inventory allocations; and communication bottlenecks. Not to mention the negative impact on the environment through paper wastage.

Nowadays, a range of technological systems or software is applied to the industry to improve efficiency.

“By embracing innovative housekeeping technology, hoteliers will reap the rewards of their investment, with improved productivity, reduced costs, increased performance and guest satisfaction among the many enhancements that automated housekeeping technology facilitates,” says John Chan, commercial director – Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, South Korea & Taiwan, at FCS Computer Systems, which supplies an e-solution.

FCS’ automated e-Housekeeping solution ensures the seamless and real-time transmission of communication and data to staff. Equipped with such functionality, hoteliers can ensure that housekeeping attendants are always where they need to be, and that no task gets overlooked.

Through an automated cleaning and inspection assignment process, hotels will be able to have smarter and more efficient work schedules for their teams, allowing for a considerable increase in cleaning productivity of 15-20 per cent. The system also assists in efficiently scheduling additional tasks and recurring projects, which is normally managed via several spread sheets.

FCS has also recently added several new features to e-Housekeeping, including a “panic button” and QR Code to ensure the correct room is being cleaned. The most significant innovation is the m-2Talk option, which is a Walkie-Talkie system built into the app to allow for improvements
in communication.

The most demanding department

Housekeeping is all about quality of services, says Vimi-kaur Singh, a senior instructor in housekeeping at Hong Kong’s Hotel and Tourism Institute. “The tasks are mostly performed by real human beings and interaction with guests is essential,” she stresses. “In my opinion, how to improve the guest experience and achieve higher guest satisfaction are probably the biggest concerns for housekeeping professionals.”

Soenke Weiss, founder and executive director of Optii Solutions, says that the housekeeping team manages the logistically most demanding department in the hotel and housekeeping software systems have proven that they are well equipped to ease the challenges. “The more sophisticated ones optimise operations and address productivity and cost at the same time. While the improvement of the guest experience and effective labour management have previously been regarded as largely mutually exclusive, a leading system like Optii Keeper has proven that it is capable of effectively managing the trade-off. Optii Keeper has proven time and again that turnaround times can be shortened and guest feedback scores improved, while providing substantial savings on the bottom-line at the same time.”

Yet this industry is traditionally conservative and the adoption of technologies in areas that are not guest-facing is slower than one might conclude despite proven results. This can often be attributed to the high degree of consolidation of management groups and the often dozens of stakeholders in such decisions – often leading to paralysis and consequently a high opportunity cost. The industry structure often rewards top-line improvements and cost control is geared toward cost-savings, not focussed on ROI.

General managers are often incentivised in a manner that promotes not ‘rocking the boat’ and although housekeeping systems have a larger impact on guest satisfaction and a higher ROI, they are often an afterthought to the more established ticketing systems for job dispatch. Industry leaders are now recognising this and are incorporating housekeeping technology into their strategy.

Acceptance is growing exponentially. Hotel operators, owners and cleaning companies are understanding that they cannot manage the largest payroll team effectively without the use of advanced tools. To the benefit of guests and
hoteliers alike.

Human touch remains vital

These e-solution provides comprehensive information on the hotel, such as the history of cleaning, room occupancy, manpower allocation and even the guest preferences and requests, which not only enhances the smooth synergy among departments but also saves time and costs. However, such systems or software are just tools. Direct communication with the guests is still the key to learning about the best of their experiences and it cannot be replaced by any technology.

Technology will never fully replace people, but what it can do is reduce the need for human involvement in reporting, inventory management and tracking, allowing housekeeping teams to optimise their interaction with guests and focus on providing high quality hospitality – resulting in a positive impact on the performance and reputation of the hotel.