By Suzanne Frush, ALICE Product Manager & Jeff Parker, ALICE Hotel Operations Expert
We’ve entered a world of change and the hospitality industry has been deeply impacted. Now, with regions across the globe reopening, the consideration of what it means to live and travel in this strange new world has begun to kick in.
This includes changes throughout all hotel departments, from contactless check-in at the Front Desk to new procedures for valets and bellmen. Housekeeping will be the bedrock of security, as cleanliness is critical to safety.
Cleaning hotel rooms is a core part of the hospitality business. With heightened awareness as a result of the pandemic, hotel teams will face additional scrutiny on what makes a room clean and safe.
Hotel safety for guests and employees, as well as national economic and health safety, relies on the ability to control and eliminate COVID-19 in shared environments. In the housekeeping world, there are 7 different things to focus on.
Ensuring Safety for Staff and Guests
The first and most important thing will be to ensure the safety of everyone on property -- both staff and guests. To do this, prevention will be essential.
For prevention, incorporating and maintaining guidelines and recommendations for safe operations will be critical to ensuring your hotel meets new cleanliness standards.
Recommendations for the Housekeeping Department include:
- Frequent antiviral cleaning of public high touch areas, in accordance with CDC and AHLA Safe Stay recommendations
- Offering masks to guests upon arrival and enforcing usage (in a gentle and hospitable manner).
- Clear and consistent policies around sick leave for employees
- Put tape/stickers down in places where people congregate to mark 6 feet of distance (in both guest and staff areas) for social distancing protocols
Robust Cleaning SOPs
Before COVID-19, there were minimums for water temperature for linen cleaning, approved cleaning solutions, and preventative measures for sanitation, but those may not be sufficient against this particular virus.
There must be a strong link with a quick turnaround between the science of COVID-19 and how hotels incorporate new cleaning products. To help with this, the CDC is keeping a published list of the new “best cleaners” to incorporate, since the old stuff just won’t cut it any longer.
External Communication of Cleanliness
As a hotelier, you may know how clean your hotel is, but that doesn’t mean that your guests do. Guests look for visual indicators, but COVID requires sanitization, which is invisible to the naked eye.
To keep guests calm and coming back, it’s important to proactively communicate with them, letting them know exactly what your property is doing to ensure a safe guest experience, especially as not all hotels in your region may be holding themselves to the same level of stringency. Whether or not your standards are measured at a property, corporate, or third-party level, make sure you let guests know what is happening.
Recommendations for communicating cleanliness:
- Automated emails to planned guests informing them of the new standards and how they are being kept safe
- Visual indicators of sanitization
- Physical printouts in-room detailing the measures that were taken to ensure cleanliness
- Easily accessible summary on your website and/or booking platform
Lean Teams Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Less Efficient Teams
The hotel industry has undergone an incredibly rough 2020 and the path ahead isn’t totally straightforward. Though occupancy rates are increasing, they don’t yet always merit the staff levels that were seen in 2019. This will probably mean the staff you do have will need to wear multiple hats, either within each department, or even across departments. All of these changes can get lost in the shuffle, so make sure your team is aligned on what is most important to get done on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Recommendations for managing lean teams
- Identify the “most critical” parts of your SOPs and make sure that these are happening
- Leverage technology (like ALICE) to allow for multitasking, streamlined communication, and cross-team collaboration
New Expenses and Managing Your Housekeeping Budget
All said and done, there are a lot of new expenses coming down the pipeline. Protective personal equipment, new cleaning supplies, and physical changes to communal space will all put a strain on pre-COVID budgets. Even items like linens might need to be replaced more often with the more caustic cleaning.
Determining what specific changes need to be made to your hotel’s cleaning protocols will help estimate the new costs. Another consideration for these new expenses would be a case where lower occupancy means less frequent restocking, as the wear and tear on inventory decreases.
Recommendations for managing your housekeeping budget:
- Estimate your new budget and communicate the changes throughout management as early as possible
- Try to find places where you can temporarily reduce costs
Outfitting Housekeeping Departments with PPE
To protect your housekeeping team members and guests, housekeepers need to be prepared to enter a room to clean it. They should confirm that they have all of the items needed (both PPE and items to restock the room) to complete the service before entering.
Items to confirm prior to entering a guest room for cleaning:
- Check stock of gloves
- Check status or stock of clean masks
- Check stock of cleaning supplies
- Check stock of disinfectant supplies
- Check stock of linens based on calculated needs
- Check stock of amenities (shampoo, conditioner, soap, water, etc.)
- Apply hand sanitizer and put on clean gloves
- Properly fit clean mask to face
- Verify the guest is not in the room, do not enter a room with a guest present
- Put an alert on the door to notify guests that a housekeeper is in the room and guests are not allowed to enter. When possible, use the housekeeping cart or ‘boat’ to blockade the room.
- Disinfect Phone or Tablet device, even personal devices
- Disinfect personal protective equipment (Panic Button)
- If applicable, use a device or guest room phone to indicate the housekeeper has entered the room
Guests are watching hotels and precautionary actions make them feel safer while traveling and staying in hotels. Seeing employees wearing protective gear like masks and gloves reassures guests that hotels take safety seriously.
Opt-In Housekeeping & Safety Consultations
Many hotels have gone to opt-in versus opt-out for housekeeping. In this program, it is assumed that guests will not receive housekeeping services during their stay. Instead, towels and toiletries are provided in the room based on the number of nights and number of guests in a room. This way no one enters the room other than the guests during their stay. In the event that more items are needed, hotel staff will leave them outside the door.
To successfully obtain plan for opt-out service:
- Calculate the number of nights and the number of guests to determine the amount of towels, sheets and other amenities (bottled water, coffee, tea) that are likely to be needed
- Update your housekeeping system, like ALICE Housekeeping, to include these items in the room cleaning. If the room has already been cleaned, set up a service issue for the update as the floor is attended to.
- Well checks every two to three days should still be completed - just without entering the room. If something is amiss, alert the appropriate manager to take action.
Some hotels will still perform traditional housekeeping on a regular basis, but instead of clearing and cleaning rooms, as a housekeeper goes through their ‘board,’ guests will schedule a window of time to have their room serviced.
Hotels can use a tool like ALICE Service Delivery to schedule housekeeping service and ALICE Guest Messaging to communicate with the guest. It is critical that guests know that rooms will not be serviced if any guests are present in the room. Missing the scheduled cleaning window might result in a guest’s room not being cleaned.
Other strategies involve a Safety Consultation with the guest prior to arrival. A few of the full service and luxury brands are adopting this model. They plan to reach out to guests a few days prior to arrival to completely tailor their stay according to their preferences, including if they want staff to enter the room and how they want that handled. This could also be accomplished with a SMS or email to the guest to start this dialog. Once the guest is consulted, hotels can then prepare the room per their request.
Consultative questions to ask:
- How many people will be staying in your room with you?
- Are you comfortable with hotel staff entering your room to clean?
- Have you reviewed our hotel’s cleaning and safety policies? Do you have any questions?
- Can we reserve an arrival time for you?
- Do you need help with luggage?
A preemptive conversation with the guest can reassure them your hotel is safe and that they have some voice in how their stay is managed.
Though the process of reopening has begun, the era of COVID-19 will last much longer. Even after the new case rates are reduced, travelers and guests will still be more aware and cautious for months, if not years.
For this reason, these changes will not be the brief intermediate solution we initially hoped for. These are changes that we need to take to heart and operationalize. This will ensure the travel industry, and thus hotels, can stay afloat and even return to previous profit margins.
ALICE can help you deliver the guest experience and the level of hospitality that travelers not only want, but expect. Want to learn more? Download our eBook on Post COVID-19 Hotel Operations today!