An interview with a laundry leader

I liken the running of a hotel to the movement of an army — all the various teams and squads coordinated in sync for a common goal. And indeed, the staff at a hotel is often a virtual army, numbering in the hundreds with any departments’ work invisible to the outside world (think covert ops). A property cannot function without these back-of-house processes, but because only fellow employees — and not guests — are privy to their inner details, it’s harder to sniff out what makes them truly effective.

For this pursuit, I was put in touch with Marta Vukotic, one of three laundry leaders at the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver. Opening in late January 2009 and in time for the Winter Olympics the following year, the Shangri-La is the only 5-diamond hotel in the city as well as its tallest structure. This last bit may be a tad misleading as most of the tower is devoted to condominiums, making the Shangri-La a boutique property. Nonetheless, with such high expectations, servicing the hotel’s 119 rooms requires expert precision. Working in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years as one of its heroes, Marta has a lot to say about her role in delivering the perfect guest experience.


Her first observation is that effective guest service needs task forces to both anticipate what visitors expect and desire and to deal with any problems that arise. Marta works alongside the rest of the chain in command — the manager of housekeeping, the director of rooms and the general manager — to ensure her area of operations performs at its best, but also to lend her voice to other aspects of the hotel where she has made an inference that might improve guest service. It’s this openness in communications and in reception to external ideas that help make the Shangri-La a continued success.

The bulk of my talk with Marta concerned quality assurance and the steps taken by this luxury property to uphold its housekeeping standards. Although the Shangri-La has an internal laundry room, a fair portion of the daily load is still sent out in order to save space for high-priority and finicky items like bathrobes, which, due to their delicate fabric composition, must be washed in house. Maintaining spares like this also allows for some flexibility when guests need same-day laundry for such things as shirt pressings and emergency stain removals. As Marta explains, having this option available is a surefire way to win over those guests who take advantage of it. Being able to “save the day” with superior laundry capabilities is not something that an individual will easily forget.

Nearing the end of our chat, the discussion turned to the environment, where, given how much water is pumped through the laundry room each week, sustainability upgrades in this regard are a prime method of savings on the overall utility bill. In addition to a prominent repurposing outreach program, the Shangri-La has also recently installed an ozone-oxidation system, which management believes to be a highly eco-friendly and cost-effective development to their existing operations.