The housekeeping imperative

When I was growing up, my mother would yell at me to clean my room. Once in a while, in haste, I would just slide all of my toys under the bed in the hope that she wouldn’t notice. On the surface, my room looked clean. Invariably, Mom would discover the disarray lying beneath my facade, and with much admonishment I would be forced to clear the mess, for real this time.

An important lesson learned: You aren’t fooling anyone by doing a half-hearted job of cleaning, be it a kid’s bedroom or a hotel guestroom.

In Canada, we have the CBC, an unusual television network in that it is at least partially funded by tax dollars and hence has a mandate to deliver Canadian content. This leads it to pursue many programs that would not necessarily make the cut from a commercial standpoint. One of these programs is “Marketplace,” a consumer support series, which remarkably has become quite popular.

In late 2012, “Marketplace” conducted an investigation of hotels in major Canadian urban centers. The investigation focused on guestroom and bathroom cleanliness. The methodology was straightforward: swabbing out of sight surfaces, UV flashlights and microbial assays.

The results were harrowing. All tested hotels failed to provide their guests with hygienic perfection, with high bacteria counts identified on most of the surfaces analyzed.

Recently, “Marketplace” revisited the same six properties, and in doing so installed hidden cameras to monitor housekeeping practices. As in the first go-round, the results showed little change, with improvements quite possibly chalked up to sample variation. The scenes I viewed clearly showed classic shortcuts in housekeeping procedures. Those not in the industry would probably be appalled at some of these timesavers. Others in the industry are probably thankful their properties weren’t selected for inspection!

Poor housekeeping is one of those domains that is in your purview to manage flawlessly. It requires continuous training, perseverance and accountability. Housekeeping is also a department that has, until recently, experienced only a limited amount of technological advancements — you still need to physically change bed sheets, clean the sinks, vacuum the carpets and so on.

At the same time, guestrooms have become more sophisticated in their finishes, and the more complex the room, the more surfaces there are that can accumulate grime and microbes. Surfaces take time, and when time is restricted, a housekeeper is bound to consider shortcuts. That’s basic human nature.

The key is how you manage the situation daily — how you allocate staff supervisors, how you train your team and how willing you are to achieve perfection in this area. Listen to your executive housekeeper. Demand perfection, because after all, that’s what your guests want, and it’s what reporters will highlight!