Unsung heroes of hospitality: Housekeepers

Housekeeping should be top of mind for hoteliers nowadays as third-party review agencies like TripAdvisor are more than willing to allow users to cast the searchlight on any and all cleanliness flaws. However, finding a balance is now harder than ever; you have to stay cost effective while at the same time a myriad of minor slipups can cost thousands of dollars via these online guest reviews.

In my quest to help you better understand the issue and learn from what other hoteliers are doing, I was put in touch with Sonakhanum Mammadova, executive housekeeper at the Fairmont Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan. Completed less than two years ago, the Flame Towers are utterly stunning and a symbol of modern Baku.

But fancy architecture doesn’t necessarily translate in excelsior cleaning services. And that is where we begin…

Tell me about housekeeping at the Fairmont Flame Towers.

In comparison with the other places I have worked, the housekeeping team here really enjoys its work. This is because it is made clear that they can progress up the career ladder. As a result, turnover is very low. Almost all of my staff has a higher education and roughly 80% of my team is currently studying in universities or has already graduated. We are a strong team that not only works together, but also sees each other socially. When occupancy is really high, everyone helps out, regardless of rank or position.

We never outsource; we give all trainings internally. We have a two-year Housekeeping Management Trainee program for those who would like to build their career here. We try our best to promote our own staff rather than hire externally. I have already trained the first group with three managers.

Do you use any automation tools to assist you in managing the executive housekeeper position?

We have all the necessary equipment for work that’s normally outsourced. For instance, we have a crystallization machine – hotels normally pay a lot of money to get this done by outside companies. It makes things so much easier to keep it all in-house.

Do you look at TripAdvisor ratings and housekeeping comments?

Of course! Even if you are visiting the best hotel in a city and the cleaning level is unsatisfactory, a guest is highly unlikely to return a second time.

How do you motivate long-standing team members?

I try to promote current employees to the higher positions. They should always be climbing career ladder and the only way to do this is through hard work.

Can you give me an example of something that you have done as an executive housekeeper that has had a significant impact on the property?

For two years we could not use the hotel’s laundry system and were forced to outsource everything. Over a one month period, the laundry supervisor and I worked hard to bring all machinery up to working condition. Before we were spending $18,000 to $20,000 on laundry, including our uniforms, guest linins and room towels, but now we complete it all internally, making for a huge saving.

Anything else you want to add?

I am a chairman of the sustainability committee and now we are starting a new project devoted to planting our own vegetables and herbs garden for use in the kitchens. Yes, farm-to-table is concept that even we in Azerbaijan embrace!