Hotel News Middle East invited some of the region’s leading experts on housekeeping to take part in a special roundtable discussion at Kempinski Mall of the Emirates which was sponsored by Guest Supply.
- Rana Deek Tawaj, executive housekeeper, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates
- Deepu Kundra, executive housekeeper, Fairmont Ajman
- Sanju Samuel, director of housekeeping, Habtoor Grand
- Yvonne Chimbganda, head of housekeeping, Media One Hotel
- Lilli Fiirgaard, director of housekeeping, Jebel Ali Golf Resort
- Jehane Lafreniere, executive housekeeper, Dukes Dubai
- Deepti Ahergupte, director of services, JW Marriott Deira
- Sheeja Sasidharan, executive housekeeper, Radisson Blu Dubai Deira Creek
- Chandana Rathnasiri, housekeeping manager, Melia Dubai
- Evelyne Raden, director of rooms, Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah
- Suman Basu, executive housekeeper, Movenpick JBR
- Darshana Chandrasiri, executive housekeeper, Lapita Dubai Parks and Resorts
- Laura Zanifrescu, executive housekeeper, Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Waterfront
- Jessica Hardinge, executive housekeeper, Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort
- Sonja Allen, hospitality specialist, Guest Supply
- Chloe Shine, regional sales manager, Guest Supply
How has modern housekeeping changed in recent years?
Suman Basu: Housekeeping has changed so much in the last number of years. Now housekeepers are not just seen as part of a basic operation, it is more about luxury and creating that special moment. A lot of your guests are coming from all over the world, they know the market. Everything is on social media, everything is on your phone. You can’t expect anything to go wrong because when it goes wrong it goes straight on social media. We need to understand our guests and make sure we understand them, every day there are new hotels opening up and it mushrooms. We have to be competitive in what we do compared to all the other hotels. That’s a key aspect of housekeeping, it’s about turning each individual into a unique guest.
Sanju Samuel: One of the challenges is that housekeepers should be involved in the designing of the hotel. Some hotels do include housekeepers when they ask where the water chute should be or where the pantry should be and so on.
Deepu Kundra: The role of a housekeeper has changed so much. We as individuals are involved in design and have seen a lot of growth in our roles, we always try to figure out something to drive revenues. Housekeeping is a career, it is not just about just checking rooms.
Jessica Hardinge: My background is front office, and when we talk about hotels it is the wow factor, it’s not just about cleaning a room and dumping the garbage, it’s about how you can wow the guest, how the scent in the lobby is different than the hotel down the road. One thing I would say is you want to be a director of rooms, you need to understand housekeeping, you need to know how to speak to guests. The history of housekeepers is they don’t talk, there is an attitude of just putting the head down. Now you need to have an attitude of keeping your head up and smiling, you’re almost a back of house concierge. I am trying to teach the team that everything that you do and your team does has everything to do with the success of the hotel. One example is we have a kids’ club and I tell the staff to tell the parents about the room, sell it to them, because you get them out of the room and it gives you a chance to clean that room.The way housekeeping staff have been trained is not that way though. Promote the hotel and services, not just from cleaning perspective. I am sure nobody knows executive housekeepers deals with the floral arrangements and scent, it has everything to do with ambience and the feel of the hotel. It’s all about the emotional intelligence and I don’t think it’s marketed very well, staff need to be trained how to speak to guests like they are in the front of house. Traditionally in hotels everybody has the attitude of I want to be a front of house manager, okay but there are 10 people applying for each front of house position compared to one at back of house, look at the ratio and think about which is best for growing your career.
Darshana Chandrasiri: We are not just inspecting rooms, we are also involved in the admin side, from financial cuts to the hotel to figuring ways to generate revenue, housekeeper as a word has completely changed and there needs to be more education in this area with local colleges and schools.
What are the challenges facing housekeepers right now?
Rana Deek Tawaj: We have to turn the unhappy guest into a satisfied one before he or she leaves. We have to avoid having complaints. If we don’t take it seriously they could end up writing a scathing review online.
Jessica: It is a fine line because housekeepers are the ones being hit with the complaints, I would always say don’t create monsters. Don’t give everything away for free. Don’t give away a free night just because someone didn’t have a hairdryer in their room for example. I understand that people will ask for more but we shouldn’t be afraid of guests, it is important to be proactive rather than reactive at the end of the day. We’re afraid someone is going to write this or that, we need to say I am willing to give this but not that. By creating monsters we are rewarding bad behaviour. We need to train staff to be proactive and interact with the guests, very easy solutions are available. There is a level of humanity that is missed with guest satisfaction, I think people are afraid, they shouldn’t be afraid, should take the bull by the horns and move forward.
Lilli Fiirgaard: We actually had a guest who complained that it took half an hour after he entered the hotel for someone to bid him welcome and to check him in, we checked the camera and it was six minutes. We take comments very, very seriously. Professional complaining is a big problem, people then say we got an upgrade last time why didn’t I get it this time?
Suman: As head of departments we spend a lot of time explaining our findings and justifications for these kind of complaints.
Yvonne Chimbganda: The very same guests complain but they keep coming back again.
Jessica: In Canada we had a professional complainer who actually wrote a book about to get things for free. The hotels need to put their foot down. It is very difficult as well to get stuff removed from TripAdvisor too. Last weekend one of my staff members was abused. They were pushed by a guest it was all caught on camera. The guest wrote horrible comments on every available forum that his privacy was interrupted. What happened was that the room attendant had completely followed procedure and just peaked in the room as the guest woke up, who literally copy and pasted comments on every single forum possible. From a social media perspective as well the companies need to also play ball, sometimes it isn’t justifiable what people are saying online, especially when you have footage to back it up and you are trying to support your staff. We try as much as possible to change perception but it’s a real battle sometimes to get these reviews down.
Sheeja Sasidharan : I still find Dubai is one of the most expensive places for hotel room rates, the price of staying here one night can be the same as two nights somewhere else. When the person is coming and putting up all that money it means they have a higher expectation on the service they want to have, people staying in luxury hotels would be from the neighbouring GCC conturies and when they are coming they are spending regardless of the price. You have huge families spending 100,000 to 200,000 AED for the entire time they have stayed and once a problem comes they look at the value of what they have paid. It depends on the kind of guest, but you can be attending to guests walking around with a whole lot of nannies, who are we to tell that guest you can’t do this? There is an expectation from those guests that we have to fall into line with the ‘yes your highness’ service. It has a lot to do with the status quo of the guests we get.
What problems still exist in the housekeeping industry?
Lilli: The quality of the salespeople that are sent out by companies. Some of them don’t know what they are selling, they can’t give you details, a couple of weeks ago I had a phone call from someone offering to come and ‘evaluate your uniforms free of charge’. I was speechless! These companies should have some form of training. There are so many companies shooting up all over the place. Two days ago I received 1,000 clothes brushes, when I opened them you could immediately smell the chemicals and when I lined them up every piece of wood, on the brushes, was a different colour. I asked purchasing if it was driftwood! Where is the quality control? From the point of order to receive there is something missing.
Jessica: I had a company send me their brochure, they told me they were from Korea, I asked them ‘you are from Korea?” They said ‘yes’ and I asked why do you have Chinese on your brochure? It is a waste of time with these amateur companies.
Sheeja Sasidharan : Everything is dependent on international input instead of local companies and that is a big challenge.
What is the future of housekeeping?
Sanju: I am currently looking at nanotechnology, imagine a shower that doesn’t have to be scrubbed. That is believe the future of housekeeping, I am doing tests with suppliers and by the time of the conference I might have some good news! It doesn’t let anything stick to it.
Jessica: They use it in Egypt on the old ruins and we are doing tests as well, if I could I would dip the whole hotel in it!