The backbone of the hotel industry
Housekeeping is one of the most indispensable departments in a hotel. Hotelier India speaks to housekeeping heads from select hotels about their challenges and their impact on the rest of the hotel’s operations.
What specifically is the role of a housekeeper and what are your main areas of responsibility?
GURMEET KAUR: There is a common perception that a housekeeper’s job is meant only for cleaning purposes. This is not correct. Apart from cleaning, dusting and decoration of rooms, the task of a housekeeper involves understanding the need of a guest and setting up things accordingly.
Responsibilities of housekeeping department in the hotels can be divided into different categories: (a) Service at public areas (b) Room service (c) Laundry service including the linens of the rooms and restaurants (d) Maintenance of staff’s uniforms (e) Maintenance of horticulture in hotel and (f) Apart from the guest or public areas, housekeeping also looks after the administrative offices, staff facilities and all other areas of hotel such as parking and the kitchen.
MEGHA PANDEY KAKROO: My role and main area of responsibility is leading the housekeeping team. When guests walk into a hotel, it’s the feeling he gets when he notices things around him. Right from the time he enters the elevator till he enters his room, we have to ensure that he finds everything clean and appreciates its aesthetic value.
My job involves maintaining the hotel and ensuring that there are zero defects anywhere. We also take care of the spa, health club, horticulture, and the main public areas.
SAREENA KOCHAR: I’m looking after the pan-Indian operations of Lemon Tree hotels. I have been here since the last 4.5 years and my main role is to uplift guest satisfaction, tracking systems keeping costs low and to help my organisation to be profitable in the mid-market segment.
We provide unforgettable experiences to our customers with our in-room amenities such as fragrance in the corridors, in order to make them feel welcome at all times and give them a personalised experience.
JIGNESH DESAI: My specific role is the upkeep of the entire hotel, it’s a role that is spread out over many areas.
MANDHAR BODHE: It goes without saying that housekeeping is in charge of all the details. I am responsible for the upkeep of guest rooms and ensuring that the public areas are kept clean and tidy and that everything works in an efficient manner.
Operationally speaking, I have to take care of my team, conduct people management. Besides overseeing activities such as pest control and laundry management, I also have to ensure that annual maintenance is on track because it is of utmost importance.
PARIMAL AGASHE: I am in charge of the housekeeping department and the laundry management. My main areas are the rooms, the public areas, the lost and found, the linen and the uniforms as well as the horticulture and pest control. I conduct all the coordination for this.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: The role of a housekeeper entails the following responsibilities: to ensure that the hotel should be maintained always fresh and clean, quality and standards should be of the highest order as specified by the organisation, to ensure cost effectiveness of the operation without compromising the quality, advise management on future renovation/refurbishment plans based on the guest feedback, selection and training of the housekeeping team. Executive Housekeeping is also an active member of the business excellence team.
How important is the housekeeping department in the hotel?
GURMEET KAUR: The housekeeping department is extremely important in hospitality services as it deals directly with guest’s need on regular basis. In fact housekeeping department of a hotel plays a vital role in building a relationship with the guests and ensuring a repeat visit as it is responsible for the guests’ comfortable stay in the hotel.
MEGHA PANDEY KAKROO: It’s all about first impressions for the guests.
SAREENA KOCHAR: It is the backbone of the hotel, it’s our responsibility to keep things hygienic and pleasing to the customers. We help the front office to generate revenue.
MANDHAR BODHE: Cleanliness and hygiene are of primary importance in a hotel, without which no guests would ever return nor recommend us to others. Since a major part of the hotel’s revenue comes from rooms, we have to see to it that they are in perfect order. You could say that the housekeeping department is the backbone of the hotel.
PARIMAL AGASHE: My department is one of the critical ones in the hotel, you could say it is the backbone of the hotel. We are the supporting department and we service the guest’s rooms, the lobby and the public areas. We are one of the most important departments because we handle the things that make the first impression on the guests. Since first impressions are everlasting, we are kept on our toes all the time.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: The housekeeping department is the backbone of the Hotel operation. It plays a very important role in the hotel and is the one of the main pillars of the quality of the hotel.
What are the supervisory training and staff training programmes held in your department?
GURMEET KAUR: There is a well designed management training programme of one year for executives in housekeeping department. During the training, the trainees got a chance to have exposure housekeeping activities and all inter-departments’ tasks as well.
Apart from this the housekeeping department launches special training programmes to train the staff at all levels of hotel operations including support department to cater better services to the guests.
During the training sessions our employees get a chance to evaluate themselves on various scales. It also helps the employees to upgrade their skills and productivity. We focus on attentive service for the guests.
MEGHA PANDEY KAKROO: In Marriott we have a team briefing in the morning and a 15 minute training session. For the rank and file employees are trained to do things like flower arrangements, different kinds f maintenance work to be done every day. For supervisory staff, it’s about cost control, guest supplies, different kinds of flooring maintenance to be done every day and people handling skills which includes dealing with guest complaints and exceeding guest expectations.
SAREENA KOCHAR: We conduct ‘train the trainer’ programmes, which are mandatory for all supervisors and managers. All the training modules are based on Guest Satisfaction Tracking Systems, which is how guests’ feedback shapes the training programmes. When we fill up appraisal forms we take those into consideration to build up training needs in different departments.
We have what we call a Function Excellent Program running in housekeeping, which teaches one about how to face challenges, overcome obstacles, etc over a week. We have a formal education programme where vendors and experts from all sectors arrive to educate our teams so that they are exposed to developments in all fields.
JIGNESH DESAI: Training has always been given extreme importance at our hotel. This includes soft skills as well as technical training is conducted.
We have a 45 minute training every week where we select one of the points from our standards. We have a 104-item checklist for the different aspects of the property. For supervisory skill builders we encourage and test essential skills.
At the Marriott we also have an online training module called ASHTRIGH that our staff needs to log in to do the training. We have core training for senior supervisors to management –on various topics such as how to impact business, build dynamic teams, self development and on how to train others.
MANDHAR BODHE: Upon joining, all staff members receive training before they actually start operations, we conduct detailed orientation on a variety of topics such as how to identify suspicious luggage, room security and guest security. We keep on rotating them in different departments so that they learn on the job constantly. They even have a detailed checklist for Room Inspection Standards.
PARIMAL AGASHE: We have an internal training programme in standard operating procedures for all the housekeeping staff. Each task is outlined whether it is how to clean the room or clean a toilet. We also stress on practical lessons rather than theory. Everything is hands on whether it is making a bed or setting up the trolley.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: Every team member who joins us is put through a training programme during which they are periodically assessed. The supervisors are put through various development programmes such as train the trainer. The staff members are also made to go through motivational exercises.
What are the various challenges you face on the job?
GURMEET KAUR: To understand the need of a guest and setting up things accordingly is the biggest challenge that housekeeping department faces on daily basis.
MEGHA PANDEY KAKROO: It’s very property specific. The previous organisation that I worked in was very widespread and had a huge property, so the challenges were different. Currently in Mumbai, the challenge is keeping the employees’ motivational levels high and to train them to keep them focused.
Product wise – coordination with the different departments is important. Keeping rooms clean when the occupancy is high is another challenge that we face regularly.
SAREENA KOCHAR: My job is very challenging no doubt, but I enjoy it. It’s my 10th hotel in Lemon Tree now and I carry 24.5 years of experience.
JIGNESH DESAI: Housekeeping is largely a thankless job and there’s always something extra that needs to be done. It gets tough when we have a breakdown of utility equipment and we don’t have proper preventive maintenance schedules. We usually always have a back up in place and always try and anticipate problems in advance.
MANDHAR BODHE: There are challenges in various areas such as absenteeism. We conduct a daily forecast before we begin the day, but there are always last minute fallouts and we don’t have enough people.
We have limitations on hiring professionals and with the competition in Pune increasing rapidly; we constantly have a high rate of attrition.
PARIMAL AGASHE: People management is the most difficult challenge. Most of my staff is from a completely different socio-economic background and I constantly emphasise to them how important their role is in the hotel.
When support departments face problems, they in turn become our concern as well. If an item is not procurable from a supplier due to non-availability in the market, we have to find a suitable substitute for our guests.
When guests are from different countries, we have to train our staff to be able to understand them without making any mistakes.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: To continue to perform well on the parameters of job responsibility while nature and man bring in constant demands. In addition to this staff turnover, while being a challenge, has become a part of our jobs. Besides, Ista Hyderabad with its beautiful expanse and nature is always a challenging task.
What are the challenges of communicating with the heads of different departments such as F&B, Banqueting, etc?
GURMEET KAUR: To ensure coordination of services between various departments is one of the biggest challenges for me as well as for heads of F&B, Banqueting, front office and other departments.
It is must because a comprehensive and joint effort of various departments helps in catering quality services to the guests which in return bring business to the hotel. We have made proper channel for internal communication, which is followed by the staffs.
We leave no stone unturned in fulfilling guests’ needs.
MEGHA PANDEY KAKROO: It depends on the hotel processes. As far as engineering is concerned, when housekeeping notices something’s amiss with either the water pressure or in room telephones, we draw it to their attention.
We also have a software called Guestware, which allows us to update the system with such issues and it gets reported to the engineering department. We define different tasks and assign timings to them.
With F&B, the major challenge is the banqueting events when the linen needs to be changed after one event, before the next takes place. We usually have less than an hour to turn around the room. All communication depends on a hotel’s processes.
SAREENA KOCHAR: As a corporate head we have a common forum conference once a month with all the deputy housekeeping heads where we talk about issues and challenges, everything is communicated in this conference. Different departments take any action only after consulting with each other. We take collective decisions with feedback before implementing them.
JIGNESH DESAI: We have standard morning meetings and operational meetings. Every week we have a meeting with engineering and discuss weekly solutions. We have a meeting with the front office every day.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: We work on basic rules of communication that helps resolve most challenges. Clarity on hotel objectives helps as well.
What are the main problems that come into play when dealing with the hotel’s public areas such as the main lobby, corridors, F&B outlets and service areas?
GURMEET KAUR: Maintenance of public areas in a hotel is another one of the toughest jobs as most of the time these areas are crowded with guests. We need to maintain these areas without causing any disturbance to the guests.
In The Metropolitan hotel cleaning of lounges and lobby are done by the night shift staff so that the areas are ready in the morning without troubling to the guests. The houseboy checks the area on regular basis to ensure that it is clean, tidy and freshen up.
MEGHA PANDEY KAKROO: Traffic of guests is problematic. We do most of our tasks in the night but being a business hotel, it’s like a 24 hour duty.
We try to juggle tasks if public areas are occupied. Corridors are another major part of our job, where we have to be discreet and less noisy since the rooms are occupied by the guests. Therefore we have to forecast tasks properly.
SAREENA KOCHAR: We have no problems because we have set schedules and patterns except when we have changes in the weather. Nothing is impossible.
JIGNESH DESAI: Being a convention centre, we have crowds of over 1,000 people at a time. Depending on the crowd, we have to procure adequate manpower and cleaning up after the event is always a challenge.
MANDHAR BODHE: We have problems with the main areas of the hotel such as the lobby, where we have to monitor the smell by administering our signature fragrance, maintain the furniture, present the flower arrangements – whatever makes a good first impression on the guests.
The problem lies with the fact that this area experiences 24 hours of guest traffic, which makes cleaning the area very difficult. We have marble flooring in the lobby of our hotel and maintaining it is very tough since marble needs special attention. We can’t do it in the day because of heavy traffic and we can’t do it at night because of the noise it creates.
PARIMAL AGASHE: Public areas cannot be hidden, so any defect is immediately visible to everyone. While rooms can be closed for maintenance while they undergo changes, public areas are challenging to handle. We train our staff to take constant rounds and look out for everything being spotless.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: Public areas are often exposed to dust more than the accommodation block, thus they require frequent cleaning. We have special flooring in some areas and they require careful handling and treatment. The hotel is of contemporary design and lighter shades of soft furnishing in some areas needs higher level of maintenance.
How are you involved when renovations and refurbishments take place in a hotel?
GURMEET KAUR: During the renovation our work gets increased. We have to take care of guests’ needs despite renovation work and also we ascertain that hotel services are up to the mark.
We ensure the highest level of cleanliness; hygiene hospitality and comfort are maintained as per organisational standards in order to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction.
MEGHA PANDEY KAKROO: We have a checklist (70 odd items) to submit before a room is opened to guests, this covers all the finer details. When it comes to refurbishment, housekeeping has to take care of the aesthetic value of the room, it’s very challenging.
SAREENA KOCHAR: During renovations I monitor and budget very carefully. We collectively decide what has to be done with the operational budgets and capital budgets sanctioned by the managing director.
We also closely work and coordinate with the engineering department. We have special teams for preventive maintenance. Refurbishment is usually conducted after three, four or five years if we take a call on whether we need to refurbish or renovate and adopt best practices to match our competitors.
JIGNESH DESAI: We work closely with the project heads. We check for feasibility, durability and maintenance. We have an exhaustive checklist. It’s a smooth operation.
MANDHAR BODHE: We are involved as a department only when there is a selection of floorings, upholstery, etc and this is when I come in the picture. I have to make these decisions based on the cost, choosing staff to man the job and picking items that are low maintenance.
PARIMAL AGASHE: We cordon off the areas that are under renovation and put up appropriate signage, barricades and isolate the area from the public.
With the help of the engineering department, we cordon off the area and conduct the maintenance. Then we clean the areas thoroughly before they are open again to the public.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: Renovation needs to be planned, soon after opening the hotel as you understand from customer feedback and one’s own assessment.
How is your inter-departmental communication conducted? How often do you have meetings?
GURMEET KAUR: Every day we have morning meeting with all Head of Departments (HOD) and every month we have Departmental Head (DH) meeting in which we discuss various issues and upcoming events. Otherwise on regular basis we keep in contact on the internet and phone.
JIGNESH DESAI: On a daily basis we meet twice, once for briefing and then again for a debriefing. We strategise at the beginning of the day and then in the evening, discuss problems experienced during the day and we take stock of the day’s issues besides sharing what goals have been achieved.
Once a month we have a meeting where we discuss issues such as personal, inventory, etc. We also have Medallia, which is a guest satisfaction tracking system. We ask guests for feedback and we share it with each other. We also discuss the challenges that we’ve faced during the month.
PARIMAL AGASHE: Every morning we have a meeting with all the department heads to deal with problems each one faces. We also rely heavily on emails or the telephone when we need to keep in touch with everyone and ensure that all are in the loop on certain issues.
KAUSHI LEELANANDA: There are daily meetings with relevant departments to exchange notes and understand the issues at hand. The general manager plays an active role in this.
LEMON TREE HOTELS PVT LTD
Housekeeping since July 2006 in Lemon Tree Hotels Pvt Ltd received her training in the Oberoi group of hotels. She has also worked with Holiday Inn, Hilton, Intercontinental, Jaypee group of hotels and the VLCC group.
HEAD OF HOUSEKEEPING
COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT MUMBAI
started her journey in this profession in 2006. She is spearheading the housekeeping division at the Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai International Airport and played a crucial role during the launch of the property in April 2010. Prior to this assignment, she worked at the Oberoi Amarvilas.
HEAD OF HOUSEKEEPING
THE METROPOLITAN HOTEL,
has a vast experience of 30 years in the hospitality industry.
Pune since September 2009 has worked before with Villa Rotana Suites – Dubai, Holiday inn – Kuwait and Hotel Crown Plaza – Kuwait.
DIRECTOR OF SERVICES,
RENAISSANCE MUMBAI CONVENTION CENTER
Hotel & Marriott Executive Apartments came on board with the Marriott family in the year 2002.
has over 13 years of experience in the areas of Housekeeping, Resource Management, Team Management and General Administration and has previously worked with Hotel InterContinental The Lalit, Sahar, Mumbai, Waterstones Country Club, Sahar, Mumbai and P&O Cruises (UK) Ltd.
has been associated with the housekeeping department in the hotel industry from 1979 and has around three decades of experience. She has worked with Lanka Oberoi, Ramada Renaissance, Taj Samudra. She is working with Ista Hyderabad since its inception in the year 2007.