Hoteliers and experts tell us what it takes to ace the housekeeping game even in the best of hotels

Here's a complete lowdown on the most common housekeeping mistakes that occur during operations

Housekeeping, Mistake, Rooms, Suites, Taj Wellington Mews Luxury Residences, Conrad Pune, W Goa, Lemon Tree Hotels Ltd, Cygnett Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru, Aloft, New Delhi Aerocity

Housekeeping is a critical function of a hotel’s operation —it can make or mar the guest experience. Well-maintained rooms and suites set the tone for the quality of services provided by a hotel, and also play a vital role in guest satisfaction, thereby assuring guest loyalty. However, owing to the demanding nature of the profession and the number of rooms they have to cater to, a housekeeper’s job can be stressful, leading to many hits and misses. Some common mistakes the hotel’s housekeeping staff is known to make, despite all the precautions taken: Inappropriate linen checks; not using colour coded dusters; low cleanliness levels in areas such as high ceilings and under the bed; inappropriate vacuuming of carpets/mats, and unprofessional communication with guests, amongst others. Industry leaders and experts share their learning about the most common housekeeping mistakes that occur during operations.

Hair strands left lying around on the floor and the bathrooms

Strands of hair on the bathroom floor or in the sink are those little things that turn happy travellers into disgruntled hotel guests. Meena Bhatnagar, general manager, Taj Wellington Mews Luxury Residences, says, “A clear sign that a room has been insufficiently cleaned is the sight of hair in the bath or on the floor. Over time, some employees may try to take shortcuts by not vacuuming or sweeping. To avoid such issues, hotels must make sure that the staff has plenty of time to tidy each room. A housekeeper should also make random checks to ensure that the staff is operating to a high standard, every single day.”

Miscommunication while dealing with guests’ needs and privacy

Often, a lack of experience and communication leads to misjudgment when it comes to dealing with guests. According to Wilson Dsouza, executive housekeeper, Conrad Pune, most of the accidental damage or disposal of guest property is due to miscommunication or misjudgment. Another example of misjudgment, as mentioned by Dsouza, is when the housekeeping staff do not follow the due process while dealing with guest privacy, particularly when they have specifically asked not to be disturbed.

Lack of advance planning

Speaking about a crucial mistake in housekeeping, Aman Dhoundiyal, director of rooms, W GOA, says advanced planning and preparedness for any situation is a good quality in a housekeeper. He adds, “At W Goa, our target guests are disruptors, people who love to party, and the challenges are exponential. Guests arrive much earlier than the check-in time and expect the rooms to be ready. Most times, the reasons they are in the hotel is a celebration, either a birthday, an anniversary or a honeymoon, and they expect out-of-the-world amenities and decorations in the room. Being a beach and pool resort, the wear and tear of the rooms are much higher than in a city hotel. Thus, in all circumstances, a housekeeper must think forward, plan and predict a situation accordingly. This helps in minimising any issues that one may encounter and is taken care of immediately.”

Damp patches

Another housekeeping flaw, which is not visible immediately, is the presence of damp patches in a hotel. Elaborating further, Bhatnagar says, “Damp patches on the walls or the carpet suggest that the hotel is not being well maintained. They look unsightly and when guests have spent their hard-earned money on a room, they don't expect it to look tawdry. In some cases, you cannot predict when a damp patch will show up, but to avoid any unwanted surprises, all housekeeping staff must check rooms thoroughly (and this can be done while tidying). If any damp spots or cracks appear, they must be noted and fixed as soon as possible.”

Challenges posed by flaws in hotel design

Sareena Kochar, vice president – housekeeping, Lemon Tree Hotels Ltd 

This is more a challenge, then a mistake. Apart from cleanliness and arrangement of amenities and upkeep of rooms, flaws in hotel design can be difficult to deal with. Sareena Kochar, vice president – housekeeping, Lemon Tree Hotels Ltd contends that design impacts housekeeping practices in a major way. She says, “Designing upscale spaces without keeping an account of maintenance logistics can lead to high levels of physical injury in hotel housekeepers. Design decisions related to decor and pieces of equipment are often the cause behind such mishaps. Intricate design sometimes creates a challenging situation. The design of the hotel also impacts staff efficiency. At Lemon Tree Hotels, we offer fixed brick beds which eliminate the effort of cleaning under the bed. This, in turn, saves cleaning time by 3-5 minutes per room and enhances efficiency and productivity.” Debasish Chandra, regional director - pre-opening & development, Cygnett Hotels & Resorts, agrees with Kochar’s point of view on how hotel design can impact the effectiveness of housekeeping.

The laundry, the linen and the uniform rooms should be centrally located for operation efficiency

“The layout of the housekeeping department, the laundry and linen rooms, the uniform rooms, all have a high impact on the overall operation. These areas need to be centrally located with easy access to elevators.” Linen rooms and the laundry room need to be designed as per the service requirements and workflow of the department. He also pointed out the need for having regimented arrangements for keeping linen and other housekeeping accessories and tools, which will help the staff avoid chaos, delay, pilferage and damage. Chandra suggests that the pantries should be specially-designed for ease-of service for the floor operations.

While different properties have different challenges regarding design and the structure of the hotel, Jharna Pandya, executive housekeeper, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru, shared an interesting perspective on bathroom design. She says, “Most times, the housekeeping staff face issues with bathroom design when proper drains are not provided near to the vanity area. The seepage issues are more evident because of the common walls between the bathroom and the bedroom.”

Failing to effectively deal with pest control

A pest infestation can pose a major risk to the business and affect guest satisfaction. A pest infestation can cause damage to the furniture, furnishings, fittings and food. Pankaj Behl of The Westin Sohna Resort and Spa says the different seasons bring different pest challenges. Those who don’t take precautionary measures proactively may end up receiving pest complaints from guests.

Infrastructure issues

Reuben Kataria, general manager, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru

Talking about lack of critical infrastructure, Reuben Kataria, general manager, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru, explains, “A linen chute is not provided in bigger hotels, which means the property has to allocate one extra person to just remove soiled linen from guest floors. The person will bring down the linen at his or her convenience, which leads to inconveniencing the laundry team and affecting the overall operation of the hotel, forcing associates and the laundry to consume more energy and increase costs. Properties that have linen chutes have a smooth operation flow between the laundry and the housekeeping. This way, the laundry receives the soiled linen on time and can process this linen with equal alacrity.”

Untrained staff

Suman Gehlot, general manager, Aloft, New Delhi Aerocity

The new housekeeping staff must be appropriately trained for their daily routine tasks. However, at times, a housekeeper is short on certain skills owing to lack of exposure and formal training. Suman Gehlot, general manager, Aloft, New Delhi Aerocity says, “Lack of training, as per the need, is another area that housekeepers need to look at. This lack of training often leads to de-motivation among some staff members and triggers a high rate of attrition. We have found that the lack of exposure to evolving trends and technology, too, impacts housekeeping operations. Modern day travellers are smart travellers and if they find that the hotel they are staying in, has not adapted to changing times, they will end up choosing a competitor over you.”

The lack of maintenance

The margins of error in housekeeping operations are very low. However, at times, some human error and some unavoidable maintenance issues occur, which can cause major discomfort to guests. Gehlot explains, “In the time of advanced technology, where the DND switch is automated and guests forget to switch them off, they are surprised to find their rooms not serviced when they return in the latter part of the day. Maintenance defects such as the television not working due to bad weather or transmission problems, or other sudden unavoidable technical faults also lead to dissatisfaction.”

In any hotel, maintenance of all spaces, private and public, are crucial to its functioning

Other maintenance issues pointed out by Dsouza include problems with wooden floorings. He adds, “A wood flooring looks eye-pleasing but maintaining it is a gargantuan task. Few hotels have expensive wallpapers covering extensively the walls. As wallpapers are very susceptible to mildew and fungal growth, to remove them gently also increases the work-load of the housekeeper.”

Underestimating the effect of hard water

Laundering linen is one of the biggest expense any hotel incurs. Behl says, “In the laundry, during a wash cycle, more than required water hardness can reduce the lifespan of the linen and make it grey within a few washes. Hard watermarks in the cubicle glassin the bathroom cubicle or on the marble also look very unseemly. A housekeeper should be ready to tackle these watermarks with the best chemicals available.”