Hotel housekeeping and the COVID-19 pandemic

By Alladeen Knight

Mrs. Alladeen Knight- Lecturer School of THEM

As hotels put in place plans to slowly reopen their doors to usher in a new set of visitors in the face of COVID-19, housekeeping departments have the most critical role to play in how this will unfold. It will no longer be the front office staff who will initiate the 'moment of truth' but the housekeeping personnel, in how they are able to efficiently and reliably clean and sanitise all areas of the hotel.

I have often told my staff and students that they do not fully appreciate and understand the role and importance of hotel housekeeping staff. I call the department one of the most critical as it provides hotels with their first line of defence against security and safety breaches.

Housekeeping must interact with all the other departments as it is responsible for the cleaning and sanitising of staff uniforms, hotel linen, and all surfaces.

In light of the current global pandemic, which is responsible for the partial or full closure of all properties, it cannot be business as usual and hoteliers cannot stand by and allow housekeeping departments to fall victim to this crisis.

Instead, stakeholders at this time should view this new pandemic as an opportunity to think differently and innovatively in changing the way things are done in this critical area of their operations. The approach taken could literally determine the financial fate of their business and the industry on a whole.

Some of the things that must be considered are:

1. What will be the new features of hotel operations?

2. How do we re-engineer existing processes to survive and eventually thrive in the current and hopefully post-COVID-19 era?

3. What partnerships and protocols need to be in place with the respective public and private sector bodies?

4. How will safety training in housekeeping be done? What lessons can be learned and best practices be incorporated to deal with the challenge of this global pandemic?

5. How will the necessary changes in hotel operations affect the bottom line when there is likely to be significant impact to revenue?

6. What systems and processes will be put in place to manage the operations and provide the necessary assurances to guests and the public at large that all is being done to safeguard their health at these facilities?

7. What incident response measures are in place to handle a sick guest or confirmed cases on premises?

It is extremely evident that in order to tackle and answer these questions, hotel operators must first attempt to treat with the fear and miseducation likely impacting their team members. Without firstly addressing their concerns, all other initiatives and service objectives will not have the chance to succeed.

One of the first casualties will be the impact on customer service and the loss of the warmth and hospitality for which the Jamaican hotel industry is known. Hotel operators will now have to change their approach and in developing their plans and initiatives, focus firstly on the protection of their staff by mitigating as best as possible the risks they are likely to face.

The leaders in these areas must ensure they do not “gi dem basket fi carry wata”, and must invest in proper personal protective equipment and extensive training to ensure that staff, guests and customers are not existing in fear and paranoia as we slowly open our doors to rebuild our tourism industry.

Safety will be on the minds of most visitors and they will be interested in what hoteliers are doing to make their properties as safe as they can be. Safe destinations will now be a significant pull factor. “COVID-19 Safe” might now be a popular tagline for hotels, and hotel housekeeping will play a pivotal role in making this slogan a reality.

Maybe it is time to diversify our product offering and build on our health, wellness and safety offerings. This could be achieved by seeking new partnerships, leveraging our networking skills. Also, we can adopt best practice models to ensure we are operating with the best cleaning protocols in our hotels to tackle COVID-19 and other global pandemics that could be a threat to hotel operations in the future.

We should be adopting some of the cleaning policies from hotel operations around the world that are slowly opening their doors but are putting in the necessary protocols to ensure that the safety of guests and staff is at the forefront. We can now showcase the linkages we often boast of. Some of the current examples of this include the Beekeeper and Whispr partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with their Cleaning Task Lists app and the American Hotel and Lodging Association's Stay Safe programmes, among others.

We have numerous cleaning and chemical companies that we can partner with to ensure that the programmes and initiatives will be effective. Deep cleaning can no longer be a one-off activity that we conduct when occupancy levels are low, but a constant and continuous part of our daily housekeeping operation.

It is time our hoteliers equip their defence team with the required weaponry to fight with a chance to win. This too shall pass, but we must never be caught flat-footed or out of ammunition again. Hotel housekeeping operations must embrace and build on the lessons COVID-19 has taught us.

Will we break under the pressure of COVID-19, or do we tackle the new normal head-on?

Article courtesy of The Jamaica Observer