The Case of Hotel Housekeeping Operations – Part 1

by Egi Gaisie

We are slowly weaving ourselves through our hotels and heading towards Housekeeping departments. Together with Front office they form the Rooms Division in large hotels. However, currently, with so much happening in the housekeeping department, we can’t afford to lump the two (housekeeping and front office) together, particularly considering threats of the coronavirus to intrude everywhere and anywhere people are gathered; the hotel industry being one of its prime targets.

We have climbed up the two-peaked ‘Mount Afajato’ (maintenance-engineering and security departments), if you have been following the posts. Our expedition continues. We are actually on a descent, trailing down towards what I am going to refer to as the ‘plateau’, that is, the housekeeping department.  It is a familiar ground and unfortunately, tagged with several misconceptions. 

The department is traditionally known as part of BACK-OF-THE-HOUSE (BOH) and is the ‘control tower’ for hotels being AESTHETICALLY CLEAN. Now with the coronavirus, the spot light is on the department to ensure that hotels are CLINICALLY CLEAN!! We should anticipate lots of new normal practices!

I love hotel housekeeping! This is one department I have had lots of hands-on and with NO REGRETS. Together with the front office, I learnt thoroughness; paying great attention to details! In addition, housekeeping operations teased out my flair for interior decoration!

Permit me to quickly describe a plateau geographically and how I am using it metamorphically in this article so, I don’t lose you.

A Plateau

A plateau is also called a high plain or a tableland; it is an area usually consisting of relatively flat terrain that is raised significantly above its surrounding area.

Plateaus are interesting geographical features; their high flat surface can continue for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers and they are bounded by an escarpment on all sides, or are sometimes enclosed by mountains (as in our imaginary case). The Ethiopian Highlands (or Ethiopian Plateau) is sometimes called the “roof of Africa” and the Tibetan Plateau or the Himalayan Plateau, in Central Asia and East Asia is referred to as the “roof of the world”. These examples are for you to imagine how extensive plateaus can be.  The Kwahu area is considered a plateau as well; however, it is forested, and a bit more rugged. Our imaginary plateau is not; it is enclosed by the twin mountain peaks, ‘Maintenance-Engineering’ and ‘Security and Loss Prevention’.

Below are some images of plateaus. Choose one and imagine we are on the plateau. As excursionists, we will be here for a little longer than we spent on the ‘mountain peaks. So, find a place, social distancing of course, stretch your limbs, take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery!

The scope of work of the Housekeeping department infiltrates almost every area of a hotel (thus the comparison to plateaus which stretches over vast areas). The department ensures a clean, attractive, comfortable and welcoming hotel environment.

Compared to mountain peaks, plateaus are ‘unassuming’, very much like housekeeping operations. Housekeeping departments’ activities involves preparing and cleaning public areas and guestrooms on a timely manner, cleaning and/or ensuring the availability of clean linen, cleaning guests’ clothes and employees’ uniforms sent to be laundered as well as seeing to the floristry of hotels.

Unfortunately, housekeeping departments are often not given their due importance. However, since the coronavirus pandemic seems to have pushed the department to the spot light, one hopes we will be celebrating it soon.

The department is described as ‘Back-of-the-house’(BOH), ‘Backbone of the hotel’, and ‘Heart-of-the-hotel’.

Let’s ‘explore’ these terminologies.

Why Back-of-the-house?

In a hotel, the BOH is all the behind-the-scenes areas that guests don’t see. Hidden away, BOH acts as the central command center, keeping operations moving smoothly. Traditionally, guests are not meant to see what’s going on behind the scenes — it will kill the magic/awe (of hardly seeing anyone cleaning yet finding hotels consistently top notch clean).

Back-of-house also includes places like the kitchen, storage area, laundry room, and business offices. While only employees see these areas, it’s still crucial to maintain order and cleanliness, just as in the front lobby or other common areas.

Why Backbone of a hotel?

The backbone keeps our body upright and holds our heads straight. The activities which the housekeeping department does are so critical that poor housekeeping could result in not only injuries and fatalities, ranging from painful slips, trips and falls, to workers being unable to evacuate burning buildings because of blocked fire exits but also rooms not being patronized.

Nothing attracts customers more than a spick and span hotel environment. No standard of service, courteousness or glamour can equal the happiness a customer has upon entering a spotless, clean and conveniently arranged room and amenities. Management and guests both agree that maintaining a clean and tidy room environment is a pre-requisite to command a fair compensation and get repeat business, hence, creating a loyal customer base and increased profits.

As the backbone of the hotel industry the department ensures rooms are clean, prepared, and ready to go when guests arrive.

Why Heart-of-the-house?

How the department carries out her role can make or break the hotel.

My knowledge and understanding of the housekeeping department as ‘Heart-of-the-house’ motivated me in my job as a room attendant (room maid then). Its was gratifying to know that housekeeping staff can contribute to retain satisfied guests as well as generate new guests willing to repeat their visit to the hotel and that housekeeping operations bring in more revenue to the hotel! One of my memories of working in guestrooms was the induction to clean so well that the rooms appear as fresh and aesthetically appealing as on the first day the hotel property opened for business. Along this line I adopted a self-check on my work; it must look clean, smell clean and feel clean, and I took PRIDE in ensuring that I achieved those standards I aimed at while toiling as a room maid/attendant.

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