Hotel companies are employing a number of methods to make housekeeping more efficient, thereby lowering costs per room.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hoteliers nationwide are aggressively analyzing and optimizing housekeeping costs and efficiencies in hopes of finding savings on this key expense, wherever and whenever possible. For some, harnessing new technologies, processes and performance metrics are core elements of these initiatives, which are already yielding dividends.
The trend comes at a time when most hotel companies are wrestling with the rising cost of labor, a situation that’s been exacerbated by the currently low unemployment rate and the movement in many states toward a higher minimum wage. Instead of trying to swim against the employment tide, the logical solution is to improve housekeeping productivity, getting rooms cleaned faster and more efficiently, without compromising the guest experience.
“The concern over housekeeping costs continues to grow in most hotels, especially in specific markets over the cost of labor,” said Tom Waithe, regional VP of Kimpton Hotels for the Pacific Northwest and Mountain regions. “The largest labor force is always found in housekeeping, so hotels are working hard to be creative in how they can minimize these costs and where savings might be found. As the largest cost to a property, housekeeping labor will always be a focus to an operator, since minutes mean money.”
Typically, hoteliers seeking to minimize housekeeping expenses begin by improving their analytics and key performance indicators used to track productivity of the department. This process often involves looking at the key metric of housekeeping per occupied room, but also at things like linen per available room, which measures how many sets of bed linens a housekeeper carries on their cart, and how many sets the hotel owns and has in rotation per day. This information is used to reduce time spent walking to the laundry room and waiting for fresh linens, as well as loading fresh linens on the cart.
According to experts, the analytical approach is working. For example, McNeill Hotel Company identified that efficiencies could be gained by better utilizing hotel houseman staff—who often focus in the morning on cleaning common areas and trash removal—to aid housekeeping. The company’s housemen now stock all housekeeping carts in advance, strip linens and remove trash from the guestrooms and restock carts as needed, so housekeepers can focus solely on cleaning each room.
“In one specific hotel we’ve been able to save about three minutes per occupied room, while also increasing our cleanliness scores, because our housekeepers are not concentrating on removing a bunch of stuff from the room,” said Travis Murray, regional director of operations for McNeill Hotel Company. “They’re also not going back and forth to linen closets and missing stuff, so it actually turned out to be a win-win from both a guest service score and productivity standpoint.”
The points approach
It’s not all about the housekeeping staff, however. Another major solution to the housekeeping cost equation has been the approach of offering guests additional loyalty points and/or discounts if they choose to forego daily housekeeping, or in some cases, opt for lighter, less thorough cleaning.
Kimpton, for example, offers its Choose to Conserve program, which provides food and beverage credits in such instances. Marriott International has its Make a Green Choice (MAGC) program, which provides Marriott Bonvoy points to members who forgo full housekeeping, for up to three days in a row. Hilton also has a similar program, offering Hilton Honors points for each night that a guest declines housekeeping. Sources indicated that enough guests are taking advantage of these initiatives to make an appreciable difference.
“With the initiatives that the brands have rolled out, with Marriott’s Green Choice and Hilton now doing some ‘light touch’ service on the rooms to help save water and detergent, we’re really seeing a lot of people taking advantage of that, because they’re getting additional points,” Murray said. “The average take rate for Marriott Green Choice is about 20% at our hotels. For Hilton’s light touch, we have a test property, and our take rate has been closer to 30%, and that’s anyone staying two nights or more.”
Tools of the trade
For other companies, trimming housekeeping costs has become all about changing the processes entirely. At HP Hotels, housekeeping has been transformed through use of a cloud-based mobile task management and team optimization app that runs on smart devices.
Each housekeeper is given a smartphone only to be used on-property; the housekeeper then uses the app to check-off a list of tasks to be completed for each room, and their progress is relayed back to managers. The app enhances two-way communication and organization, while providing the performance metrics needed to track efficiency, particularly minutes spent per occupied room according to brand, room type and each property’s unique attributes.
“We don’t just understand the efficiency of the labor when they’re cleaning the room, but also in that buffer time in between performing their job,” said Charles Oswald, president and CEO of HP Hotels. “We understand what everybody’s assignments are for the day, which translates directly into how room attendants stock their carts, to avoid needing to restock during their shifts. It helps us to think through efficiencies and benchmark our performances in a way that’s really never been possible in the past.”
Oswald added that the task-management app has made HP Hotels smarter about understanding stay-over versus check-out cleaning times according to each room type, as well as timing by square footage, flooring type, bedding and amenity packages. These revelations have made the expectations of its general managers more informed and strategic, while creating performance standards that are fairer to the housekeeping staff. In the future, the company hopes to fully integrate the app with each hotel’s property management system, as well as mobile door-lock operation through RFID.
“If you can take advantage of the RFID locks to where the person that the phone has been issued to are actively recorded entering a part of the room based off of the RFID proximity, then you really start getting some true and accurate time in motion data,” Oswald said. “It’s easier to tell who went where, when, and keeps everybody just a little bit more honest and more efficient, and thus running a smarter business.”