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Sun 21 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

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Keep it clean

The housekeeping department is integral to the smooth running of any hotel - but what really goes on in the world of a hotel housekeeper? HME persuaded a handful of the region's executive housekeepers to dish the dirt on the highs, the lows and messy guests.

The housekeeping department is integral to the smooth running of any hotel - but what really goes on in the world of a hotel housekeeper? HME persuaded a handful of the region's executive housekeepers to dish the dirt on the highs, the lows and messy guests.

How long have you been in your role at the hotel and what previous experience do you have?

Priyanthi Jayawardena:I have been working here since May 2008 as the executive housekeeper. I have experience in various properties across Asia and the Middle East, in five-star properties including several leading small luxury hotels.

I believe that housekeeping is one of the vital functions of a hotel.

Miah Ramzan:I've been in housekeeping for 23 years. I started my career with service staff training and worked through various positions in laundry and housekeeping departments until I was promoted to the position of executive housekeeper in 1994 at Starwood. I was also awarded with the President's Award in 1996 - an award given to the best element in the company. It was the best award I've ever received.

I've been the executive housekeeper at Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel and Resorts for three years now.

Asif Khatri:I've been working in housekeeping for nearly 20 years. I started my career as a room attendant in Saudi Arabia, where I worked my way up the ladder for the next 11 years working in five-star deluxe properties. I then came to Dubai in 2000 where I have worked for Hilton ever since.

In July 2007 I was promoted to executive housekeeper at Hilton Dubai Jumeirah.

Lorna Ventura:I've been at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel and Spa for a year, but I've been with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for 10 years. My previous assignment was at The Ritz-Carlton, Doha. Rudy Evangelista:I have been the executive housekepeer of Al Diar Siji Hotel Fujairah since it opened in 1999. I started as a room attendant at Hyatt Regency in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, then I joined Hyatt Regency in Jeddah afterwhich I moved to the Sheraton Oman Hotel.

Then I was lucky enough to be part of the opening team for Al Diar Siji Hotel in 1999 and I have been here since then.

K P Chandran:I joined this hotel way back in 1982 so have served close to 26 years now. I have always worked in housekeeping - learning my trade and progressing until I reached the position of executive housekeeper in 2003.

Did you always want to work in the housekeeping field?Jayawardena:Yes, I believe that housekeeping is one of the vital functions of a hotel and major share of earnings is generated from the rooms. So my role as head of housekeeping contributes immensely towards the hotel's success and reputation.

Ramzan:Yes; I chose this industry and prepared myself to work in housekeeping as I have a great passion for it. Nothing sends a stronger message than cleanliness in a hospitality operation. No level of service, friendliness, or glamour can equal the sensation a guest has upon entering a spotless, tidy and conveniently arranged room. It shows the care that the property puts into creating a clean, safe, and pleasant environment for its guests. Khatri:When I finished school I worked with my brother in a hotel in India to gain some experience of the industry. I started in housekeeping and enjoyed it so much I decided to continue my career along this path.

After a few months of training at the hotel in India I was given the chance to move to Saudi, where the salary was better and the opportunities greater. This is when my career began.

I am passionate about my work. Housekeeping is one of the most important departments in the hotel.

Ventura:Yes, because here I can really demonstrate and utilise my talents and abilities. Chandran:I didn't really have much idea of what housekeeping involved when I first arrived in Bahrain from my native India, but I quickly grew to like the variety of experiences working in this department brings - no two days are ever the same. Evangelista:Not at first, but as I continued to work in this field I realised that housekeeping in a hotel was much more complex than I previously thought and I also started to like doing it. So I stuck with it and eventually rose to my position now. What are the main challenges that your department has to face?

Jayawardena:The most challenging work within my department is to get the staff trained with an eye for minute detail. As the rooms should be en par (or even better) with any world class hotel, our staff need to ensure that the rooms are consistently done in accordance with the set standards.

No level of service, friendliness, or glamour can equal the sensation a guest has upon entering a spotless, tidy and conveniently arranged room.

Ramzan:One of the challenges we face is to ensure that each and every guest enjoys a guestroom experience similar or better to that which they have in their living room at home - in another words, providing the ‘home away from home'. We need them to feel special and belong to the hotel.

Khatri:Staff turnover! This is a big challenge all across Dubai, especially in light of all the new hotel openings.

We are lucky at Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, as a large proportion of our team has been here since the opening in 2000. We are like a big family and support each other in both our working and personal lives. Evangelista:As in any other department, one of the challenges for housekeeping is effective communication, as well as managing priorities and demands. I direct and control the housekeeping operations and all the staff of the department, as well as coordinating the daily duties of housekeeping, recreation and laundry staff to ensure standards are met. Another of my responsibilities is to respond to guest requests, look after purchasing and inventory control, track maintenanceand handle hiring for the department. The challenge comes when deciding which of these to give priority and then efficiently communicating that to the staff.

Another challenge is continuing to search for cleaning products that are more effective, safe for the staff and environmentally-friendly. Which areas of the hotel are most difficult to clean and why?

Jayawardena:I think it's the guest room bathrooms, as you need to place a great emphasis on hygiene and [creating a] sterile environment while maintaining the plush outlook. Khatri:Outdoor areas, because of the dust from all the building work in the city as well as the sand when it is a windy day!

Ventura:The guest rooms, as our mission is to create an unforgettable stay for every guest by catering to different preferences and requirements.

Evangelista:In my experience, the back areas are the most difficult to maintain in terms of cleanliness. It is being used by the hotel staff 24 hours a day. The receiving area is also difficult to clean, because traffic there is usually heavy during delivery of hotel supplies. Chandran:All areas of the hotel have their own unique characteristics and challenges. Organising periodic cleaning such as shampooing guest corridor carpets requires a great deal of planning and coordination with front desk. In such a busy operation as ours as we have to close floors down for a couple of days to enable us to do the work without disturbing guests. Have you had any unusual experiences when cleaning rooms, or do you have any horror stories about particularly messy guests?

Jayawardena:Yes - once there was a couple who walked in and insisted a deluxe room, but at that time we did not had any so we provided a superior room. From that moment they started complaining without any logical reason.

At the end of their two night stay, they wanted to check out very fast and carried their own bags to the reception. We noticed their bags looked bigger than before, and at this point a room boy reported to me the miniature bottles of Bacardi in the mini-bar had been opened. Upon investigation the bottles were filled up with tap water. Another room boy ran up and said that the pillows and bath robes in the room are missing.So we were compelled to ask the guest - and they simply said that because they did not get the room type they wanted they had taken these things as compensation.

Ramzan:Not really, Abu Dhabi is a very safe and secure place to work - aside from having very messy rooms sometimes that require placing the room out of commission for several days for deep cleaning.

Khatri:We have but we are very discreet - sorry, but we cannot share any details!

Today guests take ‘clean, safe and pleasant’ for granted and look for more sophisticated and personalised elements.

Evangelista:We've had some guests who were really organised - so neat and tidy that their rooms only meant a little work for the room attendant. However we have also encountered some really messy guests.

One time, when a guest checked out, we came to clean the room and we found it a total mess with slashed sofas and the LCD TV broken. We just did our job of cleaning and fixing the room and the guest paid for all the damage.

It meant much work for the housekeeping team, but still it is our pleasure to do what we ought to do excellently.

Chandran:We did have an incident some years back that I will always remember. Two of our guests had a ‘falling out' and their argument, unfortunately, got very physical.

We ended up with blood spots from one of their injuries leaving a bright red trail all across the lobby carpet (which of course happened to be beige) and continued right up into their bedroom. We had to have five or six of the team working as quickly as possible to spot the blood off before it set!

What one thing would you change to help your department run more smoothly?Jayawardena:I would give my staff personality development training, so they would have a much better attitude towards work and the hotel.

Ramzan:I believe that every executive housekeeper is as good as the associates working under him or her.

A well-trained and motivated associate is the key to an efficient and well organized housekeeping department. Therefore, I shall continue to train, develop and motivate associates and build a culture where superior performance and skill growth are valued and rewarded.

Ventura:I'd focus on multi-tasking employees in all areas of the housekeeping department.

Evangelista:Al Diar Siji Hotel got its BS EN ISO 9001:2000 certification in 1995 and we have succeeded in renewing the certification every year after that. Our housekeeping department is already following and adhering to the this high quality certification, so there isn't really anything that needed to change at this time.

To help my department run more smoothly, I would just have to continue to improve on what we have now as far as the standard is concerned. How has the job changed since you first started working in housekeeping?

Jayawardena:Guest expectations have increased immensely and even in terms of hotels, instead of the mass market large hotels, the new trend is toward boutique hotels with their independent theme. In terms of chemicals, staff nowadays are better trained in terms of correct usage and safety and most of the chemicals are bio-degradable.

In terms of PMS and hotel management systems, the current systems are fully integrated and user friendly, unlike a decade ago.

Overall, managing a housekeeping department is actually more of a knowledge-based job than a physical working environment.

Ramzan:Nowadays the guest expectations have become higher and higher as new and better-equipped hotels have opened.In the past, guests simply looked for a clean, safe, pleasant environment. The main function of housekeeping was to provide a cleaning service only. But today, guests take ‘clean, safe and pleasant' for granted and look for more sophisticated and personalised elements, such as turndown service, shoe shine service, private butler service and so on.

Khatri:Since I started working we have become more computerised and can even track rooms that need cleaning. Also the introduction of mobile phones has made communication easier with the different departments that need things from us.

Ventura:The engagement with our guests is more important than ever, and it is increasingly important to build a relationship with them during their stay.

Team work has also changed noticeably and is much stronger nowadays.

Plus of course we have a much better tracking system on hand as opposed to a few years ago.

Evangelista:There have been changes in the procedures since we got the BS EN ISO 9001:2000 - we are following ISO's quality manual to ensure that high quality international standards are met.

There have also been a lot of changes in terms of materials. Now we use cleaning equipments and cleaning chemicals that can do miracles on stains and at the same time are environmentally-friendly.

Chandran:The advances in the laundry side of the operation have been really beneficial. Using liquid chemicals instead of the old powders is much cleaner and safer for the staff. And being able to change wash programmes in an instant with the new micro processor washing machines we have is such a relief from the days when we had to manually cut slots into cards, which could take hours.

What is the secret to being a successful housekeeper?

Jayawardena:Paying attention to detail, always being alert and up to date with modern housekeeping techniques and developing guest problem solving skills.

Ramzan:Training and motivating associates is very important, as well as efficient planning and organisation. Opportunities for advancement are one of the key elements for the motivation. I always tell my associates that I will not let them stay in the same position forever unless they wish to.

Khatri:Having an eye for detail, taking pride in your work, being personable, approachable and always willing to go the extra mile.

Ventura:Having a passion for what you are doing and simply being supported by your team members and your management.

Evangelista:A housekeeper will be successful if he knows the jobs and responsibilities of the people under him, for example the roles of the houseman, the order taker, the room attendant and supervisor.

I believe that the lower you start, the better you will be when you move up because you know and understand what another person has to do and what it will take to get his job done.

A housekeeper needs to know a lot more than just merely cleaning a room. He has to know how to delegate jobs and he also has to learn some important financial management tasks, such as setting and adhering to a budget.

Chandran:Aside from requiring a sound technical knowledge of chemicals, fabrics and so on, you have to be well organised, have an excellent eye for detail and good common sense.

Having one of the largest teams in the hotel, it is essential you communicate effectively and are always there to support, encourage and guide your people.

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