Event Review: Executive Housekeeper Forum [HotelierMiddleEast.com]
(HotelierMiddleEast.com Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Guest satisfaction, career development and implementation of new technology were the top talking points at this year's Hotelier Middle East Executive Housekeeper Forum, which attracted more than 160 passionate professionals
On April 30 more than 160 housekeeping and laundry professionals from hotels across the Middle East gathered at Grosvenor House, Dubai to attend the second edition of the Hotelier Middle East Executive Housekeeper Forum, supported by platinum sponsors Intercoil and Restonic along with 17 other supplier companies.
The delegates, comprising executive housekeepers, directors of rooms and laundry managers, took part in a series of panel discussions and workshops which addressed key operational issues from meeting guest expectations and driving efficiency among teams to technology and trends in modern housekeeping.
Challenges particular to the housekeeping field were also discussed, such as how best to boost staff morale and encourage development in a department with few routes for progression.
The first panel discussion entitled 'Meeting the Needs of the Connected Customer – Ensuring Guest Satisfaction', was moderated by Pamini Hemaprabha, executive housekeeper at Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates. Hemaprabha was joined on stage by panellists Tatjana Ahmed, housekeeping manager at Grand Hyatt Dubai, Laetitia Lasry, executive housekeeper at The Palace Downtown Dubai, and Kathleen Knight, executive housekeeper at The Regency in Kuwait.
The panel discussed how housekeeping as a department can ensure increased guest satisfaction, loyalty and positive reviews. During the debate, the housekeepers agreed that free gifts are not generally a solution for dealing with guests complaints.
Ahmed commented that offering gifts should only be a finishing touch to resolving the complaint. She said: "In some cases it's okay to offer a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine, but I would not say that as a practice we give out gifts."
Lasry agreed, saying that giveaways are more "a marketing thing". The Palace Downtown Dubai executive housekeeper commented: "If the shower isn't working properly, the guest doesn't need a bottle of wine. You make the guest happy by fixing the problem, and then give an extra gift if you want to as a souvenir but not as compensation."
Knight argued that some guests expect a free gift in the event of a complaint as standard practice. She said: "I think there are some guests who may want something free and some are very good at that by complaining about a lot of things such as the room not being cleaned."
Hemaprabha closed the discussion commenting: "Gifts don't make up for service; most guests value the service more than the gifts."
Room for Growth
The next discussion 'Room for Growth – Careers in Housekeeping' tackled a key issue for staff in housekeeping departments; that of how best to support housekeeping staff in developing their careers when opportunities for promotion are rare.
Led by Nadine O'Connor, housekeeping manager at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, panellists said that nurturing skills, spotting potential and exploring routes for progression across departments and hotel groups was key to supporting staff growth.
O'Connor was joined on stage by Prabhat Shukla, executive housekeeper at the InterContinental Doha the City & Residence Suites, Pamini Hemaprabha, executive housekeeper at Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates and Sangeetha Bahrat, housekeeping manager at Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi hotel and Villas.
Hemaprahba highlighted that "everybody is very restless" in housekeeping departments and if they are not offered fast progression they move on quickly.
She suggested that one option hotels within large chains is to support ambitious housekeeping staff through a joint effort. She commented: "At Kempinski we actually nurture people and allow them to grow. We look at sister hotels and see where they can move. We try to give them their first choice."
She warned, however, that a crucial factor to achieving success for housekeeping staff looking to move upward is being "mobile".
"We also give them positions elsewhere and where they can go – the social life might not be great but that's a decision they have to make. We try to educate our team on the real definition of challenging – if you want to grow up then you have to be mobile. If you are mobile then we have options for you," she said.
According to Bharat, keeping staff interested when there is no step to move up into is about "keeping them occupied". Bharat said: "I give them challenges while they wait for an opportunity in the future; I just need to keep them informed about it."
Bharat added that often housekeepers can use transferable skills to move into a more senior role in another department. She commented: "They might have challenges in [housekeeping] that they would also have working in F&B, but F&B might bring out the best in them."
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Technology in housekeeping
The conference continued with a short presentation from Sreekumair Nair, senior manager for Technical Services at InfoScape Technologies LLC, who gave a brief introduction to InfoScape's hospitality technology solutions before participating as a panellist on the next discussion entitled 'Technology in Housekeeping'.
The panel was led by Marjona Aslitdinova, executive housekeeper Rihab Rotana & Rimal Rotana, and discussed how software has impacted day-to-day operations and increased efficiency and productivity.
A range of solutions that can help housekeeping teams were touched upon, from streamlined checklists and tracking systems to automated feedback and room inspections. However, according to the panel, one of the major challenges remains convincing owners and management to invest in this technology.
For Ahmed, the key was to explain the importance of the technology. The Grand Hyatt Dubai housekeeping manager commented: "You cannot bypass technology," she said. "It still takes time to convince people but I think management should think smart."
Emirates Grand Hotel housekeeping manager Karthik Kumar said the best way to convince management was to highlight the benefits for them. "You should be very clear about the goals you want to deliver with the particular software that you are going to use," he explained. "If you are going to work on a project, what will you do better for them with the software? That's how you convince owners."
The advice from Nair was to team up with IT staff when it comes to pitching the solution to management. "Be good friends with the IT manager," he said. "Make sure they know the solution very well. Make them sit with you and understand your needs. Maybe there is a high-end solution and maybe there is a low end solution."
However, even with a commitment to new technology, hotels still face a number of other challenges in implementing it, with Kumar highlighting adequate training as the main one.
"The initial set up of the system is quite a challenge," added Ahmed. "When we got our system, we asked for a lot of add-ons and extras so it took a long time to implement it. Training might be a challenge, but the new generation is technology savvy. For them it's so easy to work it out and get the information out. [However] when internet is down, you can't use it, so you need to make sure you have back up."
The final panel discussion of the day saw Barbara Arensmeyer, director of housekeeping at the Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel moderate a discussion entitled 'The Hotel Lifecycle – A Housekeeper's Calling'.
Joining Arensmeyer on stage were Hari Sudhakar, executive housekeeper at Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort – Fujairah; Marjona Aslitdinova, executive housekeeper at Rihab Rotana & Rimal Rotana and Nadine O'Connor, housekeeping manager at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel.
The panel examined the different stages of a hotel's lifecycle, from pre-opening to launch to maturation and renovation and how the housekeeper role is vital to maintaining a hotel's image and guest experience throughout each phase.
The forum concluded with delegates being given the choice of two interactive workshops to attend. The first, focusing on recruiting the right talent, was led by Piers Burton, executive director at Eagle Spearing Consulting and the other was led by Pamini Hemaprabha and focused on developmental training and enhancing team efficiency.
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Executive Housekeeper Forum Workshops
Workshop A: Developmental training
Leader: Pamini Hemaprabha, executive housekeeper, Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates
Highlights: Hemaprabha shared the ABCDE rules which can be applied to any training session:
A) Attention – the first rule of training is to get people's attention.
B) Break down – if you're not going tell your people what they are going to take away in the next 10-15 minutes, they won't pay attention.
C) Catch – throw questions in between. Never go like a train. Even trains stop at a station.
D) Do – make sure you bring someone up from the audience to do kinaesthetic learning (where learning takes place through a physical activity).
E) End – make sure whenever you end you thank the audience.
Workshop B: Recruiting the right talent
Leader: Piers Burton, executive director, Eagles Spearing Consulting
Highlights: The workshop was split into tips for getting the right staff in the first place, and then retaining them.
Getting the right staff:
- Getting the right staff involves summarising in the job description what a person will be expected to do, who they will work with and how performance will be measured.
- Draw together a detailed character profile including qualifications and experience.
- Determine your search methodology to target the best employees. You can choose from agencies, online portals, group websites, social media and professional recruiters.
How to retain talent:
- Salaries for housekeeping departments in the UAE are amongst the lowest in the world – managers need to look at other ways to keep staff motivated and engaged.
- Boosting engagement can be helped by designing personal development plans and training programmes and by recognising and rewarding hard work.
- Promote internally when there is an opportunity.
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