Hotel Brands Must Uphold Promises To Clean Rooms on Request
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In the 1997 romantic comedy As Good as It Gets, an early-on indicator of Jack Nicholson’s character’s eccentricity comes into focus as he sits down at the café where he is a regular and unpacks his own sealed plastic cutlery. Helen Hunt, playing his usual server, playfully exhorts him to “try other people’s clean silverware as part of the fun of dining out.”

Viewers later learn that Nicholson’s character has an untreated mental health condition, but Hunt’s character’s line resonated with me recently for different reasons.

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When I first heard that Hilton hotels in North America had switched to daily room cleaning only on request, I wasn’t particularly bothered. Many of my own hotel stays are for single nights, and I have no problem requesting daily service when I want it, which I typically do.

I figured Hilton would eventually work the ability to request daily room cleaning into the process of selecting preferences during the booking flow, or perhaps via the app in the near future, but figured the switch to room cleaning on request wouldn’t affect a large swath of guests and would help properties address the staffing difficulties that have struck businesses of all stripes in the late-covid era.

I’ve also run into less frequent cleaning schedules at other properties belonging to other brands. Several years ago I discovered that the brand-new Hyatt Regency Seattle opened from the get-go not cleaning rooms automatically every day unless asked (cleaning was quickly provided when requested), so this is hardly new. Sure, it seems like a first world problem, but like Helen Hunt’s character pointed out some two decades ago, it’s all part of the fun—pay for an upscale hotel belonging to a world-class hospitality brand, and there are certain perks that come as part of the package.

In mid-August, I arrived late at the Hilton Anchorage in the wee hours of the first night of my four-night stay. A sticker on the bathroom mirror confirmed it: rooms aren’t cleaned every day, but visit the front desk to schedule additional cleaning.

When I visited the front desk, it was a different story. “We only clean stayovers (that’s industry parlance for a guest who is not arriving or departing) every third day,” the desk clerk informed, “but I can put a note on your room and they’ll get to it if they have time.”

Well, don’t I feel special?

Thinking perhaps they might actually find the time, I set out for my day and returned at 4. Finding my room not cleaned, I called guest services and pushed back on the room cleaning, and ultimately got my call returned by the property’s Director of Housekeeping.

She explained that the hotel was facing a staffing shortage and gave helpful additional color on the situation. The hotel only had ten full-time room attendants directly employed by the hotel; the others were employed by a staffing agency. For security reasons, only directly employed room attendants could clean a stayover because they’re alone in the room with guest belongings. Because of this, she said, the hotel’s owner had made the decision to only clean stayovers every third night.

Another layer of complexity is this particular hotel’s relationship with Hilton. Hotel properties can be fully owned (i.e. Hilton owns and operates the hotel), managed (i.e. Hilton does not own the hotel, but staffs and operates on behalf of the owner for a fee) or franchised (i.e. Hilton neither owns nor operates the hotel, but the owner/operator agrees to follow Hilton’s operating procedures).

Hilton Anchorage is a franchised property, owned by the hospitality group Columbia Sussex—they’re the ones who made the call on the third-night cleaning, which is inconsistent with Hilton’s promise to clean rooms daily upon request.

The hotel ultimately cleaned my room just once during my four-night stay, and I was curious about the difference, given that Hilton’s messaging surrounding this announcement (including on the placard right in my own guest room) made it clear that guests would receive daily room cleaning upon request.

A Hilton spokesperson confirmed that “Hilton’s policy is that our hotels continue to offer daily housekeeping to all of our guests, free of charge, across all of our 18 brands around the world.” They went on to note that Hilton Anchorage is independently owned and operated so they couldn’t speak directly on their behalf, and also acknowledged that labor availability is “the single biggest challenge for our industry right now.”

Nevertheless, they indicated that they’re “reviewing these policies with the property directly.”

I can appreciate labor shortages, but there are always tradeoffs. While the housekeeping director’s explanation of the policy was that the hotel was understaffed, that explanation is missing context. The hotel might be limited in the number of room attendants they can staff, but they also choose how many rooms to put out for sale, and they chose to reduce cleaning frequency instead of taking rooms out of inventory.

In fact, hotel room cleaning is a hot topic in the industry. The industry labor group UNITE HERE has already pushed back on Hilton’s policy change, arguing the change costs industry jobs and increases workloads for room attendants, as rooms not cleaned daily are often more work upon checkout.

For my part, it’s part of the “fun” of staying in an upscale hotel. Even in extraordinary times, hospitality brands have a responsibility to live up to the promise of the name over their door to the best of their ability. For Hilton, that means a clean room when the guest wants it—every day.





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