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  • Stephan Busch

The Toilet brush effect on Hotel Finances – will a shocking hotel story on TV change something?

Hotels, Restaurants are expensive to run. This secret fact is actually only known to the ones that run or own them. The enthusiastic ones that still want to open one or the other will learn it in their first month. You always have to keep an eagle eye on financials. But only one eye!

Everybody who was ever responsible for a hotel, a restaurant, a cruise ship, a kiosk or a pub knows that the other eye is urgently needed for one thousand other issues that have to be dealt with every day. If you don’t – it will hurt you – financially too! And badly! If you use both eyes only on financials you are blind for everything else. That’s logical but surprisingly there are still a lot of blind ones out there. But this comes with experience. An inexperienced doctor would cut off any damaged limb where the experienced one will heal. A healed leg is better than a cut off leg. But the first doctor is cheaper and that’s one of the sicknesses of today’s Hotel companies too. Short term savings are preferred. Most companies only realize the mistake when they start limping on one leg.

The latest embarrassment for international 5* star Hotels in China is only a logical consequence of this kind of short term thinking and expense cutting resulting in financial losses that are by far exceeding the savings. The loss in reputation is hard to estimate but the comments on TV and social media are impressive.

When the South China Morning Post send an under cover journalist to the housekeeping department of top hotels in China. They discovered more than they were hoping for. The picture shown on TV in the news naming the Kempinski Hotel, Shangri La Hotel and others were impressive even without comments.

A housekeeper filmed while cleaning the guests drinking glasses with the same toilet brush she used to clean the toilets a few minutes later were outright disgusting.

Here is the link

The mentioning of the 200$ to 400$ per night room rate were spiced with the comments of the housekeeper explaining that she had only 20 minutes per room. For every additional room she received 2$. The shareholders got a good profit, the Managing company and Managers looked good in the books. The glasses looked also good. Only now there was a doubt how clean they really were.

The Housekeeper is not to blame at all. She did what was expected from her. She acted within the frame the company set for her to carry out her job. The expectation was set on 20 min per room and it had to look perfect. It has to be accomplished with the tools given to her and for the little money she got for it. What kind of short cuts she had to invent to manage this tough task was never asked for.

The General Manager is only partly to blame. Yes it happened on his watch but when you take into consideration that he is only there for a limited time – normally two years – The blame shifts to the corporate office and the shareholders. Within the two year contract for a GM in one property he has to increase sales and reduce cost. The GM before him had the same task and so had the one before. The short term profit has priority. The career of the GM is only guaranteed if he complies with the rules of this came which are set by Managing company and shareholders. This creates a good and welcome upward spiral for profits for shareholders and Management companies. All they have to do is to ignore that this is automatically balanced by a downward spiral of quality. From top quality it comes to the points were even basic standards are not complied with anymore.

When training takes place in hotels you will often hear that staff and management should anticipate the needs of the guest. They should read the guest and his desires before he has to voice them. The guest doesn’t anticipate that you clean his drinking glass with the toilet brush which has been rightfully used in the toilet. If you could read the guest you would read a big “NO” to those practises.

So how than to avoid embarrassing situation like this? When I worked for Viking cruise line in China there was a simple solution to this. Before we tried to anticipate what the guest wanted we tried to anticipate what the staff needs to do the job we expected of them and the guest expected from us!

The housekeeping glass issue also came up before we opened the first ship in China. How should they clean the glasses? How could they? They couldn’t! What we did was very simple. We purchased glass racks and trolleys and bought three times the amount of glasses we needed for the rooms. In the morning every floor to clean received a trolley with glass racks full of freshly cleaned glasses. The housekeeper just had to take the dirty glass out. Take fresh ones and put them in the room. The dirty glasses were brought down later to the dishwasher were they were washed in a proper dishwasher, at high temperature and thus cleaned the way it should be. Here the waited for the next morning, ready on the trolley to be brought to the floors. It was guaranteed that the glasses were absolutely clean. It was a sure thing that the housekeeper would use this glasses as it cut the time to a minimum to replace the glasses and made their work much easier. Viking is a company were this expenses made sense to guarantee best standard for guest and better working conditions for staff. I hope they still are and haven’t put the expense budget first.

Could a General Manager not do the same in a hotel? Honestly – no! Or seldom! To purchase the trolleys and glasses and the glass racks ( which are very expensive) he would have to put it into the budget and when questioned by head office he would have to defend this items to be purchased. What reason should he give? Because otherwise my staff might wash the glasses with the toilet brush? He would be out of a job tomorrow. The other managers before him managed without this, didn’t they? (actually they were just not caught – or not aware of the practise – or both). This extra expense would also increase the spending during his two year turn and would make him look worse than his predecessors. So it might be better to hope that he is also not caught and to save the money and the trouble with Head office.

So who will be blamed now? I haven’t heard anything but I would bet that it is first the housekeeper, the housekeeping manager next and then the General Manager. The first two are innocent. The GM is partly to blame. The head office and shareholders are guilty. But as they are the guilty ones and the judges at the same time the verdict is clear. More investment will go in Reputation Management, Risk Management and PR and Marketing to recover.

The working conditions will change tremendously for the housekeeper ? - ? – ? -

There is still hope that Hotels like Kempinski and Shangri La and all the others will learn from this incident. There is always hope.

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