Hotelier's Executive Housekeeper Forum

The inaugural forum gathered ME housekeepers to share ideas and issues

The first panel: Nadine O'Connor, Tatjana Ahmed, Laetitia Lasry and Pamini Hemaprabha.
The first panel: Nadine O'Connor, Tatjana Ahmed, Laetitia Lasry and Pamini Hemaprabha.

Hotelier Middle East’s inaugural Housekeeping Forum came together at the Ritz-Carlton DIFC in Dubai to debate key issues, swap skills and find out how to tell a warp weave from a weft:

On May 13, 2013, 165 housekeeping, laundry and rooms professionals came together at The Ritz-Carlton DIFC in Dubai for the inaugural Hotelier Middle East Executive Housekeeper Forum to discuss some of the major challenges and opportunities surrounding this key area of the hospitality industry.

The day’s events were broken up into a range of panel discussions and interactive workshops headed up by some of the most experienced and successful executive housekeepers in the region, with topics ranging from resource management to how to motivate and inspire a housekeeping team.

However, before the talks got underway, the arriving executive housekeepers were able to meet and mingle over coffee outside the hotel’s ballroom, where some of the main topics of the day, such as recruitment and budgets, were already being discussed.

To outsource or not to outsource?
One of the most prominent topics being discussed among the attendees was the tricky subject of outsourcing, with a split becoming apparent amongst the housekeepers present between those that outsourced the majority of their housekeeping teams, and those who kept things in-house.

There were of course advantages and disadvantages on either side, with short term gains such as reduced costs being balanced against long-term problems such as training and motivation.

All of these points led conveniently onto the first panel discussion of the day, titled ‘developing a high performance housekeeping team’.

The panel was moderated by Nadine O’Connor, housekeeping manager at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel with panellists Tatjana Ahmed, housekeeping manager at Grand Hyatt Dubai; Laetitia Lasry, executive housekeeper at The Palace Downtown Dubai, and Pamini Hemaprabha, executive housekeeper at Kempinski Mall of Emirates.

The focus of the panel was the discussion of how executive housekeepers can empower their teams to improve service, raise standards and communicate effectively. The panel agreed that success was largely reliant on creating a community atmosphere among the team through social engagement and promoting healthy competition, while providing regular rewards and recognition.

One of the problems that arose was again the challenges of outsourced or casual staff, and how to motivate them in the same way as regular staff. Pamini Hemaprabha raised the issue of language barriers between casual and permanent staff because “contract labour that is available tends not to speak very good English.

I therefore feel it is a little unfair to have them in the regular team briefings, and have to brief them separately in their own language, because we have to let them know we care about their ideas and concerns.”

Laetitia Lasry admitted that “training is a very effective development tool, and allows supervisors to become assistant managers and then assistant executive and executive housekeepers, and that development is a very strong motivator. However, while you must develop their communication skills in writing and speaking English, it is also possible to do a lot of training in role play form, which allows them to develop their skills in a constructive way.”

Cleaning up the accounts
The next panel of the day moved away from personal concerns and towards one of the other major concerns of executive housekeepers: budgets and the bottom line.

Titled “best practice resource management” this was moderated by Hari Sudhakar, executive housekeeper at Al Maha Luxury Collection with a panel containing Irfan Ul Islam, executive housekeeper, Meliá Dubai; Asif Khatri, executive housekeeper at Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort & Hilton Dubai The Walk; Francesco Tucci, housekeeping manager at Media One Hotel; and Peter Kanneth, sales & marketing director – MENA for Diversey.

Kanneth was there to share some of Diversey’s initiatives to deliver unused soap from hotels to the third world as part of a global CSR programme, something that received wide applause from the audience.

Some of the points raised by the panel included how to minimise labour costs andpurchasing and effective ways to manage a linen inventory. In contrast to the previous panel, outsourcing staff was seen here as a positive for hotels, with Asif Khatri declaring that “using outsourcing is a cost-effective strategy. When I first joined my hotel I was against it but after realising how high my labour costs were, I now use it a lot.”

Irfan Islam countered that point by arguing that “as much as I believe in using outsourcing to reduce labour costs, when it comes to providing a five-star service and dealing with guests, I would rather that the staff were completely in-house.”

When it came to linen cost management, the need to carefully monitor usage and waste was highlighted by everyone, with moderator Hari Sudhakar suggesting that it is important to “train every department in the hotel and make them understand the cost involved through linen usage and wastage.”

That kind of forward thinking was expanded upon during the day’s next session, with Pamini Hemaprabha from Kempinski Mall of the Emirates leading an interactive session that shared
creative ways to achieve results and motivate staff.

This topic got a lot of participation from the crowd with ideas such as team building exercises, musical morning briefings, yoga sessions to keep staff fit and limber, as well as one hotelier admitting that staff at his morning meetings at Atlantis The Palm begin the day Gangnam Style!

Out of the comfort zone:
These ‘thinking out of the box’ management techniques were expanded upon later in the day during the last panel session: evolving as an effective housekeeping leader. Moderated by Raffles Dubai housekeeping manager Saravanan Alagappan, he was joined by Trishna Hundal, executive housekeeper at Rixos The Palm; Christine Saldanha, executive housekeeper at Crowne Plaza; Hirosh Nadavathra, executive housekeeper at Hilton Dubai Creek; and Anushya Paramasivam, corporate housekeeper at Lotus Hospitality.

The panel discussed the importance of managers “getting out of your comfort zone” with Christine Saldanha stating “you have to be on top of every situation to ensure that everything is going smoothly, get the right team on board and keep them happy, which is a constant challenge.”

Having a head for numbers was also identified as a key attribute of a successful executive housekeeper. Hirosh Nadavathra admitted that one of the main motivators for his staff will always be money, as “nowadays staff don’t want certificates and awards, they want cash.

Their salary is a part of their career progression, so for our best staff we make sure we recognise their abilities and reward for their progression suitably.” However, Saldanha argued that “rewarding with words and appreciation and praise can go a lot further than just giving them extra money.”

After this was the final presentation of the day, which was also the one that produced one of the most positive reactions from the crowd. Anil Shah, director of laundry operations at the Madinat Jumeirah volunteered to give a master class on how to identify high-quality linen.

As part of a very technical presentation, attendees were taught about cotton staple length, ring spun yarn and how to identify a high thread count. Delegates were very happy to ask questions and seek advice on how to better understand the characteristics of high quality linen and enable them to make better decisions when speaking with suppliers and projecting budgets.

Overall, the inaugural Hotelier Middle East Executive Housekeeping Forum 2013 successfully brought together industry professionals to meet and learn from their peers.

From understanding the tips and tricks behind how to improve a housekeeping team, to debating their own techniques and ability to lead, the forum allowed this crucial sector of the hospitality industry to come together for the first time for the benefit of all.

How do you motivate your housekeeping teams?

• "We do something called a ‘surprise briefing’, where once or twice a week we have surprise briefings where a department head visits our briefing just to share information, or it can be a sudden competition that nobody is aware of like blind bed making. It’s good for people to have some competition."
Marjona Aslitdinova, assistant executive housekeeper, Sharjah Rotana

• "At Oasis Beach Tower it’s not only money, there are other ways we recognise staff. We ask them to give bright ideas and every month everyone should contribute one idea. Then we pick an idea and take it to management. If it’s a good one we
implement it and that is recognition for them."
Ashok Poojari, executive housekeeper, JA Oasis Beach Tower

• "We have an employee of the month where we recognise people not just on the basis of their day-to-day work but also how regular they are at work, their punctuality, guest comments, feedback and based on this we actually do an 'employee of the month' to keep them motivated."
Sangeetha Bharat, housekeeping manager, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi

• "What we do is every month we nominate colleagues who are the best newcomer, the star of the month, and somebody who does something above and beyond. We also try and mix teams up who wouldn’t normally socialise together, and send them on a desert safari, do a movie night or they go bowling together."
Sarah Kassem, executive housekeeper, Jumeirah Emirates Towers

What new housekeeping tricks have you learned?

• "The thing that was most informative for me was the laundry workshop that went into detail about fabrics and textiles, which was very useful. We have a corporate office that makes those decisions so we really don’t know what is involved in the selection process so this was informative and will help me if I ever have to do the decision making."
Nithya Mehrotra, executive housekeeper, Jumeira Rotana

• "The part about linen rental and outsourcing laundry, is something else that can be seriously looked at. It would be very useful in the Middle East, especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where we come across a lot of rather erratic occupancy, which makes it difficult to forecast your manning and your planning so renting out linen will be a perfect solution."
Renugah Jagadisan, executive housekeeper, Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi

• "During the seminar on linen there was a really good point about purchasing linen and how you should deal with suppliers when procuring linen, plus some really good tips on how you should wash linen that I’ll be taking back to my hotel."
Neeraja Natarajan, assistant director of housekeeping, Rose Rayhaan by Rotana, Dubai

• "I got a lot of information about thread-counts, and how to handle my linen and my towels. I am going to go back and talk to my laundry manager without a doubt and put everything I’ve learnt into place. Now when I look at my budget, I’m going to make sure to choose the perfect linen and towels after this conference."
Douglas Matthew De Mello, executive housekeeper, Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara

Meet the sponsors
The Hotelier Middle East Executive Housekeeper Forum was supported by:

Intercoil/Simmons, the bedding specialist in orthopaedic sleep products for the Middle East, recently launched the Beautyrest Black mattress and is planning to introduce a Beautyrest Comforpedic option. The company has a strong focus on sustainability and is one of the industry specialists to be certified ISO 14001 for environmentally-friendly production practices, while its products are made from eco-friendly materials and recycled steel.

Sysco Guest Supply:
Sysco is a fully-integrated supplier of hotel toiletries, guest amenities and accessories to the hospitality sector. Some of its retail brands include Bvlgari, Crabtree and Evelyn and its latest product, the Shanghai Tang branded amenities from Hong Kong, which are aimed at young and modern business and leisure travellers.

Prologic First:
Prologic First is a hospitality IT company that develops and internationally markets integrated software solutions. At the housekeeper forum it showcased its RF-ID tagging system for hotel laundry and uniforms that lets hotels keep an accurate track on the number of items and location of its laundry at all times.

Ronai, the Middle East's one-stop-shop for tabletop and catering equipment, showcased its wide range of hotel staff uniforms, which can be complemented by bespoke pieces for a tailored look. There was a selection of durable and stylish uniform sets specificially for housekeepers on show at the event, which can also be bought from stock or personalised for individual hotels and positions.

Diversey is a global provider of sustainable cleaning and hygiene systems and solutions. It showcased a range of products at the forum and used the event to talk about some of the company’s campaigns and green initiatives – one of which was a soap recycling campaign that aims to recycle some of the 3 tonnes of soap thrown out by the average hotel every month. The repurposed soap is then donated to disadvantaged communities throughout the world.

1765 Gemini:
1765 Gemini is a hospitality distribution company that prides itself on working with professional brands such as Ascolia, Viamotif and Impulse. The company was at the forum displaying the Ascolia housekeeping ‘furniture’, made from aluminium and high-pressure laminate that makes it light and manoeuvrable, available in large and small sizes and customisable with additional linen bags and storage making it suitable for any hotel.

Restonic was at the Housekeeper Forum to give one lucky attendee one of its new Restonic Signature Collection Beds that feature Tempa gel memory foam, gel-infused latex and gel-infused quilting foam. The company has been a part of the bedding industry for 75 years and has supplied beds to some of the best-known hotels across the Middle East.

Founded seven years ago, Renarte LLC has grown to be one of the market leaders in hospitality operating equipment and was showing off a collection of housekeeping equipment including trollies and in room electronic items. Its newest product is the Lotus housekeeping caddy that is specially designed to be navigable around difficult spaces with a detachable linen basket that allows staff to save time and effort.

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