In July, Hilton Hotels announced that in the U.S., daily housekeeping will be performed only upon request. But Hilton housekeepers will clean rooms “automatically” on the fifth day of a stay.
Hilton luxury brands are exempt from this edict; Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and LXR will continue to offer daily housekeeping. And Hilton’s international properties are also apparently not affected.
Why do people go to hotels? They want a clean, comfortable place to stay. And when they go out during the day, they like to return to a clean room with a vacuumed rug and a freshly-made bed. Home rentals like Airbnb and VRBO generally promise no such thing.
But faced with a slow travel comeback from COVID-19 and a ‘shortage ‘of hospitality workers, hotel are limiting what were once standard housekeeping services like cleaning each guest room every day. In addition to cleaning, other potential cutbacks are room service, included breakfasts, in-room amenities like coffee packets and fresh towels (unless you ask and wait for them) and fewer humans waiting on customers.
I experienced this when I stayed at the Sideways Inn in Santa Ynez, CA wine country in June. The hotel was an excellent value at just $99 plus tax, and in close proximity to local vineyards and tasting rooms. But the shadow of COVID-19 remained. Our breakfast was served cold (yoghurt, a banana, a croissant) in a white bag left outside our room. The lack of room cleaning service was also annoying as the bed stayed unmade (unless we made it) and the garbage wasn’t picked up. Instead, I wandered the property looking for a trash can to throw out our pizza boxes.
Hotels defend not cleaning by claiming many guests don’t want housekeepers entering their ‘sealed room’ due to fear of COVID-19 infection. Ray Bennett, chief global officer for Marriott, told CNBC that “more and more of [Marriott’s] guests have actually asked that [housekeeping doesn’t] come in their room …”
Fear of crowds at hotels, as well as ‘how many people stayed in my room,’ plays a part too. Katherine Doggrell, author of Checking Out, on the hotel industry’s slow response to Airbnb, told me, “If you’re more paranoid maybe you’ll go to an Airbnb where there aren’t 400 people in the lobby.”
Yet an American Hotel & Lodging Association report says that guests said enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices was the second most important factor in their choice of hotels. (After price, of course.)
Consumer who want a lower price, more control and are willing to clean your own place are booking trips online, but reportedly “not a hotel.” Meanwhile, business travel, a key hotel market, remains moribund, and international tourism to the US remain limited. US families are going on driving vacations to small towns and National Parks, hitting rural destinations and booking alternative accommodations.
With all this, are hotels throwing away a key customer expectation—cleanliness—to save money? At a recent meeting of Meeting Planners International, Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment, told the crowd that “one change that’s likely to become permanent at hotels is that daily housekeeping will go away unless guests specifically ask for it.”
While overflowing ashtrays may be a thing of the past, unless you request it, housekeepers will not show up to toss your empty liquor bottles, pizza boxes, pick up your soiled towels or clean your dirty toilet. No need to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on one’s door; no one will be coming to clean the room.
As View From The Wing put it, “Hilton Believes Americans Are Slobs, Don’t Expect Clean Rooms During Stay?” The author added, “I’m not sure how a hotel that doesn’t provide daily housekeeping counts as full service anymore, either. It seems to be limited service, and more in the bucket of a product that competes against home-sharing sites like Airbnb.”
“Our guests have told us that they have varying levels of comfort with someone entering their rooms after they have checked in,” Hilton said in statement. “We encourage our guests to call the front desk to request room cleaning, and our team members stand ready to assist with extra towels or amenities.”
One could argue that hotels were already trying to end daily housekeeping before the pandemic, even offering guests perks or deals to drop the service. But it is ironic that large hotel chains would seek to avoid daily housecleaning after promoting all that they were doing to limit the spread of COVID. Marriott discussed how it used electrostatic sprayers to sanitize and disinfect guest rooms, lobbies, gyms and other public areas, testing UV light technology to disinfect items like room keys.
Reporter Rob Carey of Meeting News says the hospitality industry in the U.S. is down 2.2 million jobs since 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, so “some hotel companies are making changes to reduce the number of workers they’ll need going forward.”
As Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta said during a recent investor call, “The work we’re doing right now in every one of our brands is about making them higher-margin businesses and creating more labor efficiencies, particularly in the areas of housekeeping, food and beverage…When we get out of the crisis, those businesses will be higher margin and require less labor than they did pre-COVID.”
It’s not just guests who will be affected. Despite corporate pledges to promote ‘equity’ the cuts threaten job security for housekeepers. The Unite Here union says that 73% of U.S. hotel housekeepers are Hispanic or Latino, Black, Asian American or Native American, and that 40% of hotel-housekeeping jobs, almost 200,000 workers, are in danger of being permanently eliminated.
In addition to the loss of jobs, cuts in cleaning service will inevitably affect tips for those who remain. While the end of daily housekeeping is not their fault, it is hard to justify tipping for no service.
“The union’s going to fight back,” a hotel union spokesperson told Marketwatch. But he added that customers should do their part to get what they have come to expect from the hospitality industry. “They should insist they want their room cleaned, have room service and want to feel safe.”
Customers will have to decide if they are getting what they pay for from a hotel, or if going forward they will be paying more and getting less. If customers continue to see the home-sharing services as maintaining a price/value advantage over hotels, cuts like the end of daily housekeeping may accelerate the exodus.