Over the next five years, the United States will host some of the biggest sporting events in the world, including the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics. But even now, visitors from around the globe might find the services offered at most hotels in the United States to be lacking basic housekeeping.
“Say Goodbye to Daily Hotel Room Cleaning” blared a headline in The New York Times earlier this year.
“In the early days of the pandemic, the daily cleaning of hotel rooms was among the many routines disrupted,” wrote reporter Danielle Braff. “Even people who dared to travel blanched at the idea of a stranger entering their rooms. Many hotels started cleaning only after guests checked out, even letting some lodgings sit empty for a day. Now, with travel largely having rebounded, and with occupancy levels projected to reach 64 percent this year — just 2 percentage points shy of pre-pandemic levels, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, daily cleaning … seems to have become a thing of the past.”
“Cleaning surfaces and changing bedsheets during shorter stays is now quite rare,” Scott Keyes, founder of the airfare-deals website Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), told the paper.
Blame labor shortages — and not just in the housekeeping department.
In June, Hotel Management reported that “while many industries have recovered their workforce, the leisure and hospitality sector is still about half a million employees short of where it was before COVID-19.” The magazine cited data from the AHLA that indicated 79% of hoteliers were reporting staffing shortages — and those positions remained tough to fill even after management began offering more flexible hours and expanded benefits.
“People left our industry over the last three years when they were forced to, and many are not coming back when there are many options and jobs available,” Laura Presnol, vice president of talent and culture for Davidson Hospitality, told the magazine. Another hospitality official called the labor shortage “our new reality.”
The new reality signals the beginning of a new era in the way hotel services are delivered, according to Chekitan Dev, a professor at Cornell University’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration — from an operations-focused approach to (believe it or not) a more-guest-friendly model.
Offering housekeeping services on-demand only “can lower complaints, increase satisfaction, decrease price sensitivity, increase intent to return and boost intent to refer,” Dev told The New York Times. Not all guests want the intrusion or the potential of strangers touching their belongings, but they do want fresh towels every day.
“The rate at which our guests are declining daily housekeeping is nearly double what it was before the pandemic,” Ayesha Molino, a senior vice president with MGM Resorts International, told NPR.org earlier this year.
That still leaves plenty of guests, however, irritated by the changes.
“What gets me is the annoyance of having to work to get services that used to be standard,” Terry Stanton, a medical writer in Oak Park, Ill., told the paper. ”And for God’s sake, at least clear the garbage. I hate wandering the hallways carrying a basket with last night’s food and cans and bottles, looking for the little room where they hide the garbage can, if it’s even accessible.”
“Guests don’t want to have to ask every time they need their trash emptied or dirty towels replaced,” D. Taylor, international president of Unite Here — a U.S. and Canada hospitality workers’ union — said in a statement excerpted by NerdWallet.com. “Without cleaning, what stops a hotel from being just a more expensive Airbnb?”
In addition to requesting housekeeping services, the personal finance website suggests travelers research hotels before booking (“Look for pages on individual hotel websites labeled something like ‘amenities,’ or ‘COVID-19 safety.’ If the cleaning calendar is not up to par, consider booking elsewhere.”) and booking high-end hotels, some of which have not succumbed to the limited housekeeping trend.
NerdWallet.com notes that select Hilton brands — including Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, LXR Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts — still offer daily housekeeping, with most Four Seasons properties offering twice-daily housekeeping.
As for occupied rooms that go uncleaned for days (much like they might during the World Cup and Olympics)? They’re a mess, according to actual hotel housekeepers.
“The day you check out, that room is terrible,” Chandra Anderson, who tends to rooms in Baltimore, told NPR.org — citing overflowing trash bins, piles of wet towels and toilet paper strewn everywhere. “You never know what you’re going to see.”