These are tough times in the hotel industry, especially if you’re a housekeeper.
During the pandemic, hotels began doing away with daily housekeeping as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That practice, however, may become permanent as a way for companies to cut costs. And that’s bad news for people who make their living cleaning hotel rooms. Already, Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott hotels in many markets have implemented policies that require guests to opt in for daily cleaning.
In other words, you only get the bed made, bathroom scrubbed, and linens changed if you call the front desk and ask.
As we mark Labor Day, think about how you can help save a job. It can be this simple: Request daily housekeeping next time you stay in a hotel.
Many livelihoods are on the line in an industry that has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. In a report released in June, Unite Here, a union that represents hospitality workers, estimated the end of daily room cleaning could lead to the loss of up to 39 percent of all hotel housekeeping jobs in the United States, or close to 181,000 jobs. That represents a loss of $4.8 billion in wages annually.
Even more devastating, the impact will disproportionately hurt women of color, who hold many of these labor-intensive positions. About 89 percent of housekeepers are women, and 73 percent are people of color, according to Unite Here’s analysis of US census data. Many are also immigrants from the Caribbean, China, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere.
In Boston, Unite Here Local 26 has been able to preserve jobs by reaching agreements with union hotels to maintain daily housekeeping. Still, given the way things are going in the industry, less frequent cleaning almost feels inevitable, unless guests put pressure on hotels to reverse course.
“We’re obviously worried,” said Carlos Aramayo, president of Unite Here Local 26. “These are good jobs.”
Last year, when we knew little about the pandemic and before the rollout of vaccines, suspending daily housekeeping made sense. Now we know COVID-19 is transmitted through the air from person to person; that means you’re unlikely to contract the virus from surfaces. Unless guests are in their rooms during cleaning — which they aren’t — housekeeping doesn’t pose a public health threat.
The elimination of daily cleaning is exacting another toll, turning a thankless task into one that can be stomach churning. Think about how much dirtier the rooms are after multiple nights. It takes a lot more labor to tidy things up.
Nely Reinante, a housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, can tell you all about it. She was furloughed between March 2020 and this June, and while she was happy to return to work, it’s not the same job she left last year. With wet towels balled up in bathrooms and toilets that are brown, she has to spend more than an hour scrubbing and sanitizing each room because Hilton now only offers daily housekeeping on request. Before the pandemic, cleaning a room took 45 minutes. She said she comes home with headaches and body pain.
“The stuff in the room is too gross,” said Reinante, 46, who has worked at the Hilton for about four years and is a member of Unite Here Local 5.
With the peak tourism season ending, she finds herself without regular shifts just as extra federal unemployment benefits run out. She, along with dozens of colleagues, now wait to be called back to work. There aren’t a lot of good options for Reinante and her family.
“We have to tighten our belt,” she said.
I reached out to Hilton about how guests have responded to the new policy and what has been the impact on housekeepers. Here’s what I was told by a spokesperson:
“Throughout the pandemic, we discovered guests enjoyed the flexibility of on-demand housekeeping services and have varying levels of comfort with someone entering their rooms after they have checked in. We encourage our guests to call the front desk to request daily room cleaning, and our Team Members stand ready to assist with extra towels or amenities.”
Hotels face perhaps the longest recovery of any industry, with lucrative business travel slow to return. Housekeepers are a huge expense at time when it’s hard to turn a profit.
“Until room rates and occupancy recover, reducing costs is very important,” said Rachel Roginsky, a principal at hotel consultancy Pinnacle Advisory Group in Boston.
But Roginsky sees the end of daily cleaning as a fait accompli.
“The bigger question that still remains unanswered is whether or not guests will eventually have to pay for housekeeping services,” she added.
Sound familiar? This is what the airlines did when they began charging fees for checked luggage and carry-ons.
Daily cleaning feels like an intrinsic part of the hotel experience. Otherwise, you’d might just stay in an Airbnb. The only way to hold the line is to tell hotel companies you want a clean room ― and you don’t want to pay extra for it.
That’s what I did recently when I stayed at a Hyatt Place in the Los Angeles area. I requested daily housekeeping after I learned at check-in that housekeeping is only provided upon request or after three nights.
But I could tell many other guests weren’t asking for the amenity. Hotel hallways are usually clogged with housekeeping carts in the morning. Not these days. We typically saw only one housekeeper working.
So request daily housekeeping next time you check into a hotel, and tip generously. Room by room, we can help save the jobs of housekeepers everywhere.
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.