The struggling hotel industry: the human cost of an uncleaned hotel room

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When Alex Diaz was put on leave last March, along with most of his colleagues, he didn’t expect to be back anytime soon. “The feeling of going out that day was that it was going to be pretty drastic,” said Diaz, who had worked as a convention banquet bartender for the Red Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for 15 years. But he believed that when he returned to work, he would retain the seniority benefits he had acquired, which would soon guarantee him a full-time job with health insurance.

Instead, this spring he found himself interviewing for his old job and wasn’t rehired until after a state law came into effect in July requiring employers to prioritize staff on leave to fill vacant positions, but have lost their seniority benefits. The labor shortage in the hospitality industry has been widely reported, as have the delays in which hotel owners will hire new employees, including offering higher wages, cash bonuses, and hotel rooms. free hotel. But at the same time, nearly half of the more than one million jobs cut in the accommodation industry during the pandemic have yet to be recovered, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the recovery has been patchy, with resort markets rebounding faster than cities, which depend on business travel and major conventions or conferences that have yet to return.

Now, some hotels say they want to make permanent changes that were instituted during the pandemic, such as offering daily housekeeping only on request and adding options like mobile or contactless check-in. Customers, they say, have no shortage of the old ways, and the changes would save them costs. Michelle Millar, an associate professor in the School of Management at the University of San Francisco who studies sustainability and corporate responsibility in the accommodation industry, said there has already been a push towards technology services , but that “the pandemic has exacerbated it”. “It makes operations more efficient in some ways,” she said, “but at what cost? Some hotels have said they are following the lead of consumers, many of whom favor eliminating daily housekeeping during the pandemic, according to a survey by the American Hotel and Lodging Association last August. Hilton announced in July that it would make daily housekeeping optional for most of its U.S. hotels, except for luxury brands like Waldorf Astoria and Conrad. And Julie Rollend, Marriott’s public relations manager, said the company left it up to guests to “choose their preferred rate of housekeeping services during their stay.”

“Throughout the pandemic, we found that guests appreciated the flexibility of on-demand housekeeping services and had varying levels of comfort with someone entering their rooms after checking in,” said Meg Ryan. , senior director of corporate affairs for Hilton, in an email. She added that the hotel still offers room cleaning on request and that “the biggest challenge for the industry right now is labor availability.”

Christopher Anderson, a professor in the School of Hotel Management at Cornell University, said that after the pandemic, consumers are more accepting “reduced attention during stay” and that he might see an à la carte pattern similar to the one adopted by many airlines is becoming more and more popular, in which customers can choose the services for which they are willing to pay.

“As we reduce the actual workforce, companies can operationally deliver what they can deliver through technology, and then it becomes a win-win,” Anderson said. “Consumers get more of what they want when it comes to selection, and then if the costs are reduced and the prices adjusted accordingly, again that’s another victory. But some employees say they would be the losers. A report by Unite Here, a union of hotel workers, found that eliminating daily housekeeping as an industry standard would cost at least 180,000 jobs, filled by women of color, and $ 4.8 billion in lost wages.

The writer is a NYT reporter © 2021

The New York Times

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