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Covid Liz Smith Mills

We went above and beyond

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Liz Smith-Mills

Liz Smith-Mills looks back on the challenges overcome with fortitude and exceptional commitment to providing excellent service.

Over the past 12 months hospitality has experienced turbulence and unpredictability. From forced closures to ever-changing government guidance, Covid-19 has had a severe impact on businesses and customer confidence. As hotels prepare to fully re-open, hygiene and safety procedures will be under the microscope. Thorough and frequent cleaning will be paramount to ensure both guests and team members feel safe.

Some hotels, such as the Athenaeum Hotel in London, remained open throughout, initially caring for elderly permanent residents and then others stranded and unable to get home when hotels closed their doors. As it became clear key workers would need accommodation and help, some took on ensuring safety and compliance with new norms and regulations. Instilling confidence and reassurance that their establishment was cleaned to the highest standard fell on the shoulders of often unsung heroes in housekeeping.

Such achievements and challenges were highlighted by UKHA members, including at the Principal Hotel at York and Best Western Premier East Midlands, where exceptional and memorable experiences resulted in great comments on social media and the raising of TripAdvisor scores.

Heart-warming stories included:

• A family staying at Perth’s Salutation Hotel, after being flooded out of their home, being moved to tears when housekeeping put a Christmas tree in their room.

• The policeman and his nurse fiancée who stayed one night a week in the Athenaeum Hotel, their sanctuary, and the only time they saw each other away from pressurised jobs.

• A consultant physician scared to see family for weeks and weeks, reunited with his wife and daughters after being reassured by stringent cleaning regimes in place and lack of Covid cases.

The Milestone Hotel in London, whilst adjusting to a new way of working (such as running every single water outlet once a week to prevent legionella), retained their five-star Forbes listing and were certified AA Covid-19 confident, meeting all government requirements and health and safety regulations. At the Principal Hotel in York, thorough and efficient processes were also in place to ensure guests’ safety.

Housekeeping teams were recognised as a positive influence in maintaining business as usual and providing customer confidence. A different way of communicating due to masks became the norm, as did smiling with your eyes. In all properties certified chemicals such as those complying to EN 14476 were used to ensure effective disinfection and sanitising. Initially NHS guidelines were followed and the introduction of ISSA GBAC star accreditation and UKHA Covid tool kit were invaluable.

During a time of fear and anxiety, uncertainty and powerlessness, managing furloughed teams via messages, group chats, Zoom calls etc, keeping teams engaged and motivated, was both a challenge and achievement, especially for those balancing family life and home schooling whilst being more often at work, day and night, than home. Travelling to work on public transport was also a challenge, overcome by providing some team members with Ubers. One of the toughest challenges faced by some was having to make redundancies, a heart-breaking process causing sleepless nights. On a brighter note some housekeeping members, with their knowledge and transferable skills, found alternative employment in care homes. Some hotels, including the Yew Lodge, HHH 2020 Housekeeping Team winners at The Hotel Housekeeping Honours operated on a skeleton staff, wearing different hats daily to help with serving breakfasts, cooking pizzas for guests, working on reception, even painting corridors and rooms when unable to service stayover rooms. In others, such as the Athenaeum, the food and beverage teams were trained to clean rooms. Multi-skilling and tasking in hotels resulting in a greater appreciation and understanding of everyone’s role.

Now is an excellent time to applaud our housekeeping hospitality heroes and thank them for their amazing dedication and resilience in looking after both colleagues and guests and preventing the spread of Covid 19. For specialist cleaning advice, resources such as the UKHA Covid tool kit, support materials or information regarding joining the UKHA, please contact me on 07870 994077 or email liz@ukha. co.uk.

For all the valuable content above grateful thanks go to: Anne Bowden, Principal Hotel, York; Juris Dubrovskis, Charlotte and Rasa, The Athenaeum Hotel, London; Julie Hales, Best Western Premier Hotel, Kegworth; Тzveta Ivanova, The Milestone Hotel, London; and Kay McMillan at the Salutation Hotel, Perth.