Hotels are rewarding travelers for opting out of housekeeping. But where does that leave workers? - Alton Telegraph

  • Guests are being offered incentives to opt out of housekeeping during their hotel stay. Photo: Elaine Smith // Flickr

    Guests are being offered incentives to opt out of housekeeping during their hotel stay.

    Guests are being offered incentives to opt out of housekeeping during their hotel stay.

    Photo: Elaine Smith // Flickr
Photo: Elaine Smith // Flickr
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Guests are being offered incentives to opt out of housekeeping during their hotel stay.

Guests are being offered incentives to opt out of housekeeping during their hotel stay.

Photo: Elaine Smith // Flickr
Hotels are rewarding travelers for opting out of housekeeping. But where does that leave workers?
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First came the pleas to re-use bathroom towels at hotels as a way to help the environment.

Now, more operators are asking guests to skip housekeeping altogether - and they're willing to sweeten the deal. Under programs with names like "Make a Green Choice," "Greener Stay" and "Green for Green," hotels are rewarding customers who choose not to have their rooms serviced during their stay with loyalty points, food and drink vouchers or other incentives.

Such opt-out programs have been around the industry for more than 10 years; Starwood, now part of Marriott, started Make a Green Choice in 2009. But observers say the practice has been spreading more in recent years, especially at mid-level properties.

"We might be at the beginning of a cultural shift away from housekeeping as a daily practice," says Paul Bagdan, a professor of hospitality at Johnson & Wales University. "People are starting to say, 'Yes, I don't need it.'"

Bagdan says that for hotels, encouraging guests to cut back on housekeeping has several benefits: It lets operators take environmentally-friendly steps by using less water, electricity and cleaning product; it helps them save costs on labor; and it encourages guests to enroll in rewards programs, which has value for the chains.

At industry giant Marriott International, 23 of the company's 30 brands take part in the "Make a Green Choice" program, though it's up to individual owners and operators to participate. Depending on the brand, guests usually get between 250 or 500 points a day for declining housekeeping. Spokesman Jeff Flaherty said in an email that more than 2,800 hotels offer the option in the U.S. and Canada.

"The program has grown in popularity with our guests over the years and we continue to evolve the program, such as with the launch of a tree-planting choice in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation," he said.

But as these programs have grown in popularity, they've also prompted pushback - especially in Marriott's case.

The labor union Unite Here released a report that said housekeepers reported losing hours because of the program. When rooms were eventually ready to be cleaned, according to the report, they were dirtier than those that were serviced daily and took more time and products to clean. The vast majority of workers said they still provided some services to guests who opted out of housekeeping, from emptying trash to bringing new towels to restocking amenities.

In his email, Flaherty said that the company works constantly with housekeepers and managers to make sure their workloads are balanced appropriately.

"We have policies and practices for dealing with rooms that may need additional cleaning, where managers can assign extra help or extra time once such a room is brought to their attention," he said.

In addition to the dirtier rooms, Bagdan said there can be other downsides to opting out of daily cleaning. Housekeepers are often first to catch maintenance and security issues, he said, pointing out that it's good to have someone checking on a hotel room every day.

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, which introduced the "Service Your Way" program within the last couple of years, warns guests that workers can still enter any room "for maintenance, safety, security or any other purpose," even if they decline housekeeping.

Disney's option doesn't even tout an environmental goal, just offers guests at value or moderate resorts a $10 Disney gift card per night (excluding the first night) if they opt out of room cleaning.

Michael Kay, who has a YouTube channel devoted to Disney, chose the option during a recent stay at Disney's Pop Century Resort, giving up housekeeping (or Mousekeeping, as many call it) in exchange for a $40 gift card.

In a video, he said the experience worked out well; he didn't need to ask for more towels and felt like the sheets stayed clean. The theme park's fan base, he said, seems generally pleased with the program - especially because it remains purely optional.

"I think a lot of people are happy that it's a choice," Kay says. "You don't have to do it."

Hotel consultant and author Larry Mogelonsky, who has written several times about the trend, is not so pleased. He calls the concept "reprehensible for hoteliers" and warns that opt-out programs could be a strategic misstep as hotels battle home-sharing companies for customer loyalty.

"In doing so, a hotel is literally cutting off the key advantage it [has] over Airbnb et al, namely, SERVICE!" he wrote in an email. He added: "And any hotelier who entertains this approach deserves the onslaught of the 'sharing economy' to steal their business."

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