Why Do Hotels Suddenly
Hate Housekeeping?
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2020 -- Do you want your hotel room cleaned every day? More and more, hotels are trying to convince us that we don't.

They're offering us the choice--"choice" being the current travel industry term for giving us less for the same price--of not having our beds made up, our towels laundered and, in some cases, not so much as the trash emptied. And, more and more, the default "choice" is no, we don't want daily housekeeping.

Although the hotel industry has made noises about being "environmentally conscious" since the early 1990s, Starwood jump-started the no-housekeeping trend in 2009 with its controversial "green choice" program. The travel-agent journal Travel Market Report calls the push to waive housekeeping one of the major hotel trends of 2020.

None of us can really be surprised. Hotels that convince us to bypass housekeeping spend less on housekeeping and that savings drops right to the property owner's bottom line. And even hotels that don't proactively ask us to waive housekeeping seem to be providing it only reluctantly.

I stayed in three hotels recently and had housekeeping problems in all three. It wasn't that beds were poorly made. They were impeccable. The bathrooms were clean. Everything was in its place. No, the problems all had to do with timing.

Hoteliers also save on housekeeping if they restrict hours that housekeepers work. An increasing number of hotels even farm out housekeeping to third-party firms that work only during predetermined hours. So the timing issue is a direct result of the penny-pinching. The housekeepers at my hotels either wanted into the room very early or preferred to make up the room late in the afternoon. Presumably, there wasn't enough (or any) staff at any of these hotels to get the job done between the once "standard" hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

I stay in dozens of hotels a year for both business and pleasure. I've become accustomed to leaving my room somewhere between 7 and 9 a.m., conducting my day, then returning in late afternoon to find my room made up. I then proceed to work a bit, maybe take a nap, then shower, change clothes and prepare for dinner. That drill has flown out the hotel window now that we're at the mercy of housekeepers and their miserly employers.

My husband and I returned to a luxurious Dallas hotel at 3:30 one afternoon exhausted from a day of entertaining our lively grandchildren at the Dallas Arboretum. We were dying for a nap. But when we got to the door, there was a sign on it: "Your room is being made up."

Well, goody. We were going in anyway. We announced our presence and told the housekeeper we would just head out to the patio and relax while she finished up. She glared. In her defense, I'm sure she'd been told not to be in the room while the guest was occupying it. But sometimes circumstances warrant that sort of thing and this was that circumstance. She finished up and disappeared. She didn't take the nice tip I'd left her. She should have.

The following week I found myself working in Lodi, California, in a lovely resort in the wine country. The first morning, I opened my door to head out at 9:15 a.m. and found a sign on the doorknob: "Sorry we missed you." Yes, that sound I'd heard while showering must have been the housekeeper trying to get in. Happily, I'd engaged the deadbolt.

I called the front desk and noted that 9:15 a.m. was a little early to give up on my leaving the room. The front desk agreed. When I got back after dinner, the room had been made up.

One week later, I was enjoying a girls' trip to New Orleans. My friend and I were staying at an upscale hotel we really liked. But housekeeping arrived shortly before 4 p.m. every day. It's New Orleans. A late afternoon nap is crucial. But it can't happen if the room is being made up.

Why, it's almost as if hotels don't want you to use housekeeping. I could call and say, "don't bother to clean the room." They'd be ... not sad.

Hotel workers have characterized the waiving of housekeeping as an excuse to cut staff. They complain, legitimately, that it takes longer to clean a room that hasn't been cleaned in three days. The complaints were part of a San Francisco strike against Marriott in 2018, and the result was the granting of more time to clean "green choice" rooms. (The late hotelier and Joe Sent Me columnist Michael Matthews once calculated housekeepers get about four seconds per square foot to clean traditional rooms.)

The program persists, though. Citing the trend toward less housekeeping, Travel Market Report says "the main issue is employee availability. Interest in this type of staffing role is not keeping pace with demand. Other ways hotels are trying to work around this is by utilizing flexible schedules for staff."

Flexible schedules might well play into the inopportune arrival of housekeeping staff, but surely the labor shortage is a big factor, too. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported more than a million unfilled jobs in the hospitality industry. The Trump Administration's immigration policies make getting a worker visa more cumbersome. Add the nationwide hotel-building boom and the available workers are spread even thinner.

Hyatt properties have embraced the no-housekeeping trend, too, and, of course, wrapped themselves in environmental righteousness. Unless you request otherwise, most won't change the sheets or towels until the third day. It's true that most of us don't change the sheets and towels at home every day, so, in theory, this is okay, both for us as humans and for the environment. But for a five-star hotel to change its policy with no bonus points or rate reduction? Especially if it has an onerous resort/amenity fee? What is the most basic amenity if not a clean room?

In 2018, Gary Leff's View From the Wing blog noted that the then-new Hyatt Regency Seattle would not provide daily housekeeping. Its excuse? A sign noted the property "is committed to sustainability and fair labor laws. As a result, our hotel will offer housekeeping as necessary or upon request."

Is the motivation really to save the planet? Or is it more about boosting the bottom line? Let's be charitable and say maybe both. But if you like your room made up every day or even on a regular schedule, I can suggest a few strategies:
        If your hotel has a policy that discourages daily housekeeping and you want it cleaned on a day it's not scheduled, don't be shy. Call the front desk and kindly ask for it. These days, hotels are so worried about negative social-media reviews that the default answer is typically "yes."
        Book an independent hotel that doesn't have to adhere to a chain's corporate policy and where management might actually have to look you in the face. A recent family trip to California took us to the small Pelican Inn in Muir Beach; the larger but still intimate Elk Cove Inn in Mendocino County; and Hotel Boheme, a boutique in the North Beach section of San Francisco. In all three, housekeeping was performed daily, cheerfully and thoroughly, and not one had an amenity fee.
        Tip the housekeeping staff daily, not just at the end of your stay. I tip well and had housekeepers actually leave notes of gratitude, along with extra soap and shampoo and even fresh towels on a day I wasn't supposed to get new ones. Shhhh. -- Helen Anders

Helen Anders is a career newspaper staff journalist for dailies including Florida Today; the Daily Herald in Chicago; the Dallas Morning News; and the Austin American-Statesman. She's currently a freelance travel writer.