The Bold and the Beautiful…. an ode to the Executive Housekeeper

For many years, female Executive Housekeepers were an integral part of a luxury hotel operation. Starting at the very beginning of the post war hotel industry and going back to the days when Juan Trippe pioneered 5 star hotels to accommodate his PAN AM passengers and a gutsy Texan by the name of Conrad Hilton would buy old run down small properties and convert them to the first real hotels, the matriarchal housekeeper was a feature in the management team.

Europe was one of the first ‘destinations’ outside the US for the first international chains. The Marshall Plan provided huge financial investments and was geared towards the stimulation of tourism. With that investment and increased travel, modern hotels were born and the first Hilton and InterContinental hotels opened on the continent. These hotels were really the first to have private bathrooms, hot water and all the other amenities one would expect in a hotel today.

Europe did not really have such hotels at that time, so we have to appreciate what these two gentlemen did for hotel development. The bathrooms (also called ensuites) with a toilet that flushed, iced water in the room (Mr Hilton’s pet project throughout his long and successful life), heating and air-conditioning and many more conveniences that we take for granted.

This was also the time when the Executive Housekeepers came to be part of international hotels. Many were bold and many beautiful and for years they were the only female staff at a department head level.

I’m sure many of you would agree that they were a delightful fixture in a male dominated management team and they had to make their mark and gain respect through hard work.

Yes, they were bold and many took their boldness to another level, but we also had the cleanest rooms and nicest flower arrangements; we knew as soon as we walked in the lobby of a hotel that there was a professional housekeeper at work.

Executive Housekeepers were then the backbone of many operations and most of all, those new openings. They knew how to get their rooms ready on time, and ensured the attention to detail required to deliver the highest standards of cleanliness and maintenance was the number one priority.

Public areas were spotlessly clean, even in countries and regions where hygiene standards and cleaning were not a priority. We are talking about the pioneering times, when the housekeeper would walk the floors, say hello to guests and even get the occasional compliment for the way the property looked and smelled, not to mention the Housekeeper herself….they were part of a luxury hotel.

I have recently read an article by a well-known and much published US hospitality insider/writer lamenting the neglect housekeeping is getting these days and how hotels have dropped their standards.

Having been on an extensive journey through Europe and the Middle East last year I must agree with that writer. I stayed in “5 star” hotels and noticed how the standards of hygiene and cleanliness are being compromised at every corner. Some properties seemed to be cultivating mould with changing rooms and public and guest room toilets apparently ignored, especially in the corners and not easily seen spots.

That one finds hairs in rooms, on carpets or between mattresses, that have turned grey because they have been there for so long, sticky desks that have breakfast jam and rings from the coffee cups and so on seemed to be the norm.

I’m not sure where the problem lies. Is it supervision? proper training? or just simply that the “cleaning standards” are different by people employed these days.

The female Executive Housekeeper of past years seem to have disappeared and has been replaced by all kinds of new inventions. I believe the ‘Director of Rooms’ or ‘Rooms Division Manager’ hardly ever sees a room and certainly not from a Housekeepers perspective. Executive Housekeepers today are more often those that have grown through the ranks, and achieved the position purely for reasons of longevity with a company or because they are good administrators, rather than for their unique understanding and ability.

In the defence of one industry leader, there is a company that still insist that their up and coming male and female managers go through Housekeeping – not only for training, but a stint of 12+ months before being able to move further up the ladder – maybe this is the reason the company is an ‘Industry leader’ in the true sense of the word…

I’m all for a new generation of housekeeping professionals that have the chance to grow within a hotel and a rule that each future General Manager has a short 12-month stint on the stage of the Bold and Beautiful. Really, they have been around forever and no computer or robot can replace them.

These ‘First Ladies’ of a Hotel (no disrespect to a pre-existing GM’s wife) with their wisdom and eye for detail are now so often sadly missing, perhaps for reasons of cost savings, or shortsightedness of General Managers or owners. They clearly don’t understand the long-term value of this position, not only for the upkeep and reputation of the hotel, but for the major contribution that these ‘Bold and Beautiful’ make to the overall success of a property.

About the author

rsz_karl_faux_ccKarl Faux is a veteran Hotelier and Managing Partner with Elite Search – a leading hospitality recruitment firm.
For more information about Karl and Elite Search visit http://www.elitesearch.com.au and The Elite Hotelier http://www.elitehotelier.net

One comment

  1. Very interesting article Karl, especially for me that I’ve come through the HK department

    Like

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