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Hotel housekeeping service: externalization or internalization?

At a time when outsourcing housekeeping services is under debate, having upset the everyday organization of several properties in recent months, Hospitality ON takes a look at what hoteliers are doing in a survey made with Olakala.

The management of housekeeping services at hotels recently stirred up a buzz in the French press, especially after the condemnation of Novotel Paris les Halles and the company Elior by the Labor Court requiring the companies to pay 400,000 euros in damages and interest to 18 employees, and after several union strikes. Outsourcing lies at the heart of debates, which center more particularly on how employee working time is measured (number of rooms cleaned or number of hours worked) and how employees are managed.

The use of external service providers for cleaning is quite common in the hotel industry. According to results from a survey realized by Hospitality ON, with Olakala, one quarter of hoteliers who answered outsource this service. This approach is sometimes necessary, particularly on a sector where activity is seasonal. "We chose to adopt a Just-in-time approach because we are reducing our payroll (charges vary according to activity)," explains one hotelier. While 33% of respondents say the flexibility of personnel is one of the advantages of externalizing cleaning services, other advantages also stand out in the survey's results: easier management, cited by 54% of those surveyed, and profitability for 29%. "Outsourcing means we don't have to recruit, we don't have to handle absences and holidays; housekeeping products are supplied by the agency, as are vacuum cleaners (meaning fewer expenditures on equipment and cleaning products)," remarks a hotelier participating in the survey.

Outsourcing housekeeping services nonetheless has its drawbacks, particularly for small family operated structures where it seems more advantageous to have dedicated personnel in house, as claimed by 17% of respondents to the survey who do not use external services. Others also point their finger at the quality of work (14%) and prefer in-house training for personnel (30%). "Personnel hired by these firms are rarely "qualified," and often consist of housekeepers who do not know about hotel operations. Also, each newcomer must be trained individually, and newcomers are frequent in this business. The only advantage of outsourcing is we don't have to look for new recruits, but in the end the management problems are identical. Through a direct approach we can at least develop the loyalty of our personnel, even with a seasonal contract, and save time afterward," explains one hotelier interviewed.

To better manage outsourced housekeeping services, but without resolving this problem, some hotel groups decided to train in-house. This is the case of Louvre Hotels Group which recently signed a charter on the subject that includes, among other things, securing remuneration of working time by installing electronic time clocks, supplying materials and training in order to preserve employee health and environmental respect, to guarantee the right to vote freely of housekeeping personnel when professional elections come around, and to prefer suppliers offering social guarantees that are above sector standards.
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