The 2012 Olympics will give Britain the perfect opportunity to showcase its hospitality venues to the world, but they won't get a second chance to make a positive first impression. With cleanliness such a key part of any venue's welcome, Elly Earls finds out how the hospitality industry can clean up its opening act without compromising on the guest experience
In June 2011, VisitBritain launched a £100m global advertising campaign called Britain - You're Invited in an effort to attract 4 million tourists to the country over the next four years. Approximately 450,000 of these are expected to visit London during the 2012 Olympics, on top of 5.5 million day visitors, and hospitality venues need to be geared up to welcome them.
The importance of a guest's first impression can't be emphasised enough. "The perception of a poor welcome is a barrier to people coming to Britain," says David Leslie, spokesman for VisitBritain. "We're third overall in the Nation Brand Index, but when it comes to the welcome, we're sitting 12th; we need to change that perception. Every experience a visitor has needs to be positive so they will recommend it to others and it will reflect over the years."
Cleanliness plays a huge role in guests' perception of a venue. "It's the first thing the customer notices," says Lisa Yearwood, general manager of the Drift, a London Drake & Morgan restaurant. "If you're met with a dirty entrance, you probably won't want to go into that venue at all."
Kirsten Jonathan, head of housekeeping at Cotswold House Hotel, Chipping Campden, agrees. "Whether it's a bedroom, a public area or the toilets, if the first impression is of a clean, well-organised and well-presented place, guests get a better impression of the hotel as a whole. They believe it's run efficiently and offers good value for money."
But according to Paul Barrell, director of Ecosteam, which provides steam cleaners to the commercial and domestic markets, Britain's hospitality venues are not meeting the standards they should be. "At that level, we're not on the ball and need to clean up our act," he says. "We need to reach higher standards."
In an effort to meet the challenges that will inevitably be faced during the Olympic period, People 1st, the sector skills council for hospitality, passenger transport and tourism in the UK, has launched a campaign to train 200,000 hospitality and tourism staff ahead of the 2012 games. However, simply increasing staff numbers is not going to be enough.
"Staff communication is going to be a key issue - making sure back of house and front of house are working really well together," says John Dyson, food and technical affairs adviser at the British Hospitality Association. "Housekeepers should be checking areas before guests arrive to make sure everything is right, cleaning schedules must be adhered to and staff must have sufficient time to clean the rooms properly."
For Yearwood, checklists and protocols are essential "We've got set-up lists and breakdown lists as well as daily and weekly cleaning schedules," she notes. "We go through the list once a week to see if there's anything we need to update and we always have one person on each shift whose sole responsibility it is to ensure the venue is clean. On top of this, management do a full building walk every 10 minutes to make sure our standards are being upheld."
Nonetheless, she feels that the Drift will have to up its game during the Olympics. "Currently, we do set lunchtimes, but during the Olympics we won't just be busy between midday and 2pm; it will be constant," she says. "We're going to have to up our staffing levels to make sure standards are maintained."
Hotels will be facing similar issues; with higher footfall, the window of time for cleaning will significantly shrink. "You need to be flexible," says John Stevenson, founder and partner at ACT Clean. "You might need more people to do that job in a shorter space of time. You have to be organised and you have to know what you're doing; it's about training and being prepared in advance."
Stevenson's housekeeping team is given a tough month-long induction as well as daily on-the-job training, something that needs to become more commonplace industry-wide. "We're going through a tough time now, but training must not be cut back," says Dyson. "Staff must have the skills necessary to do the job."
They must also be provided with the correct equipment for each task. "By getting the right systems in place, the right training and the right equipment, it can improve the life of a hotel's assets," explains Barrell. "If hotels clean better, they could save a fortune on refurbishment. They shouldn't scrimp on cleaning."
For Stevenson, it's all about ensuring that the standard of the cleaning matches the standard of the nation's hotel, food and beverage operations. "The restaurants and hotels we have here are absolutely world-class; visitors will be blown away. But in order to keep them looking amazing, we need people who know what they're doing," he concludes.
"These guests travel the world and they want the welcome to be perfect, which is fine. That's what we can deliver."
How to maintain cleaning standards without compromising the guest experience
â- Invest in specialist equipment, such as steam cleaners, which can be used to clean both bathrooms and bedrooms without any chemicals. These sorts of systems are perfect for hotels looking to bolster their green credentials.
â- Sometimes the old-fashioned techniques work just as well as modern technology; try using vinegar, hot water and newspaper rather than chemical-rich window cleaners.
â- Play to your strengths - consistent brand standards across global hotel groups and the personal touch in an owner-operated B&B can be equally appealing.
â- The bedroom is where guests spend the majority of their time so pay attention to detail. This involves procedures such as regular checking for bed bugs and making sure that skirting boards even in hard-to-reach places are spick and span. Endeavour to exceed the guests' expectations at all times.
â- Remember that visitors to restaurants and hotels are trying to get away from their day-to-day lives, so pay attention to the obvious things such as empty glasses on tables, dirty surfaces, overflowing bins and bad smells.
how to make the perfect first impression
John Stevenson, founder and partner of ACT Clean, explains how to get guests on your side from the word go
You shouldn't judge a book by its cover and first impressions count - two over-used expressions, but relevant ones when considering the Olympics. The facts are that people do judge a book by its cover and first impressions do count. And it's all the more relevant when all eyes will be on London and on the hospitality industry.
People will come from all over the world and there will only be one chance to create that experience. It all starts from the time that the guest walks up to the door - even before they go through it. Great standards of cleanliness, from sparkling doors to spotless floors and smear-free mirrors are expected. But the best cleaning is so much more than just cleaning - it's about great training and open and honest communication.
It all starts with finding people with the right attitude. This is the single most important thing as everything after that can be taught or coached. You have to be honest with potential employees about what the role entails so that expectations, on both sides, are clear from the outset.
It's a physically demanding job. A good introduction to the company, property and standards is essential and then train, train, review and retrain to be sure that the required standards are met. Be clear on the checking process and then check, check and check to be sure it's met consistently.
Instil a sense of pride, belonging and achievement in your cleaning team. It's easy for them to be overlooked, often because the work takes place overnight and is not so visible. But it's very visible if it's not done correctly.
Let all your people know that they do so much more than cleaning. They are the very beginning of creating an experience and magical moment. They contribute hugely to the overall visit or stay. It may be cleaning, but hospitality cleaning is so much more glamorous than many others. Who wouldn't want to say ‘I work at The Ritz' as opposed to ‘I clean'? That's all about the way that you inspire and motivate your people.
It's important to be in regular communication with the operation to understand the flow of guests through the spaces. For example, if all the meeting rooms are in use one day but not the next, then resources can be planned to make sure of the absolute consistency of standards. It's very important to be transparent about what will (or more importantly perhaps, won't) be done so that expectations are clearly managed and everyone knows what will happen and when. And be honest when things go wrong - let's face it they do and will - and be clear about what you are going to do to put it right, and when.
Know your spaces and how best to look after them. Working with specialist finishes that are directly in the eye of the guest, even the smallest mistake or mistreatment can have unsightly and expensive consequences, and even more importantly, can impact on the guest impression. Make sure that you have the right equipment and materials and that the team are fully trained on how and where to use them.
And we all know that things can change - after all, this is the business of hospitality. So being contactable at any time to understand and manage these changes is essential. Your clients need to know that you are available whenever they need you so you can be as flexible as they need, and a true partner and support.
Don't let the bed bugs bite
The jet-setting bed bugs of 2011 travel across the world by plane and there's no way to prevent them being brought into the UK by unsuspecting guests. Yet many hoteliers are ill-equipped to deal with this increasingly pressing problem.
"Although you can't prevent anyone bringing bed bugs in, you can control and manage the problem," says Paul Barrell, director of Ecosteam. "With our systems, hotels can control the problem themselves; if you steam your mattress every day, you kill anything on there."
However, time is an issue for many cleaning staff and having proper monitoring procedures in place is a great substitute for daily steam cleaning. "Our linen is changed regularly and mattresses are visually checked every time a guest departs," says Kirsten Jonathan, head of housekeeping at Cotswold House Hotel. "It's something that has to be checked very regularly."