I liken the running of a hotel to the movement of an army – all the various teams and squads coordinated in sync for a common goal. And indeed, the staff at a hotel is often a virtual army, numbering the hundreds with any departments’ work invisible to the outside world (think covert ops). A property cannot function without these back-of-house processes, but because only fellow employees – and not guests – are privy to their inner details, it’s not hard to sniff out what makes them truly effective.
For this pursuit, I was put in touch with Marta Vukotic, one of three laundry leaders at the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver. Opening in late January 2009 and in time for the Winter Olympics the following year, the Shangri-La is the only five-diamond hotel in the city as well as its tallest structure. This last bit may be a tad misleading as most of the tower is devoted to condominiums, making the Shangri-La a boutique property. Nonetheless, with such high expectations to live up to, servicing the hotel’s 119 rooms requires expert precision. Working in the hospitality industry for over 30 years and as one of its heroes, Marta has a lot to say about her role in delivering the perfect guest experience.
Her first observation is that effective guest service needs task forces to both anticipate what visitors expect and desire, and to deal with any problems that arise. Marta works alongside the rest of the chain in command – the manager of housekeeping, the director of rooms and the general manager – to ensure that her area of operations performs at its best, but also to lend her voice to other aspects of the hotel where she has made an inference which might improve guest service. It’s this openness in communications and in reception to external ideas that help make the Shangri-La a continued success.
The bulk of my talk with Marta concerned quality assurance and the steps taken by this luxury property to uphold its housekeeping standards. Although the Shangri-La has an internal laundry room, a fair portion of the daily load is still sent out in order to save space for high priority and finicky items like bath robes which, due to their delicate fabric composition, must be washed in-house. Maintaining spares like this also allows for some flexibility when guests need same-day laundry for such things as shirt pressings and emergency stain removals. As Marta explains, having this option available is a surefire way to win over those guests who take advantage of it. Being able to ‘save the day’ with superior laundry capabilities is not something that an individual will easily forget.
Nearing the end of our chat, the discussion turned to the environment, where, given how much water is pumped through the laundry room each week, sustainability upgrades in this regard are a prime method of savings on the utility bill. In addition to a prominent repurposing outreach program, the Shangri-La has also recently installed an ozone oxidation system which management believes to be a highly eco-friendly and cost effective development to their existing operations. In the end, Marta modestly stated that she’s ‘just a worker bee’ and that while laundry is but one aspect leading to a hotel functioning smoothly, it’s nevertheless vital to continually look for improvements in this area like you would for other more visible, front-of-house processes. Truer words could not be said.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on June 18, 2014)