Many changes have come about from COVID, but many more were just opportunistic. This Hampton Inn in Orlando is one of the hotels using COVID as an excuse to give up on service.
Suzanne Herr, General Manager of the Hampton Inn Orlando near Universal Boulevard/International Drive, reached out to me by email and we arranged a call. She and I spoke at length about the event. She acknowledged the hotel participates actively with the Hilton standard policy for housekeeping at this time. There is no requirement to call down the morning of requested housekeeping, and we talked about the industry struggles in general.
She was the epitome of class, she owned mistakes that were made, apologized and invited us back. She’s a fantastic GM and the a property that recognizes a mistake was made and corrects is a welcome sight.
COVID As An Excuse
We have seen just about everything over the course of the last two years. From genuine needs for better health practices (anyone that’s worked in the restaurant business will gladly remind you to wash your hands) to the absurd. I shan’t bore you with my examples, no doubt every person has their own – sometimes from likeminded people and sometimes from those who are diametrically opposed.
At a certain point, some businesses began using COVID as an excuse. Breakfast buffets going away made sense, you simply couldn’t have people close to communal food and utensils. But rather than replace breakfast service with room service, plated or even to-go options, many hotels just decided “due to COVID” that they didn’t have to replace it at all.
There’s a material difference between “we can’t possibly due this and remain in compliance with health regulations” and “we decided not to find a way around this.” Hilton has stated that full daily housekeeping is a thing of the past but that’s not down to COVID related issues. Marriott, which moved to the same “on demand” housekeeping has also stated that its employees make too much money.
Separately, the tactic of using an agreeable and plausible reason for policy changes has been expanded for other inconveniences the industry may want to avoid.
For example, a luxury Antarctic cruise line recently sent out a notice that due to environmental concerns, smoking would no longer be allowed on the vessel nor would vaping. There’s no doubt that cigarette butts being tossed off of balconies into the Arctic Ocean are probably bad for the ecosystem, even if the threat is small – they also pose a risk of fire on the ship. However, is the voluminous exhaust and burning of fossil fuels not a far greater concern? And even then, how does vaping negatively impact the arctic environment? It doesn’t, this is an exclusion of convenience not logic.
Periphery Issues from COVID Disruptions
Particularly, the hotel business was hard hit due to COVID. At first, it was the drop in travel which severely threatened business models as they had existed for decades. But then, labor shortages in some of the toughest jobs (mainly the service industry) began to shortchange the recovery. For hotels, this meant housekeeping staff was less likely to return even though pay rates and demand has risen substantially.
It’s impossible to offer the same level of service even if prices have returned without the staff to do the work. However, the service provider needs to state that housekeeping simply cannot be offered, rather than offered on demand.
Hampton Inn Orlando Abuses COVID Excuse to Make Up Rules
Upon checkin this week in Orlando at the Hampton Inn on South Kirkman, Holly, the duty manager, informed me that housekeeping was available by request for our three day stay. We knew that we wouldn’t need housekeeping everyday but did want housekeeping the next morning. Here’s how that exchange went:
“We’d like service in the morning, please.”
“You have to request it before nine in the morning.” (it was 8 PM)
“Ok, I’m requesting it.”
“No, you have to request it before nine in the morning.” (I visibly check my watch to ensure I am not delusional and missed 12 hours of time.)
“It’s before nine in the morning, it’s before nine at night too. We couldn’t have possibly given more notice than right now.”
“This is Hilton’s policy and it’s on the mirror.”
“This is not Hilton’s policy. Hilton’s policy is housekeeping as requested, and I am requesting it.”
“You have to call in the morning.”
“I have to get up, specifically to call down to request housekeeping?”
“Yes. That’s Hilton’s policy since January of [2021.]”
This is not the only Hilton we’ve stayed in this year, and I didn’t indicate to her that I was a travel blogger. Instead, I set an alarm for the morning after a grueling prior day, called down to housekeeping for which I received an answering machine at about 8 in the morning. Fair enough, they are probably doing their rounds. I left a voicemail requesting service.
It didn’t come. We returned and the room was in the same state it was before.
If hotel management wanted to introduce this policy, put it on the website and make it clear at checkin, that’s fine. That’s not what happened, they said it was Hilton corporate policy. It was not. Then they gave hoops to jump through and didn’t adhere to their own rules when followed. That’s using COVID to make up rules as they go along.
For the avoidance of doubt, here is what Hilton actually offers for housekeeping policies in 2021:
“Our complimentary housekeeping is now available by request. We know that comfort levels may vary when it comes to people entering your space. Now you can simply contact the front desk to request a room cleaning or just a few extra towels. Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and LXR properties continue to provide daily housekeeping as well as our properties in Asia Pacific. However, when staying at any of our 18 brands you can tailor housekeeping services to your personal preference.” – Hilton.com
This one incident is not the reason for this post. It’s the abuse of COVID as a reason for not doing whatever it is the service provider doesn’t want to do without providing notice nor accommodation all while charging the same rates for full service they did before. Had we known their policy, we may have still stayed there but likely wouldn’t have. They didn’t post it online because it would violate their agreement with Hilton and discourage guests who want and expect those services. That’s disingenuous, it’s intentional, and it’s using a pandemic as an excuse for service the hotel can’t or won’t provide but chooses not to disclose.
What do you think? Have you seen other examples of service providers using COVID as an excuse?