Attracting the next generation of Housekeeping Managers
Interview with Jay Dang, Executive Housekeeper at JW Marriott Macau and Ivan Ieong, Housekeeping Manager at JW Marriott Macau in February 2016.
It’s a huge challenge for those choosing Housekeeping as a career path in the future. JW Marriott Macau opened its 1015 rooms on 27th May 2015. The Housekeeping Team was led by Ivan and Jay to a successful opening with occupancy running in the high 90’s for the first 10 months, the young and dynamic team had the energy and drive to make it all happen.
What is your career path to date?
I was born, grew up and was educated in Macau. In 2010 I graduated from The Blue Mountains Hotel School, Leura, NSW Australia and returned to Macau shortly afterwards to begin my career in hotels. When I first started, I didn’t know which Department would suit me best, at that stage I was leaning more towards Front Office. I decided to look for a Management trainee job and Mr. Val Cooke from the school told me about a vacancy for a Rooms Management Trainee position at the Grand Hyatt Macau. I applied and was accepted for the 1 year position. The first 6 months were in Front Office followed by all other areas in Rooms Division. Just as I finished the traineeship in 2011, a vacancy came up in Housekeeping for an Assistant Manager position. I took the plunge, this was a huge challenge for me, I had only had 2 months experience in Housekeeping and I was put into this senior role. Every day was very busy, we had 600 FIT check INS and checkouts. Because the operation was so fast paced, I had the chance to show the team that I was a “hands on” style of Manager. At that time I told myself not to be embarrassed to ask, I would always get great support from the Room Attendants and the Supervisors whenever I was unsure of what to do next. After 2 ½ years in Housekeeping, In April 2014, I moved back to Front Office as Assistant Manager in April 2014 and In September 2015 I was promoted to Assistant Front Office Manager. But Housekeeping was in my blood. In January 2015, I decided to move to JW Marriott Macau as I was keen to learn more about doing a Hotel opening as a Housekeeping Manager. At that stage I knew I was more interested in Housekeeping than Front Office, I felt I still had a lot more to learn in Housekeeping and let’s face it overall it’s more interesting in Housekeeping than Front Office.
I was born in Vietnam and went to USA to continue my education including University. In 2011 I graduated from Conrad N. Hilton College in University of Houston with a Bachelor of Arts in Hotel and Restaurant Management. My very first interview after graduating was with Marriott, I felt it was a good fit and I completed my internship after graduating at Marriott’s Desert Spring Villas in Palm Desert, California. This involved 6 months in Housekeeping, with my first role as a Pool Attendant, handing out towels in 48 degree Celsius heat! My other jobs in Housekeeping included stripping rooms and doing the housekeeping office filing. The best part of the 6 months was getting involved in a housekeeping training project when I assisted the Housekeeping Manager to set up a brand new 2 day training programme for all Room Attendants including audio visual and hands on training tools. After 10 months I was promoted to Marriott’s Shadow Ridge in Palm Desert as Bench Manager (this is like a Junior Manager role). The 1 year programme involved 6 months in Front Office and 6 months in Housekeeping. Then in 2013 I decided to move back to my native Vietnam to take up the role at JW Marriott Hanoi as Pre-opening Housekeeping Manager. This is a role I undertook for 2 years until I was promoted to my current role of Executive Housekeeper at JW Marriott Macau in April 2015.
Why did you choose Housekeeping over Front Office?
Housekeeping is more about people management, it involves a diverse range of Associates and organizing the team is more challenging than just facing the guest. Besides, Housekeeping has more involvement on the financial side with interesting aspects such as cost control and managing huge budgets.
The thing I love about Housekeeping is that every day is different. There are always different things happening and different aspects of the operation to focus on. This includes public areas, rooms, laundry and linen. It’s not only about managing the facilities and equipment, it’s really all about managing people.
What is changing the way that Housekeeping operates?
It is definitely a lot more about technology than before including eHousekeeping, Guestware and Opera. Such software programmes didn’t exist in the past. My first technology project was to set up the Housekeeping software – Optii keeper at the Grand Hyatt Macau. Interfaced software systems really help the operations; they enhance communications within the Department and with others and it is good to see this is definitely the trend for the future. One advantage of working in Housekeeping is the need to think outside the box. These software programmes are only tools; we are the ones to think of better ways to make the best use of these systems. In the end good use of technology can reduce calls and make everyone more efficient. It is only all about teaching our Associates how best to use them in a way to gain the most benefits.
Besides changes and increases in technology I do believe that the service delivered by Housekeeping is changing. There is a lot of competition out there and we need to be constantly trying to come up with better ways to serve the guest. How to provide personalized services in Housekeeping is an ongoing challenge and we have to think every day of how to create more ways to give a memorable Housekeeping service to the guest.
Where do you see it going? What sort of innovations over the next 10-15 years?
Everything is becoming more automatic, there will be a reduction in phone calls, with more effective communication between Front Office and Housekeeping. There will still be a lot of paperwork and unnecessary communication but hopefully this will improve. With issues of room cleanliness high on the agenda introduction of new technology like EcoApps, an organic and natural product used to reduce and remove smells from rooms, will also become more important.
In the future, the service demands of guests will become higher and higher. We have to come up with new ways to achieve or even exceed gust expectations. Guests will do everything on their Smartphones – room service, guest requests everything… and there will be a need for every Associate to serve the guest with more personalized service. Room Attendants will become mini concierges and butlers, they will know where the guest can go for dinner and will even be able to make the reservation for the guest.
How do you think Housekeeping could become more of an attractive option for up and coming Managers of the future.
In Macau there are numerous opportunities for promotion and the chance to develop lots of Housekeeping talent in Macau. There are more opportunities in Housekeeping than any other Departments as the Hotels are big and there are not enough experienced Housekeeping Managers. Nowadays there are lots of innovations in Housekeeping, it’s not just about cleaning. We focus as much on service as we do on cleaning rooms, everything to make the guest happy.
When hospitality students graduate they don’t think much about Housekeeping. It’s up to young Managers like Ivan and me to talk to those who have chosen hospitality to explain how we did it and to show them our career path.
What are the 3 main challenges you face in your role today?
The main issue in my role is the huge challenge of managing a large resort and utilising limited manpower is a big challenge.
Another issue is managing the quality of performance. Sometimes we have to compromise as it takes time to reach the level of a 5 star operation.
The 3rd main challenge is the arrival and departure pattern of guests in Macau. Guests usually stay only one night, with high occupancies, this means heavy check ins and check outs daily with the turnover of rooms happening very quickly.
One major challenge is training. With Associates from different countries, different backgrounds and zero Housekeeping experience we have to have great training plans to ensure new Associates are efficiently trained and up to the expected standard.
The 2nd main issue is that JW Marriott is an American style of operation which requires lots of guest engagement. In some Asian cultures, this is not the norm so we need constant training and reinforcement to ensure we can deliver.
The language barrier both between Associates and with the guest can also be a challenge. Some Associates don’t speak Mandarin while for most of our guests this is their mother tongue. We need to rely on correct transfer of messages and information including potential guest complaints to ensure the operations runs smoothly.
Any advice for those choosing to go down the Housekeeping route in the future? What would you tell them is a “must”?
A “must” is that you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and work alongside the team. Don’t be afraid of any of the dirty jobs like cleaning a toilet or a bath. Cleaning is the basis of housekeeping, it is fundamental so you need to learn from the bottom up. Ask if you don’t know, show you are willing to do it yourself and those you work with will respect you in the long run.
A “must”? It is all about working hard and having an eagerness to learn new things. Always show a willingness to do any assigned task – this will help you on your way. In Housekeeping if you do well, you will find there is less competition and your path into senior management roles will be swift.