“I love the creative aspect of housekeeping. Every day in housekeeping is different. I love to come up with creative solutions that can set a benchmark in the industry.”
- Beena Vijayakumar, Director Of Housekeeping, Bab Al Qasr Hotel & Residences
An illustrious career of 33 years in housekeeping is not something we come across everyday. So this month, we spoke to Beena Vijayakumar, Director Of Housekeeping, Bab Al Qasr Hotel & Residences about her journey, challenges and views on important aspects like sustainability.
I am a passionate hotelier who has an implacable desire to become a trendsetter in the industry by always raising the bar in whatever I do. My 33 years of experience is a great asset to the industry out of which 14 years in the GCC region has given many important millstones to the industry.
Your work and profile at your current establishment
I am the Director Of Housekeeping at Bab Al Qasr Hotel & Residences (677 Keys).
How did you get into the hospitality industry and how have you grown since then?
It was by chance that I joined the hospitality industry. I am a graduate in English Literature by education. Soon after my son started schooling, I thought of taking up a job. It was at this time that one of my friends referred me to Taj Malabar Hotel, India where I started my career in the hospitality industry as a housekeeping supervisor.
What drives you and your career?
My passion and dedication to human capital development using novel and unique learning methods and new techniques to improve the housekeeping standards without confining to traditional approaches drove me to be who I am today.
An accomplishment that shaped your career
After completing 9 years of my career, I was promoted as an Executive housekeeper in Taj Malabar which exposed me to take up different projects and challenges within the group, for instance the renovation of Taj Colombo Sri Lanka for the SAARC Summit. I was also given the chance to do the pre-opening of four Hotels in the Taj group in India. In 2004 I won the National Award for Best Housekeeper Star of Industry Award which was my first national-level recognition.
The best part of your job
I love the creative aspect of housekeeping. Every day in housekeeping is different. I love to come up with creative solutions that can set a benchmark in the industry. I personally love to keep things organized neat and clean which makes me happy all day throughout.
The most challenging aspect of your job
I see colleague recruitment and retention as the most challenging aspect that we face nowadays. The hospitality industry as a whole already has the highest turnover rate in any industry.
Why is sustainability so important to you?
As of today, the hotel sector accounts for around 1% of global carbon emissions, and this is set to increase as the industry grows. A hotel housekeeping department plays a huge role to improve sustainability and reducing environmental impact as we are the department that is accountable for the highest waste generation in a hotel. On top of that new travellers are also looking for accommodation options where there is a minimum negative impact on the environment. Therefore, I believe that staff awareness is very much important to create an effective impact on the best sustainability practices. I believe that making staff aware of the below-mentioned area’s and practising the best possible actions will definitely keep us ahead of the game. Below are the areas that we should make our staff aware of:
- Reducing energy and water consumption.
- Minimization of waste by using reusable products.
- Usage of biodegradable chemicals
Let me also take you through a few best practices that we have implemented to be ahead of the game.
- Saving paper with the use of BAQ Supervision App.
- Room checklist was paper-based and when the BAQ Supervision App was introduced, we were able to save 20,000 papers during last year.
- Using discarded towels as colour coded dusters
During the outbreak of the pandemic, a new regulation was introduced by the Department of Tourism and Culture to use a fresh set of colour-coded dusters for each room. At the time, the average occupancy rate of the resident tower was 80% with long-stay guests. And if we were to comply with this regulation by purchasing new towels, it would have incurred a major cost to the hotel. We took the initiative of using discarded towels by colour coding them and used them for this purpose with which we were able to re-use the resources which we already had within the hotel.
The latest products (chemicals & equipment) that are in use
All our chemicals are biodegradable. We have introduced steamers & fogging machines to cater to present pandemic conditions.
The latest technologies that ease your job
With our passion and enthusiasm to build high performing teams with the use of technology-driven processes, we launched an internally developed BAQ SuperVision App at zero cost which was initiated by our L&D Manager Asela De Silva & myself. The main feature of this application consists of a room checklist which is supported by pictures that must be submitted by housekeeping supervisors during their inspection to ensure the guest rooms are cleaned as per the required standard and to refer to details in case of a guest complaint. This is the first-ever hotel-based housekeeping supervisor App at Millennium Hotels which will be taken as the flagship project to implement similar platforms at other properties across the region.
Training provided to the cleaning staff
Despite the challenging operations during the pandemic, I always believed in providing training and learning opportunities for the continuous development of my staff members.
We created video materials on SOPs with the help of the L&D Manager (e.g. new norm room cleaning SOP) and shared them on a team WhatsApp group and launched them on the internal e-learning platform as well. Due to her positive take on training, the housekeeping department has the highest number of training during the year with an average of 5 training hours per employee.
What kind of innovations do you think will help in your cleaning processes?
I believe as the technology evolves day by day there will be many advances to the industry. For example, AI integrated Apps will help us to deliver a very personal and efficient guest experience. Many of these AI app’s will take over the Housekeeping desk operation and will have a very smooth two-way communication in future in order to deliver a very personalized guest experience. Ex: Google Duplex: A.I. Assistant.
The future of the cleaning industry
Robotic machinery will play a very important role in minimizing human effort and maximizing productivity
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic should be dealt with (in terms of housekeeping)?
Sanitization and cleanliness play an important role in the current housekeeping industry. It is our duty to ensure that set standards are implemented and actioned to create a safe and clean environment for our guests & colleagues.