Christina Jelski
Christina Jelski

To clean, or not to clean daily, that is the question.

Daily hotel housekeeping, once a standard amenity at virtually every property across all chain scales, has now become the exception, not the rule, in today's Covid-era normal. 

In the height of the pandemic, many U.S. properties suspended routine daily housekeeping in an effort to limit contact and potential contagion between staff and guests, and they shifted the emphasis toward enhanced disinfection in public areas as well as more intensive room cleanings between guest stays.

At the time, the risk of guest pushback was minimal. Health and safety had become paramount, and a lack of daily housekeeping was but one of many sudden shifts -- from the rollout of grab-and-go breakfasts and QR code menus to contactless check-in. In pandemic-era travel, guests took it all in stride. 

But as domestic leisure travel has roared back and vaccinations help to mitigate Covid's threat, the fact that automatic daily housekeeping has yet to resume across much of the industry has emerged as a hot-button issue for guests as well as hospitality union leaders and members.

Social media backlash has picked up steam in recent months, with some posters characterizing curtailed room cleaning as an underhanded way for hotels to maintain rates while providing a lower level of service. Others have pointed out that a shift away from daily housekeeping narrows the gap between the traditional hotel experience and the self-service hospitality model favored by most mainstream vacation rental platforms.

In other words, what's the difference between a limited-service hotel with no daily housekeeping and your average Airbnb?

Meanwhile, hotel unions have argued that reduced housekeeping translates into fewer jobs and that dirty rooms that haven't received daily upkeep are proving more difficult for housekeepers to turn over between stays.

That hotels would delay bringing back housekeeping services in full shouldn't come as a surprise.

On the heels of a devastating 2020, many properties, particularly those in major urban destinations, are still struggling toward profitability, and a reduction in housekeeping would certainly help keep operational costs in check. And in leisure and resort markets where demand has been robust, a national labor shortage has made it challenging to find enough housekeepers for daily cleaning, even assuming they wanted to provide it.

As a result, numerous brands and properties have opted to quietly extend their housekeeping cutbacks indefinitely.

Housekeeping option at Hilton

Hilton was the first major hospitality player to declare housekeeping an on-demand option. Across the majority of the company's U.S. brand portfolio, rooms will be cleaned only once every five days unless requested.

Exempt from the new policy are Hilton's luxury flags, including the Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and LXR brands, which will retain daily housekeeping service.

In a statement, Hilton said that "guests have told us that they have varying levels of comfort with someone entering their rooms after they have checked in."

On the one hand, there's certainly something to be said for Hilton being fully transparent about its updated housekeeping protocols, setting clear guest expectations.

But while Hilton has sought to assure guests that daily housekeeping service remains available if they ask for it, that distinction seems to suddenly place housekeeping into the same amenity category as other "upon request" extras like rollaway beds, cribs or connecting rooms.

These are generally extras that aren't guaranteed and are available largely on a first-come, first-served basis. Housekeeping, on the other hand, appears (for the moment) to be truly upon request.

For travelers who consider automatic daily housekeeping service a nonnegotiable part of their hotel stay, this particular "upon request" nonetheless sets a worrying precedent. 

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