A hotel’s preventive-maintenance operations start with building a good team and effective communication, sources said.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—During the busy season, hotel engineering staffs on a preventive-maintenance schedule face the additional challenge of reducing interference with guests or when unexpected issues arise.
Darren Hills, area director of engineering at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Suites Charleston – Historic District, said he and his team work through that by effective communication.
Guests are top priority
Starting from the basics, a guest’s privacy and managing around the guest is the biggest concern, said Chris Steele, GM of the Courtyard by Marriott Jacksonville Flagler Center in Jacksonville, Florida.
“That’s what it’s all about, making the most impact on the hotel in a positive way, yet while making the least amount of impact to the guests’ inconvenience,” he said.
The 120-room Courtyard Jacksonville Flagler Center is primarily a corporate hotel, Steele said, and the average length of stay is one to two days. At the hotel, it’s common to do what he calls “flipping the house.”
“… (With) probably 90 check-outs and 30 arrivals (in a day) … we are able to get in the morning during check-out and have the vast majority of our hotel open to us to (conduct maintenance). And it’s all a relatively quick process,” he said.
Ghee Alexander, GM of the Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort in Tucson, Arizona, and VP of operations, Southwest, for Prism Hotels & Resorts, said larger maintenance work is really planned, but if there is an unexpected inconvenience, they will let the guests know through signage or sending them letters.
Steele added that if a GM or the front-desk team are not following up with guests during a time when preventive maintenance is occurring on-property, they are missing a golden opportunity to add a personal touch.
Prioritize and manage the maintenance schedule
The goal, Steele said, is to get in front of maintenance issues so things aren’t breaking.
“By the time something breaks it’s already an inconvenience to the guest, it’s already going to cost money,” he said. “So really the true measure of success for an engineering team is to prevent things from breaking, not just fix things that are breaking.”
That’s a common misconception, he added.
Tom Kibler, director of property operations at the Hilton El Conquistador, which has 17 people on the preventive-maintenance team, said while some things are set to be checked weekly, monthly, semiannually or annually, sometimes routine checks need to be revised.
For example, kitchen equipment is scheduled months ahead of time in the team’s preventive-maintenance rotation, but is subject to change.
“There’s certain codes that dictate how often you’re supposed (to check kitchen equipment) but if it’s used 16 hours a day, you don’t necessarily want to follow (that every-six-month schedule) … maybe plan to do that one every other month,” he said.
Hills said prioritizing items on the maintenance schedule is based on what needs immediate attention, in which case it would be either a failed or inoperable piece of equipment that has an impact on operation, such as a plumbing fixture.
“That is escalated to immediate attention,” he said. “We also have opportunities to record items (through an asset-management system) that are important (but) aren’t immediate and can schedule a later date.”
Form a good team
Hills stressed that hotels need to invest in the asset of building a professional team of maintenance personnel.
Currently Hills’ team consists of six people to cover the 212-room property with more than 10,000 square-feet of meeting space.
“It’s quite a bit of area to cover (but) that number is right where we would need to be to make sure that everything is maintained on a daily basis,” he said.
Both Hills and Steele said their teams have welcomed the housekeeping staff to take part in some preventive-maintenance actions. Hills said his hotel’s housekeeping employees are not cross-trained per a schedule, but are still engaged and working side by side.
Maintenance teams also need to be flexible or adjust their schedules, Kibler said.
“I have painters and I bring them in early in the morning before most people are even waking up,” he said. “When (we) move into the kitchen areas, we’ll find that we need to alter our schedules to make sure that we get some repairs done prior to (the kitchen staff) starting their breakfast shift. They get here at 5:00 a.m., they may have a stove down, so we’ll bring the guys in around 3:30 a.m. to make sure they can do that prior to their opening.”
While Steele’s property only has a two-man engineering team, it’s about quality over quantity, he said. When a team manages a good maintenance schedule, emergency fixes become less of a hassle, he added.
“It’s important to say, anybody in the hotel industry knows this, there’s always things that happen, there’s always a fluke, but at this hotel, in particular, because it’s all managed in-house, there’s less hands in the pot,” he said. “Everything stays to a schedule (and) it does minimize our exposure to fluke things.”
Steele said his property rarely gets caught behind the eight ball thanks to a good schedule.
“That goes back to the whole (preventive maintenance) schedule,” he said. “That’s the whole purpose of preventive maintenance. It might sound so elementary but a lot of hotels lose sight of that.”