Hotel managers who invest in preventative maintenance can save themselves the trouble of corrective repairs that require costly overtime or disruption to guest service.
When the calendar slips from winter to spring, homeowners retrieve their brooms and scrub brushes to wash away the dirt and dust that’s accumulated over the cold weather months. For hotel managers, making sure their properties are in good working order isn’t just a springtime undertaking—it must be a year-round program of preventative maintenance.
These efforts demand staff perform routine inspections of all physical assets to detect any potential trouble spots and fix those issues before a breakdown occurs. A maintenance audit prevents corrective repairs that require costly overtime or disruption to guest service. Preventative maintenance also prolongs the useful life of a hotel’s most valuable equipment.
In a hotel, preventative maintenance concentrates on three types of assets. First, there is mechanical equipment such as the elevators, HVAC systems and circulation pumps. Preventative maintenance is similar to regularly scheduled routine tune-ups of a car at specified miles. Replacing worn-out components and keeping the parts lubricated preserves the equipment—and prevents a major repair down the road.
Mechanical equipment runs on what I call “consumables,” items including batteries in the door locks, air filters and light bulbs. These parts ensure the proper running of the mechanicals while maintaining guest comfort, safety and satisfaction.
Preventative maintenance also covers room furniture and fixtures. Regular upkeep of rooms typically entails tasks such as painting the ceilings, caulking grout cracks in the bathroom, cleaning drains and shower heads, repairing the carpet if needed and touching up the furniture with a furniture pen.
Besides keeping assets in good condition so they last longer, planned preventative is a fixed cost. Maintenance staff should spend a portion of their day on preventative maintenance. This averts catastrophic equipment failures, thereby canceling the need for unexpected and expensive large-scale repair work or replacements. No hotel could budget for those unplanned costs, but they can budget for a preventative maintenance.
Keep track of the contractors
Elevators are a great example of the importance of preventative maintenance. I’ve been in countless hotels where the elevators have had problems. The care and regular maintenance of the elevator is usually left to a contractor.
When the contractor fails to do the job and the elevators malfunction, the hotel manager immediately brings in a new contractor. The new contractor fixes the issues, points out all of missteps and maintenance failures of the last contractor and charges the hotel for the corrective actions.
It’s an expense that could have been easily avoided if the manager followed up and made sure the contractor was following preventive maintenance schedules on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Managers must realize that even if they have a maintenance contract, it’s up to them to ensure the contracted tasks are actually being completed. Every major piece of equipment comes with a manufacturer’s manual detailing which components should be changed and when. Again, it’s the manager’s responsibility to be aware of those preventative maintenance guidelines—and not leave it solely to the contractor.
In addition, much of today’s modern equipment comes with sensors—the Internet of Things—that alerts staff via a wireless internet connection when a part is wearing down. This permits the engineer to take that information and perform repairs based on predictive maintenance. Managers and management companies need to embrace predictive maintenance opportunities, as this can reduce both preventative maintenance labor and repair expense.
On a number of occasions, I have worked with hotels that had horrific hot water availability issues in their domestic water systems. A cold shower has a huge negative impact on customer service. Circulation pumps that carry water from a sub-basement to all floors of a hotel are typically the culprit. Finding the location of the failing circulation pump can be challenging in older buildings where the as-built drawings may not exist. However, a sensor could solve this scavenger hunt, as well as inform maintenance staff of potential failure before the cold shower.
Preventative maintenance doesn’t necessarily entail a disruption of guest service. On the contrary, it takes care of potential problems before they grow into full-fledged corrective measures that could close down a portion of the hotel.
Hotels should make efficient use of their current engineering staff. If an engineer is scheduled for eight hours, then four of those hours should be spent on preventative maintenance. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., a period when guests at a business hotel are away from the property, the engineer can inspect the rooms and patch up the furniture and fixtures. In a 100-room hotel, if the engineer spends four hours a day, seven days a week on room upkeep, the entire property can be checked every four weeks.
Further, hotels are a 24/7 operation, so staff is available at any time for preventative maintenance. Meeting rooms, for instance, are unoccupied overnight, so repairs can be made then. If a hotel only serves breakfast, the engineer can inspect the kitchen after breakfast has been served.
Budget for preventative maintenance
Depending upon the size of a hotel, maintenance accounts for between 4% and 6% of a hotel’s operating budget. That’s a fixed expense that includes personnel, equipment and supplies.
Preventative maintenance also means thinking ahead and planning for costs, particularly of consumables. If the manager knows the life of the light bulbs in the hotel is three years, then the budget should reflect that three years from installation, the bulbs will need to be replaced. That’s an expense hotel managers can anticipate and set aside the required funds to cover.
Planning and scheduling the changing of light bulbs or batteries, based on life expectancy, can save a tremendous amount of time and payroll dollars responding to flickering light bulbs and dead door lock batteries. Not to mention the impact these outages have on guest satisfaction.
Preventative maintenance for hotels goes beyond an annual spring cleaning. It’s a continual, around-the-clock program to safeguard the hotel’s most valuable assets and support great customer service. Not having an effective preventative maintenance plan will cost your hotel in the long run.
Gary Isenberg is President of LW Hospitality Advisors Asset & Property Management Services. With more than 30 years of diversified hospitality experience in Hotel Management, Finance, and Asset Management, Gary’s expertise includes third party asset management, serving as an owner’s representative, due diligence for real estate investors, and development services to negotiate management or franchise agreements. His asset management specialties include, among other services, capital budgeting and PIP costing as well as internal control and accounting.
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