La Quinta room attendants will clean 18 million rooms this year alone. According to COO and EVP Angelo Lombardi, 25 cents on every dollar hotels earn goes out the door on labor, which is why this aspect of the business is so critical to manage. When Lombardi heard about a tool one of La Quinta’s franchisees had developed to streamline the room-cleaning process, he knew he had to check it out.
Prior to opening a La Quinta Inn & Suites in Cedar Park, Texas, in 2009, franchisee Pradip Mulji had owned other hotels but never managed one. Stepping into this new role opened Mulji’s eyes to the need for a communication device that would improve the employee experience and ensure guests received a better product. Leveraging his prior career skills from the automation industry, Mulji created a digital chart that functioned as a cleaning management system and gave employees access to real-time information.
Lombardi was enthusiastic about the tool but saw the potential to expand its features. Mulji listened to Lombardi’s feedback and added new capabilities, such as maintenance, inspections, and tracking lost and found. The end result was the Mobile Operating Platform (MOP), which La Quinta intends to roll out across its entire portfolio by the end of the year. With the adoption of this program, rooms are getting cleaned more efficiently, maintenance issues are getting fixed faster, and deficiencies in training can be detected earlier.
Here’s how the app works. Every morning, a list of rooms ready for cleaning appears on each room attendant’s touch screen. The quick tap of an icon lets management know when a room has been entered for cleaning and when it’s ready for inspection. The front desk can also instantly update room status changes (i.e. “due out” or “stay over”), indicating immediate attention is required. “The stress of which room they’re cleaning and when is gone,” Mulji said at the La Quinta brand conference last week in Orlando. “It’s all managed centrally.”
When room attendants notice a malfunction, they can notify maintenance with a photo and text, which eliminates multiple trips for tools and parts. Simultaneously, the front desk knows the room is not yet ready for guests. “We cannot have the next guest experience the same maintenance issue that we knew about,” Mulji said. “There’s no excuse for that at all.” The moment maintenance staff completes a repair, they notify the front desk so the room can be released. Maintenance receives daily task lists and urgent updates via a preventative maintenance calendar.
The fact that La Quinta operates more than 350 properties made Mulji confident to share it with brand executives and get their expertise. “Operating one hotel, you tend to do it your way, not necessarily the right way,” Mulji said. “Through almost three months of communication, feedback, and working with the program, we finally got it to a point where it’s a more usable product, especially for the most important people at the hotel—our room attendants.”
MOP is currently in use at more than 60 La Quinta locations, including 35 owned hotels and two test hotels in each region. La Quinta values the tool so much, that it is now a brand standard that will be incorporated into franchisee’s technology fees. “We’ll roll it out until we have enough of a base that we know training and experience is right and all the vehicles are in place,” Lombardi said.
The tool is not brand proprietary, which means La Quinta’s competitors could also purchase the product from Mulji’s company, Lodging Controls. Other hotel brands that invest in the product will pay a licensing fee. “The better this is for the folks in our industry who clean rooms, the more successful our industry is going to be,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi expected employees to be hesitant about changing up their routines, but he said room attendants at test hotels were grateful to have a tool that made their jobs easier. “Instead of being nervous, they said, ‘My company has just invested in me. I’m important enough that they spent time and money to improve my job’ and the pride in that went up. Rooms are coming faster, and managers are more in touch with their product than they ever have been before.”