While it is important for hoteliers to remain competitive by promptly attending to guest-facing repairs and maintenance, it would be a mistake to leave the maintenance of essential “behind the scenes” equipment, such as laundry, HVAC, and electrical, on the backburner. The result could be anything from unreliable heating and cooling in rooms to an elevator breakdown. “Neglecting proper maintenance on systems and equipment will result in a higher frequency rate of failure, catastrophic failures, poor guest satisfaction, and a much higher capital spend to owners,” says Jason Kilgo, vice president of engineering, Aimbridge Hospitality.
Also speaking with LODGING on best practices for equipment maintenance were Mike Mueller, president of brand operations, Wyndham; David Cirincione, White Lodging’s dual general manager of Le Méridien and AC Hotel Denver Downtown; and Keith Shugerts, vice president of project and facilities management, Essex Hotel Management, LLC. All of these leaders stressed the importance of planned and preventive maintenance based on knowledge of the age and recommended care of the many pieces of equipment, both guest-facing and back of house, while sharing some of the ways their own companies approach the challenge.
The Right Staff and Training
Numerous staff members are critical to the success of a hotel maintenance program, including a director of engineering, staff specialists, as well as generalists and people who can be trained to handle in-house maintenance tasks. Shugerts says all the hotels his company manages have a dedicated maintenance staff with at least two members. The maintenance engineer, who heads the staff, conducts a formal guestroom inspection four times a year. In addition, it’s important to hire third-party vendors charged with maintaining certain equipment. For example, Aimbridge implements service contracts for major mechanical equipment and systems.
New maintenance staff must be set up for success, and to that end, Aimbridge provides new hires with tools and training supported by regional and area engineers. “We have found that documentation and hands-on training for new associates are crucial for successful onboarding,” Kilgo says. Wyndham provides preventive maintenance recommendations to its franchisees and gives them a Hotel Operations Guide to help them best extend the life of each piece of equipment. However, the most useful tool the franchisor provides, according to Mueller, is its Preventative Maintenance Checklist, a multipage document that is the heart of its planning and recordkeeping.
Although Mueller believes the guide is an important tool, he stresses that its success depends upon employee cooperation; thus, all employees should be encouraged to consult the guide in the course of fulfilling their regular duties. In fact, he suggests leaving the preventive maintenance checklist binder open in a place people congregate, like the breakroom, as a visual reminder that preventive maintenance is critical.
The Right Protocols
Even a well-trained maintenance staff is not entirely self-sufficient; they depend on housekeeping associates to keep them apprised of equipment problems spotted during housekeepers’ daily rounds of the rooms, Shugerts points out.
Similarly, Cirincione says that while engineers should be “looking and listening” during their daily rounds, all associates can and should aid the effort: “Our teams are utilizing this equipment every day. They need to notice if it’s running properly and call the appropriate service if it’s not.”
Maintenance staff members at Essex Hotel Management hotels check all areas of the property on a rotating, weekly basis with walk-throughs, using what Shugerts calls “daily cards” with a checklist of things to look for. While the walk-throughs are not comprehensive, they are consistent. “The program is meant to just keep them focused on different areas of the property—for example, one day for public areas, another for laundry, and so on—on a weekly basis to make sure they’ve pretty much seen 100 percent of the property every week.”
To optimize efficiency, many hoteliers deploy a technologically assisted maintenance plan. For example, Aimbridge implements a computer maintenance management system (CMMS), such as Quore, Transcendent, or HotSOS, to automate recordkeeping and reporting. Such a tool also helps track all the pending maintenance tasks at the hotel in order to ensure they’re completed on time and by the right staff member.
All hotels need a maintenance plan that works best for their staff, and many helpful checklists are available online. But the important thing is not to delay exploring the options. “The longer you sleep on preventive maintenance, the more problems you can have down the line,” Shugerts warns. In fact, the best time to start getting into the habit of doing preventive maintenance is “right from the get-go,” when the building and all its equipment are new.
From Prevention to Crisis Management
In-house staff training, keeping backup equipment, and establishing supportive relationships with affiliated hotels are all important maintenance approaches. But despite these efforts, equipment failures can and do happen. Some even cause dire emergencies, and avoiding those incidents is surely the strongest reason to exercise preventive maintenance.
Maximizing Self-Reliance. Jason Kilgo, vice president of engineering, Aimbridge Hospitality, says the use of in-house staff for maintenance is more important than ever. He points to variable refrigerant flow (VRF) HVAC systems as an example of equipment that can be repaired by staff, averting the need to take affected rooms out of inventory, which would ultimately result in revenue loss for the asset.
Backup Equipment. Keith Shugerts, vice president of project and facilities management at Essex Hotel Management, LLC, says his company strives to be prepared for equipment failures by keeping extras on hand. Indeed, supply chain issues that delay the delivery of needed equipment give new meaning to the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Case in point: In August, when this interview was conducted, he was awaiting delivery of air conditioners ordered in February.
Supportive Relationships. Mike Mueller, president of brand operations, Wyndham, says the company seeks to broker relationships between its franchisees, who have proven to be willing and able to help one another during challenging times, including the pandemic. “We always encourage our owners to stay connected with other owners,” he says, “so when an air conditioning unit goes down, they may be able to buy, borrow, or lease the same or a similar model” from a nearby franchisee.
Emergency Response. Whether due to neglect or bad luck, equipment failures do occur, leaving hoteliers scrambling to deal with the consequences. Sometimes, a malfunction—such as an elevator getting caught between floors—can seriously impact a guest. “In that case, you need to respond as quickly and calmly as possible, both to arrange for the elevator contractor to open the elevator, and to take care of the guest trapped in the elevator, who may be frightened or even traumatized,” says David Cirincione, Le Méridien and AC Hotel Denver Downtown dual general manager.