Staffing shortages—especially in housekeeping—are an industry-wide issue. In 2017, Joe Viglietta, COO of Vista Host Hotel Development & Management, wanted to create a housekeeping forbearance program and looked to already existing programs for ideas. What Viglietta found was that while others promote environmental savings and solutions to staffing shortages, he says, “there was no heart and soul to their programs. There was no sense of purpose.”
Viglietta found that purpose in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is dedicated to helping defeat childhood cancer and other life-threating illnesses without ever billing a family for services. Guests staying at Vista Host hotels can forgo housekeeping services and, in exchange, Vista Host donates $3 a day to St. Jude.
Vista Host started beta testing the program at three hotels in the fourth quarter of 2017 to work out technicalities and measure guest response. After overwhelmingly positive feedback, in late January 2018, Vista Host rolled out the program to all 39 hotels in its portfolio with the goal of donating $100,000 by year-end. Vista Host surpassed that goal and ended 2018 by donating $266,781.20 to St. Jude. The goal for 2019 is $350,000.
“It really has spurred tremendous guest feedback,” Viglietta says. “The people that are staying at our hotels on a very regular basis comment with very heartfelt remarks about how much they appreciate that we are doing this.”
Front-desk staff and signage welcome guest staying multiple nights to forgo housekeeping services. If choosing to opt-in, guests place a St. Jude do-not-disturb sign on their door, and housekeepers skip that room. Once the housekeepers tally the number of rooms forgoing housekeeping services, $3 per room is put into a donation pool.
On average, the company has about 240 rooms each day that opt-in to the program, averaging nine rooms per hotel per day. That average depends on multiple factors; Viglietta gives the example of a Vista Host hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that is near the airport and books mostly one-night stays. But, he says, “In other markets, we have a lot of long-term guests, whether they’re business travelers, they’re doing corporate training with their companies, or they’re families and patients visiting local hospitals.”
Like the programs that Viglietta researched before creating this partnership with St. Jude, other benefits include lowering Vista Host’s carbon footprint and a reduction in cleaning supplies. Viglietta says those are secondary to the company’s biggest benefit—the support of team members.
“What we have seen in rolling this out to all of our hotels is that it has inspired our 1,200 associates,” Viglietta says. “Our team members are much more highly engaged. They have rallied behind this sense of purpose. They are actively involved in communicating to our guests the benefits of this and sharing results and stories. They find tremendous pride in it.”
Vista Host has started the conversation between St. Jude and other hotel companies to expand the partnership. According to Viglietta, if a large hotel company were to adopt this program and had the same participation rate as Vista Host, they would be able to donate millions of dollars a year.
“Everybody wins,” Viglietta adds. “The owners of the hotel benefit from saving labor costs from not having to service the rooms. The planet wins because our carbon footprint is lowered through adopting these sustainability measures. Kids and families who are in these remarkable situations at St. Jude hopefully benefit, and we have the opportunity to make tiny changes in the world.”