The Slow Elimination of Hotel Housekeeping
(This isn’t technically about automation, but more about the systemic reduction of a certain type of job.)
Every year, my Dad and I go to Las Vegas for a rugby tournament. The last time we were there, we managed to get a very high-end hotel at off-season prices.
At check-in, we were offered the option to forego room cleaning in return for a $5 restaurant discount coupon. We took it. I don’t need my room cleaned every day (hell, I certainly don’t do that at home), and I intended on having breakfast at the hotel every day, so it was worth it.
Let’s consider the players here:
- Me, an upper middle class professional
- The hotel, a presumably large, profitable corporation
- The housekeeper who would have cleaned my room, a (likely) lower wage earner in a profession with considerable turnover and job instability
Who got what?
- I got a free $5 for giving up something I didn’t need anyway
- The hotel must have come out ahead too. Assuming a profit margin of 20% (probably right for the inflated prices at hotel restaurants), they probably gave up $4. I’m assuming the room costs them more than $4 in labor and supplies to clean each day (they probably pay by-piece, rather than by the hour – $X for each room cleaned)
- The housekeeper got…nothing. In fact, over the long-term, he/she (probably she) likely got a pink slip, actually. Less rooms to clean means less need for housekeepers.
This is an example of the efficiency of the system cutting out something that’s probably extravagant to begin with. We simply don’t need our hotel rooms cleaned every day. By encouraging me to give this up, the hotel is saving money, at the cost of lower-end jobs.
I suspect this might be an unspoken, emergent plan by the hotel industry to phase out daily room-cleaning. Give them a few years of encouraging people to do this so we get used to it, then we’ll start seeing hotels that simply have every other or every third-day cleaning services by default.
The sad fact is that the hotel is giving a benefit to someone who doesn’t need it (let’s face it, I’ll spend five bucks on a cup of coffee) to allow them to take away a benefit (a job) from someone who really does need it (show me a hotel housekeeper with much disposable income). The benefit of having my room cleaned every day isn’t worth nearly as much to me as the housekeeper’s job is worth to her.
But, again, this is an inefficiency being ruthlessly slain by the market. Other than preserving these jobs through artificial means (via unionized negotiating), this is just how it goes.