Are Your Cleaning Staff in the Hospitality Business?

cleanerWho does the changeovers in your vacation rental property?  Do you use a property management company or a local independent cleaner?  Perhaps you do it yourself and are considering handing the task over to someone else.

Regardless of who is doing the job for you, are you confident they understand the nature of our business, who your clients are and the uniqueness of the relationship?  If not, it may be time to have the conversation.

I heard from a number of owners last year because they’d had reports from their cleaning staff that included subjective and often derogatory opinions on guests.  This was often as a result of arriving at a property and finding it has not been left in a tidy or as-found condition.  My suggestions on how to deal with this resulted in the following points.  You may want to sit down with your cleaning staff and have a discussion based on them.

We are not in the ‘rental’ business – we are in the hospitality and tourism industry.  This means we have to be aware at all times that these are guests and we do not refer to them as ‘renters’.  They must be respected as any guest in a hotel or resort would be.  While most will keep the house tidy and clean during their stay, some will not and it may be more challenging to bring it back to a ready condition.  On the whole you will find it balances out and the good generally outweigh the bad.

I do not need to know when the property has been left in an extremely poor state unless it requires extra hours and/or additional staff to bring it back to a rental-ready condition.  One of the reasons to hire a property manager is to reduce stress so it’s unnecessary to tell me your thoughts on the character of the departing guests.  I do need to know if there has been damage or something has been broken that may impact our next guests.

Our guests pay well to rent the property so they deserve your attention to detail.  They will open every cupboard and drawer and will notice anything that is neglected on a changeover.  If a previous guest has inadvertently left something in a bedside drawer or under the bed you can be assured that the next clients will find it.

I need you to be attentive to detail. When guests are on vacation they are not as concerned over attention to detail as I want you to be.  They may put an unwashed coffee mug back in a cupboard, or pile clean towels on top of used ones.  They won’t be thinking about the consequences for the next guests if this goes unnoticed. Everything on the checklist needs to be checked on every changeover – no exceptions.

You are servicing a property in the hospitality industry.  Doing a changeover on a rental property is not the same as cleaning a home for a homeowner who can pre-brief you on what needs to be done and will often tidy before you arrive.  Guests who have just left may have had little time to tidy up before they depart, particulalry if they have young children.  We are tolerant of the fact that our guests have just ended a fabulous vacation and their attention may have been more on packing up and sadly leaving rather than doing any housework.

Our guests are valued because they pay for their stay and that includes your services.  Even if their standards don’t match up to mine or yours, we don’t judge them in any way – we may simply choose not to accept their rental fees a second time.

First impressions are of vital importance.  Take some time before you leave the property after a changeover and walk back in as you would if you were a new guest. Does it feel welcoming?  Is there a fresh smell?  If you had just arrived on vacation, what is the first thing you notice?  Is there anything you could do to make it more perfect?

Follow the Checklist.  We provide a room-by-room checklist and a pictorial guide that shows how the kitchen cabinets should look as well as indicating where furniture should be located.  It’s important the checklist is followed for consistency  as well as aesthetics.

What are your thoughts on this?  I know in many areas that getting good help for changeovers can be very challenging, and owners are often so happy to have found someone, they don’t want to risk upsetting them by being too procedural.  Do you have ideas on dealing with this?

We would especially like to hear from property managers and cleaners who have challenges working with their owners. This is another post in itself but it is always good to hear from both side of the fence.

This post is dedicated to Carol, who manages both my properties and has evolved into a zealous ambassador for outstanding property management. 


The timing of your post could not have been better. We are currently experiencing some issues with the agency we hired to take care of the housekeeping turnover services. Before we have “that discussion” with the agency and staff, we saw the need to first describe what the perfect housekeeping service would be for us — and we defined our ideal Vacation Rental Housekeeping Solution from the bottom up. On the “operations side”, this includes a turnover a check-list unique to each property highlighting specific tasks not normally include in a residential house cleaning, plus seasonal deep-clean tasks we rotate or cycle through each turnover (versus scheduling a single deep clean each quarter), along with a list of items to restock, inventory, inspect, and report. As you mention in this post, the “service” side deserves equal attention — identifying the hospitality mentality, guest interaction, and customer satisfaction we strive for.

What a great experiment this has been for us. Instead of reacting to problems and implementing corrections to patch our current agency’s system – we will instead approach them with well thought-out job descriptions & requirements and see if they are up to the challenge. If not, we have a complete set of requirements ready to approach other service providers.

Heather Bayer

Hi Paula – I love the idea of defining an ideal solution from the bottom up and that you have identified with them the specific tasks they may not normally do. I think many people forget that bit – managing a VR is very different from the residential tasks a company may normally undertake. Cycling the deep-clean tasks through each turnover is a great idea too. I’d love to hear how your hiring process goes.

Dream Destinations LLC

Your post is informative, thank you. I own a vacation rental company in Miami Beach and have found it is extremely important to hire staff who are familiar with vacation rentals. Certainly residential housekeepers can do the job but be prepared to spnd a significant amount of time helping them transition from residential housekeeping to vacation rental housekeeping. Vacation rentals – in my view- are a hybrid mix of hotels and residential homes when it comes to cleaning. Each vacation rental is different, not standarized like a hotel, so the cleaning has to be customized . . . just one example would be various rugs in each rental – they are all different, some stain easily, some dont. Some require a quick vacuuming, some require much more time to clean. Along the same lines, I have found that checklists are not helpful because if given a checklist people will make sure they do what’s on the list but not more, and again each condo/home is very different. I have found through years of managing all operations and rentals (remotely I might add) that hiring the right person, spending a lot of time training and going over everything with them, giving clear expectations, and compensating them well for a very demanding job go a long way towards finding and keeping the perfect housekeeping staff. The number 1 complaint we hear from guests is that other vacation rentals have not been clean. The number 1 compliment we hear is that our rentals are sparkling clean and spotless!

    Heather Bayer

    I think checklists are fine for individual owners but agree that one size doesn’t fit all for multiple properties. You make some great points, particularly about giving clear expectations, and compensating well. How many properties do you manage?

    Antonio Bortolotti

    “I have found through years of managing all operations and rentals (remotely I might add) that hiring the right person, spending a lot of time training and going over everything with them, giving clear expectations, and compensating them well for a very demanding job go a long way towards finding and keeping the perfect housekeeping staff. The number 1 complaint we hear from guests is that other vacation rentals have not been clean. The number 1 compliment we hear is that our rentals are sparkling clean and spotless!”

    Couldn’t agree more with your statement! So true.

Eva Whitney

Hi Heather!I have 3 properties that I manage for out of area homeowners, my eyes are the last to see every detail of the home. Because none of the turnovers have happened on the same day, I am there with my girls & I inspect everything before they walk out the door! I have set a high standard. I pull out every glass, plate, pot & pan, no detail is overlooked. I am the representative for my homeowners. Anything overlooked is not just a reflection on me, it’s a reflection on them & anything less than 5 stars is unacceptable! By next season I expect to have a couple more clients & might need to hire an asst manager who will get trained by me. I also appreciate the detail I have received from the homeowners who provide a checkin procedure list, this outlines their expectations of their home, as each one is quite different!

Eva Whitney

In addition, I don’t trust that towels that have been put pack and folded by a guest are clean, I wash each towel, check every piece of flatware, and pull out every glass, cup, plate etc to inspect. I am responsible for the properties that the owners entrust me to, from outside to inside, that includes windows and BBQ’s everytime!!

    Heather Bayer

    Thanks for your comments Eva – it sounds at though your owners are very lucky to have you. It takes a special person to achieve that level of commitment and appreciation of hospitality to pull this off. Getting individual checklists from owners is a great idea, as each place is so unique.

      Eva Whitney

      I love lists and my trusty red pen! Thanks Heather – love your stuff!

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