NAPLES — The housekeeping team at the DoubleTree Guest Suites in North Naples is not a typical one with executive housekeeper Desiree Gutierrez in charge.
In addition to the level of housekeeping found at most highly rated hotels, it’s the “extras” Gutierrez and her team strive for everyday that wins them honors.
The team received the DoubleTree by Hilton brand Excellence in Housekeeping Award for 2010, given annually to the best hotel housekeeping staff in America. They beat out all other DoubleTree housekeeping staffs with 224 rooms or less throughout the United States. They have also received perfect ratings in all areas on their last six quality assurance inspections.
Gutierrez pushes her team to be the best. After studying hospitality in a rigorous training program in Cuba, she came to Florida and landed a job at the DoubleTree as a supervisor in the housekeeping department with the help of a refugee placement program run by Catholic Charities. She worked her way up from supervisor to assistant manager, to manager, to executive housekeeper. Her success, she says, is in part because she is constantly thinking of ways to make her team better.
“Things that make us successful,” Gutierrez says.
Some of those things include constantly looking for ways to personalize the stay for an individual guest, or a repeat guest, such as placing an item in their room that they noticed the guest likes, or is missing. “We go out of our way to notice if a guest is missing a certain amenity, and we place it,” Gutierrez says. Her team also gets involved in community service, both locally and around the globe. They’ve cleaned up Barefoot Beach and they send toiletry items to kids in need in other countries.
But what really puts Gutierrez and her team in a league of their own, is daily English and U.S. Citizenship lessons.
In an effort to make the team better, she instituted an English language-learning program she thought would improve guest satisfaction, but it did so much more, she says. Gutierrez noticed that her staff was well received as smiling and attentive by hotel guests, but there was an obvious language barrier.
In 2010, Gutierrez started daily English lessons that have become a part of their morning line-up, and has even grown to after-work study sessions at coffee houses. With the help of a book and DVD program called “Everyday English for Hospitality Professionals,” Gutierrez began breaking down the barrier between housekeeping staff and guests.
“We have seen the housekeepers go from little English speaking and comprehension to an open communication with all co-workers and guests related to the hospitality world,” Gutierrez says. “It has dramatically improved not only their job performance, but their personal lives as well.”
Every day they participate in an English lesson. The housekeepers first studied all words and phrases related to their specific job duties in the cleaning arena, such as linens, amenities, names of tools they use, and the actions they perform to clean and prepare rooms for guests.
After each lesson, Gutierrez gives them the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned by playing a fun game or quiz, which also helps monitor their progress. After the housekeeping lesson, for example, the group plays a charades by acting out a housekeeping duty, and the team must describe the action and tools being used to perform it.
Another lesson, taught by the hotel’s chief engineer, teaches them how to report issues or damage in a room, such as air conditioning issues. After that lesson, each member of the team has to call and report a specific problem to the hotel’s general manager. The team also gets schooled by the front desk on how to make small talk with guests. That lesson ranges from talking about the weather and local beaches, complimenting a guest on an outfit or shoes, to describing a room with a pool view.
Gutierrez explains, “We don’t want them to be just housekeepers, we want them to improve the hotel experience for guests and team members.”
To top it off, every day each member of the housekeeping team receives a slip of paper with a sample U.S. Citizenship test question and answer that they learn in the morning. By the afternoon, they must find one of their American co-workers from another department to quiz them on the question. A recent question asked: If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President? The answer: the Speaker of the House.
Housekeeper Betty Paz loves her job, and the fact she gets educated on the English language. “It has been very useful for me, because now I can understand everything the guest is requesting,” she says.