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Best Practice: A hotel\ s quest for quality.

Every hotel wants to ensure that its services are up to scratch, but which systems are in place to guarantee they are fit for purpose? Consultants and hoteliers explain why they are beginning to embrace international standards, despite the extra paperwork that comes with them.

Every day, throughout the Middle East, hoteliers and service staff work tirelessly to operate their hotels to the high standards expected from one of the most luxurious and exciting destinations in the world.

However, for a growing number of hotels hard work is no longer enough and with more competition entering the market, increasing numbers are turning to ISO certificates to guide quality assurance processes.

Who or what is ISO?

ISO, or the International Organisation for Standardisation, is one of the world's largest developers of voluntary International Standards and has published more than 19,500 covering almost all aspects of technology and business from food safety to computers, agriculture to healthcare.

However, keen eyed hoteliers who have noticed the word voluntary above may be surprised to know that while ISO develops and publishes International Standards, they don't actively enforce them, instead partnering with worldwide accreditation bodies who in turn license local and regional certification bodies to perform audits on participating businesses. Confused? You will be.

Vilhelm Paus Hedberg is the Middle East managing director of QMS Global FZE, one of the certification bodies that works with Middle Eastern companies to prepare, audit and award ISO certifications. As a certification body it is QMS Global's responsibility to audit companies that have applied for ISO certifications and pass or fail them depending on their results.

However, it is also QMS Global which advises each company on the work they must do in order to be successful, with gap analyses and pre-audits all part of a process that can take years to complete. So why would a hotel want to put itself through such an ordeal?

"Of the hotels that come to us for certification, while some are trying to abide by local law or regulations, most simply only want to have a quality system embedded into their operations," says Hedberg.

Hedberg thankfully goes onto to clarify that while there may be thousands of separate International Standards, only a few are commonly used and popular with the hotel industry. The first and most common is ISO 9001:2008 - quality management, while others focus on food safety, the environment and health and safety.

"Most hotels and companies will have these processes in place already, and ISO 9001:2008 essentially boils down to pretty standard good business practices,' admits Hedburg. "However, most of our clients don't actually realise they have these processes in place and end up benefitting from the auditing process that forces them to document all of their processes and procedures.

"For example, for a hotel the auditing process will require them to conduct customer surveys as well as an organised back office system with reference keeping and documentation control. Furthermore, hotels will also have to perform internal process reviews of their own systems as well as management reviews to ensure that everything is being monitored and measured correctly," explains Hedburg.

"Hotels can benefit from these programmes with an increase to their bottom line as they cut down on wasted work, as wasted resources are found and isolated and mistakes are tracked.

"Other benefits for hotels include communicating a positive message to its staff and customers that the hotel is pursuing a sense of quality management. It also identifies and encourages more efficient and time saving processes while highlighting deficiencies within the organisation, reducing costs and delivering an improved quality of service," concludes Hedburg.

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Intelligent ISO

Another expert on the use of ISO certifications for the quality assurance process for Middle Eastern hotels is Sterling International Consulting FZE senior manager Kaushal Sutaria, who offers advice and guidance for companies considering taking on the challenge.

"We provide ISO consultancy services to a host of companies across the Middle East, but hotels are a rapidly growing part of our business and are receiving more enquiries from hotels all the time," admits Sutaria.

One trend that Sutaria identifies is that as the hospitality market in the Middle East continues to heat up, hotels will increasingly see ISO certification as a vital way of standing out from the competition.

However, hotels wanting to begin the process of accreditation won't necessarily have the knowledge to navigate the world of quality management systems and pre-audits, which is where a third party consultant such as Sutaria comes in.

"A lot of our clients come to us because they need more information, or help understanding how they can implement or begin the process. They also have to understand the importance of the hotel management communicating this information to their staff and that these processes are essential to the efficient running of their hotel," states Sutaria.

Seal of Quality

One hotelier that understands the importance of quality assurance is Al Bustan Rotana Dubai & Al Murooj Rotana Dubai cluster general manager Hussein Hachem, who describes a process that "is highly important in any business particularly for the hospitality industry as it ensures the viability of our hotels".

"Without a quality assurance system," he continues, "a hotel may survive but it will not be able to reach its maximum potential. Quality assurance covers a very broad spectrum; it's not only focused solely on the quality of products and services in the hotel, but also on the quality of practices and processes.

Effectively implemented, our quality assurance procedures obviously help us increase our loyal customers, further strengthen our reputation, pushes for growth and development among our colleagues as well as ensuring value for money throughout our operations and for our guests," details Hachem.

He goes on to explain that the Al Bustan and Al Murooj Rotana is assessed through a variety of methods including set processes in training and development (off job, on job, work instructions, etc.), spot checks, quizzes, internal audits, customer audits and mystery visits. The resultant reports are then carefully analysed and suggested corrections are then strictly implemented.

"Our QA process has been created to lead us to getting more repeat guests through consistency in our operation while continuous improvement is the key to increasing our customer's satisfaction.

"Obviously, all these are directly linked to the increases in our business, revenue and profit," concludes Hachem.

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Certified results

One of the hotels that has really embraced the ISO process is Atlantis The Palm, Dubai with the director projects and quality Alan Lim particularly enthusiastic about the impact of the process so far.

"Transparency is one of the main benefits of ISO because now all your guidelines are transparent and you know exactly what is expected of you. The dos and don'ts that have to be fulfilled are clearly specified on paper," says Lim.

"For example, one main focus of this system is that you need to set your targets. They must be measurable targets and smart targets and based on outcomes, but we have the ability to decide how we go about getting the necessary tasks done."

While he admits that ISO can seem initially daunting for most companies with no obvious benefits at the end of it, Lim believes that the only real danger for hotels is if they simply go through the motions of the process, collect their certification but never really understand exactly how these processes can benefit them.

"Our whole ISO certification process took around two years, and we ended up going into every department and process mapping every aspect of what we do. There is no checklist provided for this, there is a standards manual but it is only 15 -20 pages long.

The most popular ISO certifications are by their very nature generic because they can be applied to companies from very different industries, whether with one employee or 1000, as long as you have a customer, a legal framework and organisation," explains Lim.

"But what this allowed us to do is create a PDCA system, which stands for plan, do, check and act; which for us at Atlantis means that we plan before we do, we do what we plan, we check what we've done and then take action so it becomes a continuously improving system.

So you set your targets, you get it done, you've done your measurement and reviewed it and determined what needs to be learned and improved, taken action and then you set another higher target for yourself next year," enthuses Lim.

Quality Coffee

To explain his point, Lim uses the example of the Atlantis' lobby coffee house: Plato's. Every day, before opening, Plato's staff complete an extensive checklist of tasks that ensures the venue complies with the necessary standards. This list may include such simple items as ensuring all surfaces are clean or that all of the necessary machines are turned on.

This list is checked by a manager each day who can then be certain that the correct procedures are being followed by their staff.

"Even though some items on this checklist may come naturally to our staff, it helps them because the guidelines are now more transparent. They no longer have to assume what tasks they have to perform and know exactly what is expected of them," says Lim.

"Of course I understand it may take our staff more time to complete a checklist of tasks every morning, rather than simply completing each task as a part of their normal routine.

However, this system is a way to assure the team that they have done their job properly, while the manager now does not have to check every little detail throughout the day to make sure nothing has been forgotten, but can instead simply check the list has been completed at the end of the day," explains Lim.

According to Lim, the system at Plato's is one example of a procedure that is carried out hundreds of times throughout the resort every day.

By using ISO accreditation as a way to challenge and improve its existing quality assurance practices, Atlantis has created a way of accurately mapping the everyday tasks of its employees. Once an operation has been broken down into its basic processes, it is then much easier to measure and compare your property's performance with the competition, Lim explains.

"We carry out around 250 mystery shops throughout the resort, carried out by professional third parties that measure whether we are meeting our own standards and following our procedures.

The measurements taken by these assessments then allow us to compare ourselves with our competition. Because if we can equate our level of performance with a given number, then we compare that number with the performance of our competitors and see where we are doing well or where we will need to improved," admits Lim.

"While there are no laws forcing us to do this, I believe the hotel industry would benefit from more regulation as that would ensure that the standard of hotels in this region becomes more standardised and there will be more consistency in the way that hotels operate," concludes Lim.

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CASE STUDY 1

THE HOTEL: Kempinski Nile Hotel, Cairo

THE LEADER: Marten Schwass, GM

Objective

The QA process of the Kempinski Nile Hotel is not only critical but crucial. If you don't have a constant and regular check on your standards, you are not able to recognise flaws and mistakes as they appear. It is a tool that we take seriously and it is the essence of developing our team and management. Our objective is to make sure that we remain the number one luxury property in Cairo in terms of quality of service, which is something that is clearly reflected in our rankings on review sites and through guest feedback.

Strategy

We are signed with Leading Quality Assurance (LQA), an independent quality assurance auditor, which means that a mystery shopper visits our property twice a year. We also have a daily quality assurance spot check conducted by our training department. Based on their feedback the hotel's management team then develops a training plan to ensure that we meet and exceed the standards set by LQA. As the hotel's general manager I am personally involved in the process of creating, conducting and monitoring this plan.

Results

l take pride in having achieved an 89% rating with LQA, which is the highest ranking in Cairo. This is also clearly reflected in our positioning as the number one-rated Cairo hotel on Tripadvisor, a position we have been proud to hold since 2010.

CASE STUDY 2

THE HOTEL: Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman

THE LEADER: Iftikhar Hamdani, general manager

Objective

Quality Assurance is a key factor in the successful operation of any hotel. It is essential for any quality hotel to certify and process check all operational systems and procedures.

Strategy

Working under the umbrella of Wyndham Hotel Group we have mystery guests that visit to check that the set corporate guidelines and standards are in place. This audit is carried out by an external audit company and it is always very helpful to see the rating of the hotel. If any hotel fails continually three times, their contract can be cancelled. At Ramada Ajman, we have a Quality Assurance Committee as well as monthly self-assessments prior to any Wyndham audit to make sure that our standards are maintained in all areas.

Results

We maintain communication between our Quality Assurance Committee and our operation team to ensure we avoid failing any of the hotel's stringent guest standards. This helps us boost the ratings/reviews from our guests and to increase overall business, which encourages repeat clients and word of mouth sales. That is the reason why for the last two years we are one of the leading hotels in the northern emirates in terms of hotel occupancy. We sold 100,000 room nights in 2011 and 105,000 room nights in 2012. We are confident that we will top that again this year too.

CASE STUDY 3

THE HOTEL: Tilal Liwa Hotel

THE LEADER: Ayman Ashor, general manager

Objective

Tilal Liwa Hotel's aim is to be one of the finest hotel destinations in UAE and for that we have to give a first-class service to all our guests. Quality is one of the most significant ingredients that affects the level of our success and we ensure to have a standard operation procedure on board in each and every department, particularly in food and beverage. Using the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) implementation procedure helps us improve our service through consistency without failing to serve our guests safe, high quality food.

Strategy

HACCP is a control process system, so we have difference kinds of monitoring procedures such as accurate food temperature readings and high quality food production standards. Additionally we ensure that our employees pass essential food hygiene training programmes required by the Abu Dhabi Government.

Results

Ever since we have implemented our stringent quality assurance processes we have noticed many improvements, the most important of which is a satisfied, happy and returning guest.

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Publication:Hotelier Middle East
Article Type:Company overview
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Apr 9, 2013
Words:2545
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