Maybe you’ve seen it too while traveling for work. Since the pandemic, many hotels in the US have moved to, say, an optional cleaning model, and travelers who want their room cleaned every day have to say so, rather than assuming it will be done automatically.
But figuring out how to convey the request to make the beds or change the towels daily can be a maddening exercise in code-breaking.
Abhishek Singh, who travels a lot for his job as a technical analyst, remembers the first time he learned that housekeeping was no longer mandatory. In the spring of 2022, he returned to his room at a conference in Seattle at 9:30 p.m. after 12 hours on his feet to find the bed unmade and “towels strewn about.” He called the front desk to learn that the hotel, the Marriott, does not offer daily housekeeping. He says that when he tried to ask for it the next morning, he was told a flat no. At other hotels, Singh says he requested daily housekeeping at 10 a.m., only to be told he had to make the request by 9 a.m. to be accommodated.
A Marriott spokesperson said Wealth they could not comment on this particular incident, and that “in the US and Canada, how often cleaning service is provided varies by hotel segment, and guests can customize their cleaning preferences during the booking process.”
Singh said Wealth he’s so tired of arguing with hotel management that he’s developed a hack where instead of booking one room for several nights, he’ll book two rooms for one night each and take the day off to attend his conference .
“I only travel with one hand luggage; in the morning I just leave and then settle in,” he said. He once came clean to the front desk and offered to stay in the same room if they cleaned his room that day, which was against normal policy. (He says they agreed.)
But Singh is still frustrated by what he sees as fraudulent behavior by hotels that charge him between $200 and $500 a night, even though he remembers staying at an $800-a-night property in New York that also did not clean at night.
“My logic is that I’m paying the same price per room per night as a person staying just one night. This person gets a room that’s tidy and clean — why don’t I get it?” Singh said Wealth. “It’s not like they’re going to give me a big discount for a five-night stay,” he said.
The hotel industry is back to where it was, but it’s different
Nationally, travel is on the rise. Hotel occupancy this year is about on par with 2019, according to industry data, and room rates are well above last year’s levels.
With travel back in full swing, Singh said he hasn’t paid less than $400 a night in the past six months. Singh has frequent flyer status at both the Hilton and Marriott, but that status gets him the only excuses from management when he complains — no change in policy.
He also enjoys hotels that describe reduced cleaning as environmentally friendly, calling it “virtue signaling,” he said. “I’m not even asking you about changing the towels, just the basics like making the bed, taking out the trash.”
Hotel workers also oppose the idea that reduced cleaning is a boost to the environment. When two or three guests stay in a room and it’s only cleaned upon check-out, that means more time, more cleaners and harder work, said Lucy Biswas, a housekeeper at the Washington, DC, Hilton. At the height of the pandemic, the hotel sometimes had as few as six housekeepers to clean a fully occupied building, instead of the 40 that would have worked on a typical day before the pandemic, according to Biswas’ union, Unite Here Local 25.
“When they leave a room for three days, the garbage in the rooms smells, the garbage is all over the floor,” Biswas said. “When a family comes over, there’s a lot of shavings or syrup or dust or crumbs on the desk…sometimes we don’t even finish the rooms because they’re so dirty.”
In Washington, D.C., housekeeping has become a political issue—the city council last year passed a temporary law requiring daily cleaning; hoteliers hope the law will become permanent. Las Vegas had passed a similar law during the pandemic, but repealed the requirement earlier this year.
A Hilton spokesperson said Wealth plans to bring back daily housekeeping this fall “at all Hilton Luxury, Full Service, Lifestyle and Embassy Suites by Hilton hotels worldwide,” and added, “Guests visiting Focused Service and Extended Stay hotels in the U.S. and Canada will receive automatic service every other day or can simply stop by the front desk to request more frequent service upon request.”
Most industry watchers believe that hotels will return to daily cleaning – as soon as they have to. “At some point, consumers will stop being willing to pay as much as they do for hotels where they no longer receive support,” said Sean O’Neill, hotel editor at the travel website Skift.
For some travelers, that day can’t come soon enough.
“I clean myself — I would assume that would be the case with Airbnb,” Singh said. “But with the hotel, there are certain assumptions that you’re paying for more than the four walls and the bathroom. What’s this extra I’m paying more for?’
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com