The hardest questions are often the most interesting, and this one is certainly among the hardest. To answer the question for a specific hotel on a specific day would be very, very challenging on account of the large amount of data which would be necessary to arrive at a figure. Yet if we tried to answer exactly the same question one day later, the answer would probably different, because nothing stays the same, and every change in circumstances has a knock-on effect on staffing requirements.

The best answer is therefore, “It depends.”

It depends on the size of your hotel, the market segment in which you operate, the type of guests you welcome, the average length of stay, the quality of service you offer, the local regulations or union rules, the local culture, the guest facilities you provide, and a whole host of other factors.

If we consider just one department in the hotel – housekeeping – we can see how these factors affect staffing levels. Size is the obvious factor, since bigger hotels clearly need more staff. However, there may well be economies of scale, or efficiencies to be gained from task specialization in larger hotels. On the other hand, in smaller hotels you may find staff members responsible for more than one function.

The business segment is critical. If you operate at the luxury end of the scale, you will need to maintain a higher staffing ratio in order to keep your service standards high. For housekeeping, this may translate to bigger rooms to clean, with higher standards of cleanliness, more furniture in the rooms to clean, and more complimentary products to re-stock. The time taken to service each room is therefore longer than would be the case in a 2-star property.

The type of guests will also make a difference for housekeepers. Business travellers are generally known for keeping their rooms relatively neat and tidy, but families with small children can be quite the opposite. The length of stay is also important, because a room which is occupied for several nights will only need to be lightly serviced during the guest’s stay, while a room which is transitioning to the next guest will need a deeper clean. These different scenarios could see the time spent in the room by housekeepers showing a 300% increase when guests are checking out, compared to when they are staying on for another night.

Given the different cases, putting a figure on the ideal number of rooms allocated to a single housekeeper is impossible – so many property management systems use a unit system to simplify the scheduling. For example, if one unit is considered to be a standard size room where the occupant does not change, then the same room when the guest checks out might be counted as 3 units. Occupied by children, it may be 2 units. In this way, the hotel can take some of the known factors into consideration.

However, it is also necessary to look at peak occupancy rates to determine the number of employees needed, with the ideal staffing arrangement comprising both full-time and part-time workers. This gives managers a degree of flexibility to cover peak occupancy without having to pay overtime rates. On top of this, managers may also need to consider the staffing policies of their head offices if they are operating as part of a chain, while also considering the local labour laws, and the efficiency of the local workers. It has also been pointed out that Western hotels often have lower staffing levels as the service style expected is perhaps colder and more efficient than in Eastern cultures where staff tend to pay closer attention to guests and therefore take more time.

The staffing variations observed in housekeeping can also be seen to a certain extent in the other departments of a hotel, so the task facing each General Manager is to identify the type of service he wishes to provide, and then use all the available data describing the multitude of variables which will influence productivity in order to arrive at the best solution for his guests and his accountants.