Years of under-training and under-paying have led to a housekeeping crisis, experts have warned.
A combination of factors, including the removal of housekeeping modules from college courses, overuse of cheap and under-skilled agency workers and a lack of investment means hotels are facing a dearth of housekeeping staff.
"The problem is that some general managers take the view that people clean at home, so they can be employed at a minimum rate to do the same thing in their hotel," said Ian Hughes, chairman of the UK Housekeepers' Association (UKHA).
Hughes argued that low pay was compounded by a general lack of respect for - or understanding of - housekeeping management.
"Education seems to have taken out housekeeping as a career pathway in hospitality. It has been happening for at least five years, with the increasing emphasis put on food and beverage," he added.
Some colleges, including Huddersfield Technology College, where Hughes teaches, have reinstated housekeeping components into their courses to try to alleviate the crisis.
Liz Smith-Mills, hotel consultant and chair of the Yorkshire branch of the HCIMA, agreed that hotel managers had paid too little attention to housekeeping and are now suffering the consequences.
"Poor treatment and minimal training have resulted in low motivation and high staff turnover," she said. "The highest contribution to profits tends to come from rooms rather than from food and beverage, and if a room isn't clean, people simply won't come back."
Helen Blinkhorn, housekeeping manager at the Golden Tulip hotel Manchester agreed that housekeeping had taken a battering over the past five years.
"Housekeeping just doesn't get a profile at colleges," she said. "We've been left in the background for such a long time that a lot of students don't even consider the sector. We just don't get the number of people applying for jobs that we used to.
"I think we need to get out there and advertise ourselves a bit more. It's not a glamorous job but it is the backbone of a hotel."
Housekeeping recruitment consultant Mary Duhovich said the problem was training: "Today, a maid can be made up to an assistant housekeeper in just seven or eight months, which is appalling. It used to take five or six years. Basically, it just sends out the message that anyone can do this job," she said.
Nick Gamble, director of operations at Malmaison, said a tendency among the larger hotels, particularly in London, to contract-out housekeeping operations had further undermined the profession.
"Housekeepers should not be undervalued," he said. "They make great managers because the job requires great motivational skills, managing what is often the largest single group of people working in a hotel."
By Paul Gander