It takes something very special to be awarded the Housekeeper Employee of the Year, and the judges of this year’s Hotel Industry Awards considered Meripa Hudson (aka Aiono) had achieved just that.
Meripa Hudson is executive housekeeper, Novotel & Ibis Auckland Ellerslie – two Accor hotels within the same complex, adjoining the Ellerslie Racecourse. The Novotel is rated 4.5 and Ibis Budget 3.5 rated accommodation.
The awards judges described Mrs Hudson as: “an excellent team leader who makes an exceptional contribution to her hotel. A particular strength is the effort she puts into raising staff awareness about environmental recycling and promoting the hotel’s ‘green’ initiatives.”
Born in Samoa of Samoan and Chinese parents, and one of the younger children in a family of 14, she says her mother noticed very early her daughter’s liking for keeping things clean and tidy in a home where all the children were expected to pitch in and help.
After finishing her schooling in Samoa, Mrs Hudson moved to Wellington to be close to her brother and sister who had already moved to New Zealand for a better life.
“I loved New Zealand,” she said.
Changing career was by accident. Employed in a full time role in the Victoria University Library, as she was walking past the James Cook Centra Hotel in 1985 she saw a sign outside the hotel advertising for casual workers. She decided to investigate, had an interview with the HR manager, and was hired straight-away.
‘It was then that I realised this is what I wanted to do so I decided to pursue and start my career in the hotel and tourism industry,” Mrs Hudson said.
“I gave up my full time job and began a new chapter exploring hotel hospitality. Luckily I got on well with the staff and my outgoing personality came in handy in building a great relationship with the new team. My boss at the time was so welcoming and being new in New Zealand, I needed somewhere I felt connected to. I found that at the James Cook Centra Hotel.”
Her boss soon recognised her potential and started giving her the responsibility of checking other people’s work.
“That was so exciting for me. I enjoyed the challenge,” she said.
In 1994 Mrs Hudson and her family re-located to Auckland. Her hotel group (IGH) offered her a position in one of their city hotels – Centra Auckland, and then to Auckland Travelodge as a supervisor.
Still with IGH, she was promoted to an executive housekeeper role, this time at Centra Auckland Airport, which suited her better as she was living near the airport at the time. Mrs Hudson was there for about six years.
“By then I was ready for a change and another challenge.” An opportunity came along with an executive housekeeper position at Sky City Hotel. After two years her role expanded when SkyCity Grand Hotel was also added to her role.
“With nearly 800 rooms and additional staff to look after, it came with a lot of responsibility. However, I was prepared to take on another challenge as I felt it was an opportunity I could not turn it down,” she said.
“I really enjoyed my time at Sky city but after four years it was time to move and I took on a role at Novotel & Ibis Ellerslie as executive housekeeper.”
AMG: “And do you like it here?”
“I do! They make you feel like you belong and value your input. They trust you to make decisions – to think outside the square – to be creative. If you make the wrong decision, you’re not going to get punished. It’s all part of learning.”
She also has a high regard for Accor’s thorough, extensive training. “Accor truly believes if they get the training right, they get the service right.”
Housekeeper of the year
By now, Meripa Hudson had an excellent reputation in the hotel industry, but to win the award of Housekeeper Employee of the Year against other top achievers, she had to demonstrate she had achieved something extra-special.
“You have to show something you’ve achieved over and above your everyday role. What the Novotel & Ibis put forward for me was the program I created educating our staff to be more aware of environmental sustainability.
“When I first arrived at the Novotel & Ibis, I found my team didn’t know a great deal about recycling. I observed what they were doing and thought we could do better. I sat down with the supervisors, together with the hotel waste management team, and discussed ways of how we could help our housekeepers to improve.”
The group took a close look at the sustainability training program in place at that time, which was for all staff members, including senior management.
“We decided it was just too complicated for the housekeepers, so we looked at it from just a housekeeping perspective and how we could make their training as simple and easy to understand as we could. We organised a workshop, pooled our ideas together and created our own training program specifically for housekeeping, and then trialled it for a year. It took a while for the staff to adapt but like anything else, you have to have patience, and I knew it was going to work,” said Mrs Hudson.
“We even gave our training project a name and called it CARA, which stands for Crazy about Recycling Activities. The whole idea was to make it fun as well – and we still do.
“The team took it very seriously. We ran training and competitions twice a year where the staff collected anything recyclable from the guests’ rooms to create something out of it. The team loved the interaction and we saw a big change in their attitude, learning to work together as a team.
“At the end of our training, the best team was rewarded with product supplied by our suppliers and at the end of each month our waste management team would issue a report measuring our performance.”
CARA goes Accor-wide
Those reports steadily showed a huge reduction in what the team was sending to landfill. They realised it was an idea that would benefit all Accor’s New Zealand hotels through its housekeepers.
“As a the chairperson for the Accor New Zealand Executive Housekeeper Group, I decided to roll out CARA to all our housekeeping teams and our training program was introduced to the entire group. It took a little while but when the group started to see the impact CARA could make, everyone came on board – with the support of the general managers.
“Following up from that, I decided to start a bed making competition within our group, and put all our efforts towards rewarding our room attendants for their hard work and promoting their efforts. My aim was to make other staff members aware that housekeeping plays a major part in how a hotel operates.
“Our first bed making competition was so successful we decided to run it every year. We come up with a theme and last year that was CARA. Each hotel had to come up with their own idea of how they could use their recycled products to create something. It was really well received.
“It was like an art competition. Our suppliers were the judges. The aim was to promote CARA to all of Accor’s hotels in New Zealand.”
And now all the housekeeping teams do use it.
So how did it feel to hear the name Meripa Hudson announced as winner at the NZ Hotel Industry Conference dinner on the evening of June 2?
Mrs Hudson said she was “naturally delighted”, but took it all in her stride. “It’s my job – it’s what Accor Hotels employ me to do.
“But, it was a very nice feeling walking back to my seat.”