In this series, we speak with four professionals about their views on the global labor shortage in hospitality, the challenges they are facing, and how they are coping and adapting. Our four interviewees span the industry with diverse experience and backgrounds: Rosanna Maietta, EVP Communications & PR at the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), Gefferson Alves, Managing Director at Ba’ra Hotel Joao Pessoa, Stephen Burke, Founder of Robosize Me, and Danica Smith, Director of Product Engagement at Shiji Group. You can read our first conversation with Danica here our second conversation with Gefferson here, and our third conversation with Stephen here.
Today we speak with Rosanna Maietta, EVP of Communications & PR at the American Hotel & Lodging Association and President & CEO of the AHLA Foundation, about the current state of the market and her predictions for the future, informed by her unique experience in strategic communications, CSR, marketing, and beyond.
Most industry experts would agree that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely behind us. With very few exceptions around the globe, countries are learning to live with the virus and moving on to an endemic approach when tackling this health crisis, removing restrictions that have been in place for much of the past two years. As a result, travel demand has steadily picked up pace, yet the industry is still experiencing a labor shortage and has not hired back quickly enough. The challenge, as Rosanna Maietta succinctly puts it, is that we have “more people traveling than working [in the industry]… The labor shortage has been so acute because the dramatic, almost overnight increase in leisure travel is putting pressure on demand in a way that we hadn’t been used to because of COVID-19.”
Testing Employees’ Industry Impressions
In an immediate effort to address the imbalance, the AHLA Foundation rallied to launch its “A Place to Stay” campaign and expand it in several markets across the United States, targeting workers above 18 years of age searching for hospitality jobs.
The first step in their campaign was to understand the impressions of the industry held by job seekers, learn what their needs are, and how to attract them. “We wanted to highlight the career pathways that the industry offers, and that’s why there’s the emphasis on the word ‘stay’ in the campaign title”, explains Rosanna. She shares that few people know that there are at least 200 different job roles and titles in the industry, and that there is diversity in job roles and functions. It’s not only about the front-facing roles such as Receptionist, Housekeeper, or Valet, but also the many behind the scenes roles like Auditing or Accounting, in addition to the iterations and steps that exist between them, allowing for a career pathway that can start at the front desk and end up in the Executive Office.
The campaign consists of a series of paid digital advertising and the website thehotelindustry.com showcasing real life success stories of people talking about their jobs, what they love about the industry, and how they were attracted to it in the first place. The stories are especially helpful for young talent, who, “Want to hear from someone who looks like them and who share similar experiences,” says Rosanna, and provide access to a broad range of examples of like-minded and diverse groups of people who found success and satisfaction in their careers.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association compiles and releases an annual report on the state of the hotel industry, which has been showing an increase in hiring numbers despite the sustained labor shortage afflicting the industry even before the pandemic started. The aim of the report is to provide the association’s members with data on today’s job seekers to allow companies to align themselves with their current needs and wants.
The emphasis on data has seen a recent collaboration between the Association and the New York University School of Hospitality on a report that shows the importance of going beyond competitive salaries to offer good benefits and stability. Some of these benefits, as Rosanna exemplifies, are that, “People want to make sure that they have sick pay, paid time off, maybe even get tuition reimbursement to get a degree or move up.” She adds that even though a degree is not necessarily needed in the industry, it gives talent flexibility to change their career paths and that it’s in the interest of many companies to support that. Another result from hearing out employees showed that flexibility and work-life balance were important. Rosanna postulates, “I don’t know that anybody really achieves work-life balance in an industry that’s 24/7, seven days a week. But there are ways, and the industry has really been forced to think about what flexibility means in this environment”. According to her, that’s where technology comes into play.
Technological Innovation As An Ally
To address the demand for flexibility, Rosanna suggests analyzing operations and reframing them from a technological point of view. “Take traditional scheduling. When you can look at data showing guests are mostly vacating the rooms at noon, why are we asking housekeepers to come in at 7am, when they may have to drop their children off at daycare? It’s all about looking at data from your guests’ stays and their experience to change how you work.”
In addition to rethinking day-to-day tasks and shifting processes to accommodate this new reality, technology allows for solutions that weren’t previously available to hotels and restaurants, such as the rise of the gig economy. Rosanna cites the example of one of their partners, Qwick, which is a platform providing on-demand staffing as a service. It connects F&B professionals with restaurants by hosting shift posts from the latter that can be filled by the former based on their availability, and represents another tool for hotels or restaurants to fill in their staffing gaps. According to her, another area benefiting from the mindset shift towards technology is payment, with many apps providing services that allow immediate pay to be released to an employee as opposed to a two-week or monthly schedule, which Rosanna believes can be a factor in retaining staff members. “These are the kinds of things companies are starting to do, looking at how to bring some innovation to an industry that traditionally hasn’t ever considered these kinds of solutions,” she adds.
That is not to say that the only options available to businesses are dependent on the internet, as Rosanna mentions some members who found success in making their workplace more attractive in real life. One company was able to provide childcare on site by converting existing spaces into a childcare facility, and a resort chain turned a number of their rooms in hard-to-access properties into on-site dorms, thus making access easier and attracting more employees.
Forging A Path Beyond Labor Shortage
In her experience with AHLA, Rosanna noticed that the labor shortage has put increasing pressure on every market, in almost every role, but especially in the F&B sector and restaurants in particular. This is due to hotels having more options in terms of reopening facilities, Rosanna shares, since, “If a hotel doesn’t necessarily have the staff to run all of their outlets, they may convert a restaurant into grab and go, or limit room service offerings and opening times,” whereas a standalone restaurant may not be able to do so and still be profitable. Having limited resources has caused a shift in how operators think about their F&B offerings, and she says there have been some scaling down and reshuffling in order to provide a satisfactory guest experience while remaining a viable business.
With the surge in travel and leisure numbers, Rosanna sees the next six months to a year projecting high occupancy for both hotels and airlines, with prices equally rising due to the strong demand. To keep up with it, she believes that the upcoming expansion of the “A Place to Stay” campaign is coming at the right time to boost hiring efforts, and hopes that not only AHLA members, but also its partners and players in the travel space as whole continue to talk about the upsides of joining and staying in the industry. “[Hospitality is] such a cool and fun industry, it is for people who have their heart in service, who love travel, who love all the cool things about hotels, and it lets you move around into a variety of different jobs. I think this is really an industry that people will start to look at and take more seriously”, Rosanna concludes.