The year 2022 is one set to be remembered for a long time to come. While the global COVID-19 pandemic crisis has dramatically slowed the world down and, in some cases, even brought it to a halt since the beginning of 2020, this year has largely seen economies and countries gradually opening up their borders and business as usual resuming in most parts of the world. We have experienced a phenomenon that became known as revenge buying, where consumers unleashed their pent-up desire to go on shopping sprees (because who would buy new clothes during a crisis when we’re mostly confined to our homes anyway?). Now, we see consumers taking advantage of a combination of lifted border restrictions and high vaccination rates to partake in revenge travel. Good news for the tourism industry, so battered by the many restrictions imposed in the last two years. Except that one thing hasn’t changed: It is still a highly labor-intensive industry with a track record of being slow to adopt new practices and technologies– and we have a labor shortage.
The labor shortage is not a new problem, but with demand for leisure and travel increasing sharply while airlines, hotels, and F&B businesses struggle to bring back furloughed or hire new employees, the imbalance has been crippling and is amplifying the familiar staffing issue in the industry. As Rosanna Maietta, EVP of Communications & PR at the American Hotel & Lodging Association, puts it: “we have more people traveling than working [in the industry]”.
We recently published a series of interviews with experts from the hospitality industry from all over the world to take a closer look at the causes of and solutions to the current labor shortage in the hospitality industry. You can read those interviews here, here, here, and here. Below, we share and analyze some of the key takeaways from these conversations. Let’s take a closer look.
Work Landscape Changes
Today’s shortage of staff can be attributed to a number of compounding factors. Traditionally an industry with long and irregular hours, former employees are not willing to come back to their old jobs due to the increased workload owed to, precisely, the lack of staff. The reputation held by the industry and its careers – that of low pay, long hours, bad benefits, and poor work-life balance – also affects the perception of potential new hires and exacerbates the difficulties in hiring and keeping talent.
Additionally, the last two years have seen an increased focus on mental health and flexible work arrangements, with these being some of the top priorities of current job seekers, as observed by talent acquisition teams across all industries.
More recently, some people have also seen a shift in priorities on the owners’ side. As Danica Smith, Director of Product Engagement at Shiji Group, pointed out in our conversation here, her staff’s focus when pitching their platform’s services to hotel owners has gone from highlighting the benefits for guest experience to talking about how it can remove some of the workloads and help reduce internal staff’s burnout and boost retention.
Tackling Labor Shortage Issues
While the situation is currently unfavorable for hoteliers, it is far from a lost battle, and ideas on how to tackle the crunch are as diverse as the industry itself.
There is a general understanding that governments should play a part in mitigating the severity of the crisis by facilitating regulations aligned with current job market expectations and that individuals have a duty to put pressure on their governments towards achieving this. But there is also plenty that can be done on the companies’ side, and the general consensus is that changing the image of the industry is a crucial step to recovery.
The Hospitality Industry is a people business, and implementing measures to support our own people – the staff – is a great way to begin. Ensuring fair compensation, benefits, flexibility, career development, and a truly caring work environment will result in happier employees who are dedicated to the company and to caring for the guests. As Gefferson Alves, Managing Director at Ba’ra Hotel Joao Pessoa, said in an interview: “We can’t have happy guests if the staff aren’t happy with their jobs, and our job as hoteliers is to provide them with support and opportunity. Let’s treat people the way they should be treated, let’s pay them more not because we have to, but because we want to, and because we want to keep our business alive not only for the next five or ten years but for the next twenty.” Listening to our employees will tell us what is important and valuable to them and give us a direction to work towards. Happy employees will stay longer with the company (and maybe even become advocates), reduce wastage of resources in rehiring and training new people, provide better customer service, and ultimately help to create a better overall image of the industry.
Professional associations such as the American Hotel & Lodging Association are also important players in pushing the industry to greater heights with support, resources, and campaigns such as “A Place to Stay,” as introduced to us by AHLA’s EVP of Communications & PR Rosanna Maietta in this part of our series. Associations serve as a repository of information and are constantly gathering more and more insights into the local ecosystem, making them a great place to discuss and think up new strategies and define best practices.
An Important Tool For Success
Gartner recently released a report on attracting and retaining talent in tech roles that accurately applies to hospitality as well. It mentions human-centricity, driving cultural change, talent diversity, data literacy, and task automation as pillars. Sound familiar? That is because technology is a key tool for hoteliers to rely on for their efforts in improving the labor shortage.
An increasing number of software and tech services are becoming available to hotels and F&B operations, such as robotic process automation (RPA), physical robots, payment, and communications solutions, CRM systems, workflow automation enablers, and so many others, allowing improvements in virtually every aspect of the business. The collection of data about the customers and their relationship with the brands makes it possible for us to analyze our processes and generate useful reports in a way that was never imagined before, guiding us in providing exceptional customer experiences. Similarly, the collection of data is also extremely beneficial internally in the form of more accurate and relevant reports that collate information from different functions, which top management and strategists can use to make the best possible decisions and free up their time to look at the big picture when leading their teams.
Guests are returning to hotels in droves but we’re still having trouble finding all the staff needed. Thankfully, we can leverage the benefits of technology to minimize the negative impacts the labor shortage has. Technology is a way to increase efficiencies, along with enhancing the job experience, as opposed to replacing people. Whichever service or software is adopted, a modern tech stack is pivotal in bringing businesses to the next level and for coping with the current challenges, and all solutions must interface seamlessly to avoid information silos. The diversified tech landscape also includes smaller operators, with SaaS options lowering the initial investment needed to upgrade their processes.
Some incremental investment is necessary, but so is digitalization nowadays. Building an effective digital ecosystem will help companies achieve their goals, including caring for staff and even working towards achieving the coveted work-life balance and flexibility that current talent seeks.
However, as we look to leverage technology, we must remember that hospitality is a services business. Technology can aid us, but ultimately, guests return because of an excellent experience and excellent service, so teams would do well to maintain or strengthen their levels of service in everything from housekeeping to the front desk, and remind current staff of this importance.
The measures mentioned in this article are largely a long game, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Can your company afford not to take its first step right now? Follow RobosizeME founder Stephen Burke’s advice: Pick a small but painful use case, implement an idea, evaluate its success, and scale from there. Each individual company’s step will surely add up in our industry’s collective thousand-mile journey and bring us closer to success in navigating the staffing crisis.