During the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts webinar, “Effectively Operating Your Hotel When Faced with Staffing Challenges,” Steve Raposa, senior director, franchise operations & quality, Wyndham, guided the conversation with Tracy Ripa, SVP, North American operations, Wyndham, asking Ripa a series of questions about how to help hoteliers navigate this difficult time.
“Over the last several months, the increase in vaccination rates has created a surge in demand particularly to drive-to, leisure and destination markets,” Ripa said. “This sudden comeback in demand has presented a new challenge for us as operators—the staffing challenge—which is now significantly impacting hotel operations.”
Ripa believes that some of these labor challenges have been caused by limited childcare options for employees, lack of international workers caused by border closure, and, of course, government support for unemployment benefits that were increased.
Supply cost is rising as well, Ripa noted, alongside this increased cost of labor.
“This means that even if hotels are bringing in that 2019 rate and revenue that they had, they’re seeing this profit squeeze,” she said. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the change that we’re seeing in our guests.”
Ripa went on to note that there are new guests expectations, including an emphasis on cleaning and safety. Especially as vaccination rates go up, guests are now expecting previously closed amenities to reopen, putting an extra strain on the staffing situation.
“We’ll start to see that push a little bit where guests are expecting [amenities] and we’re not able to keep them open,” Ripa said.
To counter this, Ripa recommends hotels advertise open positions in a variety of distribution channels.
“Let’s face it, much like our hotel inventory is distributed through a multitude of different channels, hotel owners can maximize their exposure to their possible job candidates by utilizing as many different mediums as possible,” she said, which include job posting websites, college and university job boards and local employment security offices.
“Regularly get into the community, engage your community and get it out there that you have open positions,” she added. “There are people that need to work.”
Social media also provides platforms to recruit, Raposa said, and Ripa agreed, but noted that workers could be closer than we think.
“Often, the area that we overlook is right at our doorstep—our employees,” she said. “Employee referrals, especially when they come from somebody you already know and trust, may also help you retain that employee, but then also give opportunities to others that they know. It creates a family environment…Tell your family, tell your friends, you never know where you’ll find your next employee.”
Hiring is half of the battle right now, Raposa said, with employee retention presenting a whole other set of issues.
“Some of the best practices that we see hotels do is that once they hire their staff, is to ensure that we’re leveraging what motivates the team that will drive the employee retention,” Ripa said. “One of the most common mistakes that employers make is assuming that employees only care about a monetary reward or incentive. Recognition, development opportunities, education that you can provide them, cross-training, mentoring, flexible work schedules. It’s a balance.”
Owners are also concerned about profitability and are looking to reduce operational costs. A lot of owners don’t have operational budgets or annual goals that they set, Ripa said, and she believes you cannot manage that which you don’t measure.
“At the end of the day, in order to see the expenses that are coming in against what you anticipated what they would be, those gaps are important to identify,” Ripa said. “Operators should have an operational budget or at least goals for their hotel and utilize a monthly PNL to measure those results against their budget.”
It’s also essential for owners to understand the appropriate tools and equipment and how these can impact the profitability equation, allowing owners to do more with less. This includes investing in housekeeping equipment, washers and dryers, etc., which can reduce both time and cost.
Ripa also recommended that owners leverage and invest in technology like property management systems, point of sales systems, mobile operations programs and back-of-house programs.
“All of these programs can greatly reduce front desk time, housekeeping and training time for new hires,” she said.
And, specific operational and sales functions can even be outsourced to free up time for front desk employees. Jobs surrounding revenue management, reservation calls and local sales and marketing can all be outsourced to take the burden off on-site staff.
Evaluating processes and being as efficient as possible is critical here, Ripa said, and she advised all owners and operators to take a step back and evaluate each department.
“Talk to your employees, talk to your staff, everyone,” she said. “I bet you if you talked to your staff every day, they would come up with better ideas than you would…They have best practices and tips that we could implement.”