Looking forward: Focusing on the future of labor

Before the pandemic even began, hotels across the country were having major issues finding labor to fill positions. Then the pandemic hit, and the industry had to lay off or furlough half of its employees. With travel coming back, finding people to fill positions has become a problem.

The latest Hotel Business Hot Topics session, “Looking forward: Focusing on the Future of Labor,” with sponsor support from Hotel Effectiveness, explored how the industry is dealing with this problem.

Moderated by Chip Rogers, president/CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), the group of industry panelists included Michael George, CEO, Crescent Hotel & Resorts; Del Ross, chief revenue officer, Hotel Effectiveness; Rob Dann, COO, Highgate Select; and David Martin, COO, Vision Hospitality Group.

The panelists agreed that the pandemic—and the difficulty in finding labor—has given them a chance optimize their operations in many ways, including labor. “There was waste in the model,” said Ross. “…Going back to old school static methods of planning and managing your staff, and looking at the same ways of working, is a terrible idea…There’s lots of room for improvement and that will yield good changes.”

In the area of daily housekeeping, which was reduced at the beginning of the pandemic, George said that depending on the chain scale, changes can be made, including having guests opt in to having their rooms cleaned. “We’re already bringing it back to daily cleaning with luxury,” he said. “Upper-upscale, we’re doing what we call a ‘tidy up’ now. Opt-in is probably here to stay, but cleaning, especially in upper-upscale and luxury is an important part of the stay.”

He reported that in the last 30 days, only 34% of guests have opted in to full housekeeping at Crescent properties. Both Dann and Martin said that opt-in rates at their properties are similar.

Dann said that in terms of F&B, grab and go may be the way to go from now on because of their reduced need for labor. “These little markets within these big full-service hotels are where people gravitate towards, and the margins on them are great,” he said. “So as operators and owners, we’re pushing more towards that.”

He also pointed to Ian Schrager’s knock-and-drop room-service concept as a way to cut labor. “If you stay in the Public Hotel and you order room service, it’s on a shelf downstairs,” he said. “You get the room service, you go down and you pick up a bag and you go back to your room. You’ve eliminated labor which is the biggest cost of the whole thing. it’s a much more efficient system. Those are the kinds of things that are going to be happening, but it will never get back to where we were before, but I think it’ll be driven by consumer behavior…and that’s where the consumer behavior seems to be.”

While Martin said that his company is seeing applicants want to work at its properties, one problem is allocating time for the hiring process because it is short-staffed. “Where we have struggled is having the time on the property level for the recruitment and the onboarding, because of the multitasking that every one of our managers are doing,” he said. “I’ll look at Indeed and I’ll see 30 applicants need to be responded to that want to work for us at a particular location, and it’s really carving out the time.

He said that his company has worked to solve that problem, including bringing back their corporate recruiter and reallocating hours to dedicate to recruitment follow up and onboarding, allocating additional labor to those functions. “People want to work for us, but it’s just difficult for the property because the GM is closing, doing the night audit, doing the schedule and getting the financials out on time, and everything in between.”

Look for more coverage on this Hot Topics webinar in the August 15th issue of Hotel Business.