Hotel Operations

woman with luggage checking in to hotel

Employment and the Next Lodging Industry Downturn

Speculation continues to swirl around the lodging industry regarding the likelihood of a slowdown beginning as early as 2020. Fueled by panels at industry conferences and commentary in the trade press, questions remain as to how widespread and long lasting such a downturn might be.

Given the industry is essentially cyclical, an eventual downturn appears to be more or less inevitable, although the next contraction will follow an unusually extended period of growth and profitability.

Complicating the industry situation is the strength of the national — and even global — economy, along with consumer confidence, employment data and the impact of ongoing trade wars, all in light of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

A recurring theme at the Hotel Data Conference sponsored by STR this summer had to do with employee recruitment and retention in light of a downturn. While it’s true during periods of expansion as well as contraction, the famous dictum attributed to J.W. Marriott Jr. is especially true during downturns: “If you take care of your associates, they’ll take care of your guests.”

Well-looked-after guests result in higher guest satisfaction scores and more positive reviews on social media, which typically translate into more repeat bookings, increased trial usage due to positive word of mouth, higher occupancy and greater profits.

Consider the challenge of finding and hiring people with strong interpersonal skills. The most promising approach is to seek applicants who consider entry-level hotel jobs to be a stepping stone to a career in hospitality.

Considering that international travelers are likely to remain a reliable guest segment in many markets, downturn or not, it makes sense for hotels to pursue multicultural candidates who can help communicate with guests in their languages of choice.

Providing training is essential to retaining motivated employees because it helps satisfy their desire to pursue a career path. Cross-training is a good option because it not only satisfies the employee expectations but expands their ability to handle new and different tasks on property.

Putting Wellness Into Practice

When the International Spa Association released its annual growth report recently, the U.S. spa industry numbers were encouraging, with revenue up nearly 5%, the number of spas up 1.8% to 22,160, spa visits up 1.6% to 190 million and employment also up 1.6% to 378,000.

Given such continuing growth, it’s clear that spas, fitness facilities and the overall practice of wellness have become increasingly important contributors to the success, not only of the spa segment, but to the lodging industry as a whole, given that so many spas are located within hotels and resorts.

Granted, full-service spas are most likely to be found at luxury and upper upscale hotels and resorts, where, if well managed, they can attract a steady stream of repeat guests and prove highly profitable.

But even midpriced and limited-service hotels can benefit from adopting a comprehensive approach to wellness, applying it to both guests and employees. It doesn’t take much space to add a treatment room to an existing fitness center or swimming pool area where freelance therapists, working as independent contractors, could administer massages.

Short of adding a spa treatment room to the hotel, front desk staff should be ready to tell guests about nearby off-site spas, jogging trails walking paths and other fitness-oriented facilities. Meanwhile, management should ensure the hotel fitness center, which many guests use religiously, is maintained in excellent condition.

For franchised hotels, individual owners can go beyond minimum brand requirements for fitness facilities when it makes sense based on location and return on investment.

Food is a big component of the wellness equation. Higher-end hotels that specialize in wellness typically offer specialty menus that offer a wide selection of low-fat, low-sugar and gluten-free choices made with fresh, organic, non-GMO ingredients.

Similarly, limited and select-service brands that include complimentary breakfast can go “above and beyond” by adding healthy and nutritious options such smoothies made with all-natural, fresh ingredients to brand minimum requirements that typically include sugary cereals, white bread for toast and pastries.

For wellness strategies to succeed, hotels must involve their employees. In this period of low unemployment when i it’s increasingly harder to recruit and retain qualified employees, hotels can make themselves more attractive workplaces by promoting a healthy lifestyle and overall sense of wellness for the staff.

Too few hotels offer break rooms where associates can gather to find some peace and quiet and recharge their batteries. Even those hotels that do provide break rooms typically relinquish their worst space: a cramped, dark and windowless room. The ideal space would be bright, open and airy with as much natural light as possible. A quiet area would be reserved for associates who wish to practice their favorite relaxation techniques.

Of course, if employees don’t receive breaks at all, there isn’t much need for a break room. But in current environment, hotels often find themselves short-staffed, especially during peak times, and associates are asked to forego their much-needed breaks all together. In an ideal situation, the hotel would offer wellness, yoga and tai chi classes between shifts.

At the end of the day, the more nurturing the work environment, the more likely associates will be to not only remain on the job but go that “extra mile” and be their most productive.

private security guard

A Broader Take on Security

It goes without saying that security is always on the mind of hotel managers. Guests have every right to expect they will be safe and their possessions protected. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

But by its very nature, security is a subject that hoteliers don’t like to discuss, given that the very nature of security depends on not showing our hand to the bad guys.

Yet it occurred to me recently that, in a broader sense, hoteliers’ concern for the well-being of our guests goes beyond the time they actually spend on property. It was mid-December in Midtown Manhattan, and planning was in full swing, as it is every year at that time, for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Times Square.

The countdown to the new year draws tens of thousands of excited onlookers, who crowd the streets. The news media covers the event, and the police presence—both in uniform and plainclothes—is very strong. Considering the times we live in, there are always concerns that crowds of such a size could be subject to a terrorist attack.

Since M&R manages several hotels on the blocks in and around Times Square, our managers, along with managers of other local businesses, participate in the planning process, whether it involves crowd control, emergency access, alternate traffic routes or medical preparedness. Our people are happy to cooperate, eager to provide whatever assistance might be helpful.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around, the hotels in the Times Square area were sold out. Many guests had booked those rooms precisely because they were looking forward to being right in the middle of the action.

One thing they might not have realized: although they may have been blocks away from the hotel physically, caught up in the moment, having fun, the team at their hotel still had their safety and security top of mind.

 

Recruiting in a Tight Market

businessman with laptop talking to a female business woman

When he accepted the coveted Stephen W. Brener Silver Plate Award at June’s NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in June, Marriott International president & CEO Arne Sorenson cited the important role played by motivated rank-and-file employees in the industry’s continued success.

Recruiting and retaining the best entry-level associates is actually more critical than ever, Sorenson pointed out, considering the current shortage of qualified workers, not only in the hospitality field, but across most segments of the economy. The country’s jobless rate, in fact, ebbed down to 3.8 percent in May, the lowest rate since April 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The last time the rate was lower was in 1969.

Given the competition for the best entry-level employees across various industries, restaurants and retail among them, it’s not surprising that pressure should be mounting on hotel owners and managers to pay a competitive wage. A living wage is certainly important, but so are other indicators of job satisfaction.

Among the top five: supportive management, congenial work environment, a career path, flexible work hours and cross-training opportunities. Then too, considering our multicultural world, it’s important to acknowledge that English isn’t necessarily everyone’s first language. And, lastly, in a nod to the growing #MeToo movement, employees expect a harassment-free workplace.

Managers at our company support these ideals along with most of the rest of the industry.

In closing, Sorenson repeated words of wisdom spoken years ago by the company’s founder that have come as close as any to an industry mantra: “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers and your customers will keep coming back again and again.”

There’s no better truism.

Our Version of the PDB (President’s Daily Brief)

 

TownePlace Suites New York/Manhattan Times Square snack area

TownePlace Suites New York/Manhattan Times Square

In recent weeks, a new acronym surfaced in the national conversation: PDB. It’s short for the President’s Daily Brief, a summary of critical, highly classified information that White House aides compile to keep the president current on matters of national importance.

While nothing comparable to the PDB exists in the realm of hotel management, general managers hold daily morning staff meetings to bring their department heads up to speed on the day and week to come. Topping the list almost always will be the number of guests expected to check in and out.

Other topics for discussion include expected arrivals of groups and VIPs – including elite level members of the hotel’s frequency program. If a hotel is undergoing renovations, the discussion may include efforts to ameliorate construction noise and dust. Finally, managers will address guest comments from TripAdvisor, brand websites and other online sources.

Department heads are expected to communicate relevant information down the chain of command to rank-and-file associates. While the PDB at the White House often covers matters of national security, a hotel’s daily staff meeting is typically more about “business as usual.”

Yet both the PDB and hotel staff meetings are essential to the smooth running of their respective operations. Through the open flow of information comes meaningful communication. General managers can delegate effectively, deadlines and next steps can be agreed upon and, most importantly, associates – the hotel’s face to the guest – are empowered to do their very best.