Hoteliers Prioritize Cross-Training, Retention Efforts To Keep Service Levels High
As hotels have persisted through the pandemic and now a tight labor market, full-service properties, in particular, are trying to keep up consistent service levels, which can be very challenging.
Operators are doing whatever they can to keep up their quality of full-service hotels, or hotels with full restaurants. That means having the right amount of staff and the best employees they can possibly hire and retain to maintain that level of service. These recruitment and retention efforts include better wages, more comprehensive benefits and aggressive recruiting.
"Some are doing the right thing — paying higher salaries and offering better benefits, attracting talent to help neutralize the staffing issues," said Rob DelliBovi, founder and CEO of consulting firm RDB Hospitality. "But others are doing the wrong thing — keeping on team members who aren't as effective, because they fear being understaffed and the process of finding talent."
He added established hotel employees with experience have a bit more say with their managers.
"A lot of overtime is being paid out right now as well to keep the best talent in front of high-touch guests," DelliBovi said.
There is an expectation that the staffing crisis will end late 2022, as many of the former workers who are staying home will need to come back in, DelliBovi said. But in the meantime, guest complaints remain high and this needs to be addressed.
"In some cases these complaints are justified, and in other cases, they need to be more understanding of the world we currently live in," DelliBovi said. "The hope is that travel continues to improve and hotels can bring on more staff at attractive wages."
Training and Tech
Enhanced training is another area where hotels can do their best to keep service levels high in such a tight labor market, said Ghee Alexander, senior vice president of operations at Prism Hotels & Resorts, which was acquired by Aimbridge Hospitality in December.
For instance, Prism has cross-trained employees across different departments to be able to help as needed. The company also has adjusted the hours for certain team members and created a flex system to allow for varied starting times, Alexander said.
The hotels are also using new technologies that allow them to provide guest services in a more productive manner. These include mobile dining options, QR codes and digital check-in, he added.
There is, however, an increased cost, to provide these new kinds of services and to offer wages, Alexander said. Labor costs have increased by 20% from pre-pandemic levels, and there have been higher contract labor support costs as hourly rates are up 20% to 25% as well. In addition, there are costs to implement new technologies. Mobile dining technology can run a hotel around $20,000 to fully integrate into a large hotel, he said.
Staff are working their hardest — and being creative — to please guests, said Robert Rauch, CEO and founder of R.A. Rauch & Associates.
For example, at the Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego-Del Mar and Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Del Mar, employees are cleaning rooms only by request, Rauch said. The hotels continue to serve breakfast but simplify the menu. There is only one front-desk agent on duty, so managers jump in more frequently to assist during peak periods.
Cross-training employees has become even more important, Rauch said.
"For instance, when one restaurant closes and another opens, we use the same staff to move over to the second restaurant," he said.
Stacy Brindise, senior director of guest experience, operations and hotel integration for Radisson Hotel Group Americas, agreed that cross-training has helped the industry's labor woes.
"With staffing shortages being a large issue in the hospitality industry, it is important for hotel employees to be trained in multiple roles within the hotel," Brindise said.
During the fall of 2021, Radisson hosted more than 12 regional meetings across the Americas to assist hotels with training and provide resources to set them up for success, she said.
Contactless communication is also a great way to maintain high service levels while navigating staffing shortages, Brindise said. In February, Radisson began rolling out a new text messaging software for all hotels in its portfolio, integrating it with each hotel's property management system.
"From pre-arrival and check-in to service requests, service recovery and checkout, hotels can manage all their guest service needs in one seamless platform, which means faster communication with guests for a better experience at the defining moments of their stay," she said.
Prior to implementing on-property text messaging, Radisson conducted a pilot program over the course of six months at franchised and managed hotels. Owners and operators who participated were overwhelmingly positive about the text-messaging platform. Guests at the pilot hotels enjoyed the immediate response to their needs, which ultimately creates a better guest experience, Brindise said. Many guests also liked the function which allows them to check out via text, and afterward they are emailed a receipt.