Luxury hotelier solutions for managing staff challenges

Despite the increasing pent-up demand for travel, many hoteliers across the hospitality industry are struggling to meet this returning demand for travel due to severe staffing issues.

A recent survey conducted by Forbes Travel Guide (FTG) revealed that 92% of its membership reported facing significantly increased hiring challenges in 2021. While hiring has proven challenging for all positions, most respondents reported that lower-level positions (reservation agents, housekeeping staff, etc.) have been “extremely difficult” to fill.

The most effective incentives for filling positions have been increased pay, followed by offering more flexible hours/working arrangements and bonuses for employee referrals. Fully, 58.24% of respondents reported that word-of mouth marketing has been the most successful recruitment method to date.

To gain further insights, HOTELS asked some FTG-member hoteliers how they are managing staff and what solutions have been the most effective. Here is what they had to say:

Hermann Elger, CEO, Forbes Travel Guide

“Our survey relayed some important insights. Luxury hotels have responded to the global labor shortage in various ways. According to the survey respondents, more than three-quarters reported that increased pay drew candidates, more than half said that more flexible working hours or working arrangements helped, and over half incentivized employees with referral bonuses. To accommodate the demand for more flexible working environments, one survey respondent told us, ‘We are seriously considering trying a four- or four-and-a-half-day work week to compete with the new change in the UAE, which we see spilling over into the private sector.’”

Christian Dolenc, general manager, Mandarin Oriental, Macau

“We have a strong culture of care for all our team members. We place great emphasis on mental wellness in our daily work lives. Reassuring our team members of our continuous commitment to their personal growth within our hotel and the group, especially during these times of adversity, is key. Our steadfast commitment to grow our colleagues from within, reassures the team. Our own in-house training academy plays a key role in providing relevant skills to our up-and-coming leaders. Combined with a wide range of available Mandarin Oriental development programs, a learning culture within our properties is key to retaining and attracting new talent.”

David Hoffman, general manager, Pendry West Hollywood, California

“These challenging times have forced us to reconsider the traditional approach to recruitment. Instead of only hiring associates strictly based on specific hospitality experience, it’s become a bigger focus for us to hire talent that truly finds fulfillment in creating special moments for our guests. We’re in the business of making memories and we want to hire associates who are passionate about providing memorable guest experiences.”

George Munz, general manager, Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club, Dana Point, California

“An engaged employee culture is paramount to retaining top talent and delivering a luxury guest experience, even in a challenging environment. For Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort, our goal is to be the employer of choice not only locally but nationally, which requires a constant review of our offerings and employee programs and promoting a strong family culture. Amidst staffing shortages, we have given current employees opportunities to expand their skills by pursuing new roles within the hotel. Our investment in team member development fosters an environment that attracts new candidates who share our passion for excellence and growth. No longer can hotels post jobs and wait for applicants to apply. Competitive wages, benefits and flexible scheduling remain top-of mind for candidates, and the hospitality industry must answer to incentives and benefits found in other areas of the workforce. By ensuring this, we have had great success in recruiting through our engaged team members and offering a robust employee referral program. Just as our sales and marketing department prospects new clients, talent acquisition takes the same approach.”

Anne Golden, general manager, Pan Pacific London

“Since we opened, we have always taken the stance—without exception—that it is our people that come first. To this end, at Pan Pacific London, working on improving our team’s work-life balance and their mental wellbeing is a priority.

“At our pre-opening pep rally, I told everyone that, despite any success or accolades that come our way, if after six months we still don’t have a work-life balance, then we are not completely successful and have to regroup.

“We recognize that the ingrained culture of working long hours has to change and be replaced with flexibility and understanding of home commitments, as well as preferences to travel at different times. We have given our non-operational support departments such as Sales, Marketing, Revenue and Finance the flexibility to work from home up to three days per week, and this is working well. We are also reviewing a four-day working week for various operational teams. In fact, The Landmark in London is already pioneering this with their kitchen team.

“Our associates working over Christmas were able to stay in the hotel with their family members to ensure that no one was alone over the festive period.

“Eleven fully trained Mental Health First Aiders spanning most departments are available to assist should any of our team need help.

“I am proud to say, that to date, we have had incredibly low turnover, well below the industry average.

“We passionately believe that through the motivation, development and care we give to our existing associates, we will start to re-frame the hospitality industry as a viable and attractive career option.”

Bonnie Strome, general manager, Park Hyatt Toronto

“As a luxury hotel that launched in 2022 amid a pandemic, we found ourselves with fewer candidates applying for roles throughout all areas of the hotel, and we quickly realized that our approach needed to change.

“Although we had always hired with a bigger focus on the soft skills, having strong technical skills and luxury experience played a large role in our final selection process. In the short term, we were able to onboard a caring team of individuals and train them on the luxury expectations and will continue to take this approach as we bring new interest to the hospitality field. Our industry needs to rebuild, mentor and support the managers and leaders as there is a deep void and they will be the ones to mentor and grow the new generation of hospitality workers.”

Andrew De Brito, regional vice president and general manager, Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi

“As a company known for exemplary service, our people are at the core of our success, and it comes down to one single guiding principle — the Golden Rule — the simple idea that if you treat people well, they will do the same. By nurturing an inclusive environment where individuals are seen, heard and valued, we attract team members who bring unique experiences, and who offer fresh and innovative thinking. Yes, we have very high standards, but we also have empowered employees — all of whom are given the freedom to make on-the-fly decisions and work tirelessly to bring the brand to life for all our guests.”

Mark Kirby, head of Emaar Hospitality Group, Dubai

“Emaar Hospitality Group comprises premium luxury brands like Address Hotels + Resorts and lifestyle hotel brands like Vida Hotels and Resorts. We have expanded our footprint internationally with several new openings last year, including Address Istanbul and Vida Beach Resort Marassi Al Bahrain and many others to follow this year.

“Considering our successful expansion, recruitment has been a key focus for us. We host trainings and workshops for our ambassadors to adopt the right skills and tools as we recognize the value of being powered by a team that puts guests at the heart of everything we do. We not only prioritize diversity and equality across our brands, but we invest in training for all levels to deliver luxury experiences.

“We have partnered with Forbes Travel Guide since 2021 to reinforce our focus on consistency in delivering international standards of luxury service and we have planned a series of trainings with Forbes Travel Guide in 2022 that will be followed by an audit. We ensure that our staff remains focused on creating the most personalized guest experiences. Additionally, we have trainings that are in line with the contactless experiences that guests are now accustomed to. This is a cultural shift for our all of us, and we ensure that our staff easily adapts to such changes as we carry ourselves forward into the future of hospitality.”

Brett Woods, area managing director and GM, The Lytle Park Hotel, Autograph Collection, Cincinnati, Ohio

“The biggest challenge has been finding qualified individuals in a very limited pool of applicants. Screening potential employees for experience was always one of the first criteria considered during the hiring process. Does this potential employee have job experience like that of the role for which they’re being interviewed? It would be unheard of to hire a fine dining server who lacks fine dining serving experience. This is not the case any longer.

“We’ve employed a conscientious shift in our thinking to staff at the luxury hotel level. We now recruit employees and screen candidates based more so on personality, talent, and potential and then provide them with the training required to meet our luxury standards, and that of our guests. This approach has garnered tremendous success. We have one exemplary example of an associate who was previously working at a casual dining establishment and was just recently named Employee of the Year and has entered our Manager In Training program.

“Personality and potential prevail over job history in this hiring environment. We have also been able to implement new programming in our food & beverage outlets without impacting operations or sacrificing the guest experience.

“One strategy has been to lean on local businesses in our neighborhood who are also looking for a platform to showcase their products. For example, on Tuesdays this winter, we’re welcoming several local breweries/distilleries into our year-round rooftop to showcase their blends to patrons. This becomes a surprise and delight perk for our guests, a nice call-to-action for locals, and helps offset the staffing needed from my team when we know these brands will present and ensure a quality experience.

“We’re taking a similar approach in our fine dining restaurant Subito, with a Wine & Food series in partnership with several labels who will each play host to a dinner event about once per month through spring. This ticketed approach allows us to drive revenue in a new capacity, manage costs with a prix fixe menu approach, support our restaurant staff with a guaranteed number of covers and generate awareness for future business.”

Leonardo Baiocchi, regional vice president and general manager, Four Seasons Hotels Dubai

“Last year was unusual and atypical year as the world continued to navigate the pandemic. In vast majority of locations, business certainly rebounded over the course of the year, and year end we are rebuilding confidence in traveling and projecting healthier budgets, yet another stop with the Omicron variant.

“The difficulty in accurately forecasting during times of such uncertainty and the scarcity of finding skilled labor resources just added to the complexity to navigate our people/service business. We are now reevaluating our salary and benefit strategies to attract skilled employees into the hotel industry or to certain extend bring back into the industry the young workforce that took other opportunities during the lockdown.”

Sean McCarron, general manager, Waldorf Astoria Orlando, Florida

“We have experienced several types of labor staffing challenges over the past two years. Our challenges appear to be consistent with all other hotels throughout the luxury hospitality industry. Due to the pandemic and the fluctuations of guest demand, our teams have had to constantly pivot and be flexible to those fluctuations.

“As we come out of the pandemic with guest demand consistently increasing, we as leaders must pivot and be more flexible to the needs of our team members like never before. It has always been extremely important to connect with, empower and appreciate our teams. Now more than ever, it is even more imperative to be a better listener, mentor and champion for them.”