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As the industry grapples with a labor shortage, here’s how hoteliers can attract and retain workers

The competitiveness of the labor market is a critical challenge for many industries and is especially hitting hard on the hospitality industry. While hotel owners are no longer struggling nearly as much as they did during the pandemic to fill rooms, they’re instead scrambling to fill open staffing positions. A 2018 research study found turnover in the hotel industry is double the national average compared to all other industries, and some experts are saying those numbers ballooned during the pandemic.

So, as business travel and family vacations start to fill up calendars, where does that leave an industry in dire need of a workforce? Specifically, what can hoteliers do to attract and retain good people? There are multiple factors that play a role in answering this question, and anyone claiming to have a simple answer is either selling something or lying. “This is unlike anything we have experienced in the past,” said Tristan Haas, general manager of the Kimpton Sylvan Hotel. “This trend is and continues to be incredibly difficult.”

Despite businesses slowly starting to reopen across the country, the pandemic continues to be a challenge for hotel owners. “I believe some individuals are still concerned about their health and rightfully so,” Haas said. “We are asking [employees]to be in a very public position with constant interactions with people from all over the world.”

Hotel owners and managers are constantly putting the safety of their staff and guests as their top priority, whether that means investing in PPE for staff, implementing more frequent cleanings, sanitizing the property, or simply widening the lines of communication between everyone. “The macroeconomic considerations are well known, and factors like individual health concerns, vaccine access across the America region, and child care availability, among other factors, all contribute to whether team members are able to return to work,” said Rachel Russell, Hilton’s senior vice president of HR operations.

Industry recruiters are sharing insights into what important skills to look for when replenishing a depleted hotel workforce. Findings revealed that hospitality recruiters believe communication, leadership, and being team oriented are all skills that are essential for hospitality workers. Candidates who demonstrated passion and self-drive also were predicted to enjoy a long-term stay in the industry.

“Like the behavior of the workforce, speed is key and hiring patterns are immediate,” Russell shared. “Candidates are eager to work now and want a streamlined hiring process.” She added that immediacy is important during the hiring process, especially pertaining to important topics such as flexibility of scheduling, onboarding, and training.

Hospitality is far from the only industry to be facing a labor shortage, which places hotels in direct competition with other industries for workers. “The current labor issue continues to be a complex challenge for us, but it’s not one that is exclusive to our industry,” Russell explained. As workforce shortages persist, hotel owners are becoming more familiar with having to turn down reservations simply due to being short staffed. And hospitality employees furloughed during the pandemic found jobs in other industries, so finding ways to bring former workers back can feel insurmountable at times, especially when other industries that were less affected by the pandemic can offer more pay.

“There often is a perception that the hospitality industry doesn’t pay well,” said Brian McFarland, general manager of restaurants and bars at Kimpton Hotels. “However, wages have been increasing across the industry as of late.” Hotel owners and operators are trying to offer competitive pay and benefits as people are slowly beginning to rejoin the workforce. And some hotels are finding success in attracting workers by simply hanging a banner outside their properties with clearly posted pay rates for starting and experienced workers. Put your cards on the table, but don’t get hung up on just getting warm bodies in the door. As renowned speaker and author Simon Sinek said, “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

One component many millennials look for when job hunting is working for a company or industry that makes an effort to give back to communities and make a positive impact in the world. According to a study conducted by Georgetown University, 90% of millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause. That’s why it’s vital to highlight and share to potential candidates the values of the industry as a whole. “An award-winning culture and commitment to make the world a better place through the delivery of exceptional guest experiences is what ultimately attracts and retains team members,” Russell said.

For example, Hilton continuously made efforts of support throughout the pandemic through their one million room nights donation for frontline medical professionals and a commitment to help communities around the world through a commitment to environmental and social governance.

The hospitality industry has been resilient and at the forefront fighting through the pandemic. “In our hotels, there is a sense of community and family and everyone helps each other out,” Russell said. “Our workers are learning new skills, and the collective spirit and commitment to serve guests is palatable and exciting.”

The impact the pandemic had on people’s sense of community is clearly visible, Russell explained. “The past 18 months has brought people together as a global community as we’ve navigated the pandemic, social unrest, and a desire to keep pursuing an inclusive society.” With this said, one thing that makes the hospitality industry stand out is the commitment and high standard of care for not only guests but employees as well. “Hospitality could be a bridge for peace and understanding,” she added, reflecting on the habits of an industry that has long stood by strong values and a vision for bringing people together.

Hiring strategies that work


The hospitality industry at large, and AAHOA Members especially, includes a mix of industry professionals who work with or own small hotel properties and larger properties, which is why this industry continually attracts a diverse group of people in different stages of their careers. “In our larger hotels, we have found that candidates looking for a specific discipline, career path, or who have certain specialty certifications, can benefit from access to various career tracks, anywhere from food and beverage to finance to operations,” said Rachel Russell, Hilton’s senior vice president of HR operations.

Smaller hotel properties, on the other hand, attract candidates who are more exploratory in their interest in hospitality and are looking for hands-on experience. “The common thread is that candidates who want to be a part of the hospitality industry truly believe in being in a business of people serving people,” she added.

One strategy Russell shares that has worked in terms of the hiring process is one of time and speed. Applicants expect to move through the hiring process quickly and may even have competing offers. So being flexible with your candidates is extremely important. Whether that means contacting applicants at times that fit their schedules, quick responses, virtual interviews, and property tours. Being flexible is a requirement in today’s hiring process.

The hospitality industry has continued to embrace technology, whether it’s contactless room keys, smart TVs in guestrooms, or mobile check-ins. And a survey by Glassdoor found that 79% of people use social media when conducting a job search. So, when it comes to the hiring process, hotel owners need to continue to be aware of those habits and make themselves present in the digital realm to stand out from the crowd.

“We have leveraged technology in different ways, including QR codes, to advertise opportunities, job fairs, and virtual reality immersions to showcase various jobs within a hotel,” Russell shared. Hotel owners that have been in the industry for more than 20 or 30 years have become accustomed to moving at a fast pace and this is no time to slow down.


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