If you build it, they will come


Workforce issues and the independent hotelier

Have you ever heard the saying “When one door closes, another one opens”? When it comes to the subject of labor, hoteliers might feel like that door has been closed for too long with no immediate alternatives having opened up in the meantime.
Sure, the hospitality industry has gained some jobs recently, but the shortfall is still very significant. We’ve lost more than we’ve gained, and that pain can be especially sharp for the independent hotelier.

Thanks to their deep pockets and vast resources – as we all know quite well – franchised properties often are able to offer discounts across the brand for workers, while also offering expanded benefits, competitive pay, and more. So, how does an independent hotel attract, let alone retain, the labor when we feel like this often is a David vs. Goliath battle?

Demonstrating a character trait shared by many in this segment of the industry, independent operators are consistently on the lookout for ways to autonomously extend their personalities, ideas, and culture, while putting their own stamp on their properties. And in today’s economy, especially considering the limited labor pool in which we all operate, it’s perhaps more relevant than ever for independent hoteliers to create that culture at our properties. Surely, we’ve all seen owners becoming ever-more creative when it comes to finding, hiring, and – perhaps most importantly – retaining reliable, talented, and dedicated workers to staff our properties.

That creativity is the currency we need to help us keep our doors open. However, as independent hoteliers expand their skills when it comes to workforce issues, we must consider the costs associated with any venture. That’s not to say independent properties shouldn’t take on additional costs to remain competitive with the brands regarding hiring, but there needs to be accountability and oversight to determine what’s working, what’s a waste of money, and different avenues that need to be pursued. Don’t let a sense of desperation cause you to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.

The good news is that there are numerous solutions available today to address our workforce issues that weren’t possible in years past and won’t add considerable cost without a return on investment. For example, many employees are expressing a desire to be paid more frequently – even daily – for their work, and there now are simple solutions available to accomplish that without adding overhead.

Or, just brainstorming here, we could network with operators in other cities to offer travel perks to employees in the form of free nights at those properties. If you have a property remotely near an airport, for example, you could offer your employees free parking at the hotel and a ride to the airport as a perk.

We’ve long had a shared goal of creating a culture and atmosphere at our properties that draw in guests, but we also need to be applying that same level of thinking to attracting new employees and keeping the ones we have. The environment we create at our properties defines us in the eyes of guests and workers alike. Remember, these days, candidates are interviewing you probably more than you’re interviewing them. What motivation are you giving them to want to work at your property that the hotel, restaurant, store, or warehouse down the street isn’t offering?

There is no magic lever we can flip to solve our problems, but that’s likely what attracted so many of us to the independent side of the industry in the first place. We like the challenge of solving problems on our own. But, that doesn’t mean we’re adrift in an ocean of problems by ourselves. There are resources available for independent hoteliers of all stripes, including the AAHOA Independent Hoteliers Committee, which directly serves this segment of the industry and offers numerous opportunities for problem-solving, networking, and much more.

And if your hotel truly is an enjoyable and rewarding place to work, your hiring woes should dissipate as word gets out.

Amit C. Govindji is a Managing Principal with New River Hospitality and can be reached at or (704) 661-5796.


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