While the revenge travel trend is here to stay for some time, the hospitality industry has been dealing with a crisis behind the walls. The cracks are not visible on the surface but has hotel management hot and bothered as they try to mitigate the high rates of attrition on the one hand, and the lack of talent from new joinees on the other.
Hiring in travel and hospitality sector saw an 18% growth in March, for the first time in two years of COVID-19. At the same time, the travel and hospitality sector, which was the worst affected due to Covid-induced lockdowns over the last two years, witnessed a robust recovery with a 47.6 per cent growth in payroll headcount. LuxeBook spoke to senior management at different five-star hotels from popular destinations across the country to understand how they were dealing with the mismatch in demand and supply of manpower at the company level.
“Covid has hit us hard and in more areas than one,” admitted Rajneesh Kumar, General Manager of Marriott International, in a press meet organised at the launch of Courtyard by Marriott Aravali Resort. “Even if we get the staff via new hires, the brunt of physical work, whether in the kitchen or for housekeeping, is done by trainees who have received their entire hospitality management training virtually. Instead of being used to the rigour of hotels, and coming prepared, this is the first time that they have to do the work in reality, having studied the course only virtually over the last two years,” said Rajneesh Kumar.
Admitting that this disconnect from reality had caused high attrition rates, he said that hotels were finding it difficult to match up with the expectations of staff.
Long hours in the hospitality industry, the low starting salaries compared with other professions, and the uncertainty that the pandemic had created leading to major job losses, has resulted in enmasse attrition from the industry on the one hand, and a talent crunch on the other.
Pradeep Ghorphade, Director of HR at two Marriott properties in Bengaluru – Sheraton Whitefield and JW Marriott Prestige Golfshire in Bengaluru said that while even they had to let go of some staff members in the end, most of them were re-hired through their alumni association. “We were allowed to hire back vacant positions only from a pool of employees who were a part of our alumni association. This ensured that people who were still looking for jobs got one, while we got experienced employees for our positions.”
Ghorphade says that things are slowly moving towards normal, but they had to expand their reach in making their hires this time around. “Most hotel management schools faced a 60 per cent reduction in enrollment post the pandemic, as news spread of the conditions the industry was facing. ”
Said Mr Onkar Singh, Vice President – Hospitality and Wellness Operations at Fazlani’s Nature’s Nest, Pune, “Hospitality industry being the worst affected, people left the industry for alternate options. Special training was conducted to adapt the operations to the new normal and taking extra care with hygiene and contactless and careful service as applicable.”
Hygiene and contactless service rose in priority with people who were travelling mid- and post-pandemic, and special training was conducted to provide satisfactory services across all departments.
On the other hand, a lot of hospitality companies have incorporated programs and policies that further their employees’ well-being. Mr Ghorphade, from Marriott International lists out the benefits that employees have received post-pandemic, “We have had salary corrections across the board. Our starting salaries for executives have gone up, and we now have a no-overtime policy. No staff member is made to work over 9 hours. In case, the situation arises where they do have to do so, their manager needs to first take their consent. They would receive time-off against time taken, failing which they would be compensated for their time. We have hired more staff members as well, to make sure our colleagues get relieved on time.”
He adds that steps have been taken at Marriott for their well-being as well, such as, “We now have programs for them to help them with their career development. We have human capital planning and a management development academy where our colleagues can partake in furthering their career.”
Problem of attrition
As people go back to travelling, the increased number of jobs in the industry has led to a high attrition level in the industry. People are reportedly jumping between jobs as fast as three months with a hike, with the increase in demand. Mr Abhinash Manghani, CEO of Welcom Heritage Hotels, pointed out the importance of making employees feel a sense of ownership to check this, “It is essential for organisations to create an engaging culture and work environment for their employees, that is grounded in established corporate vision that their employees can relate to and feel a part of, through their day-to-day behaviours and action.” Creating a fun work environment, where employees look forward to coming is equally important. “Our employees work best in collaborative, fun, and flexible work environments along with a healthy, clear and defined chain of command that is open and inclusive,” said Manghani.
“Our employees work best in collaborative, fun, and flexible work environments along with a healthy, clear and defined chain of command that is open and inclusive.” Hires are becoming more diversified, said Mr Ghodpade, with Marriott recently looking into different markets such as the North East, and admitting people from different streams such as art and science majors, with no obvious background in hospitality management.
Mr Manghani admitted, that post the pandemic, retention strategies were a new challenge. However, innovation was key to tackling the crisis., from an organisational point of view as well as in terms of profitability. “Post-pandemic people prefer to work in flexi-hours, which is a great advantage for the hotel industry as they have shifts. Digital marketers, big data analysts, revenue managers and communication specialists are major roles that can innovate any hospitality brand beyond expected ROI’s.”
Innovation to beat inflation
The manpower crisis is linked to the rising costs of all commodities in the country. Even as rupee hits its lowest, making the country attractive for foreigners, the rising costs drives up the costs for a hotel.
Rather than cost-cutting and reducing salaries of employees, Manghani pointed out several ways in which one can manage costs, including the use of technology to bring costs down. This has been a definite focus area for us and has significantly refined our processes that will lead to reduced costs. Manghani said, “Our collaboration with Onefinerate’s technology will enable us to take B2B (travel agents) booking on the brand website, a task which is currently done by our sales team, who regularly visits these agents adding to costs. Channel Manager helps manage inventory and rates across channels of all the hotels on a single platform. Online Reputation Management tool helps us to see/reply to all reviews on one platform apart from other features that the platform offers (competitor analysis, focus on weak areas at the hotel, etc). Online check-in makes things easier for our guests and the hotel team.” According to him, for an organization to continue thriving, it is important to evolve into a more tech driven organization and in accordance, support the tech-savvy talents, those who prefer to join organizations that are driven towards adapting latest technology and value creativity,” said Manghani.
Outsourcing tasks that are handled in-house to an external provider often cuts costs through economies of scale. Mangani also suggests, “Refine processes to make them more cost effective, efficient; allocating and using resources to maximise profits.”
Hotels need to optimise operations and edit out unused services, to help increase profit margins. “It is important to run an eye over your bills to find costly errors or services you simply don’t use or need anymore can deliver quick money-saving wins,” suggests Manghani.
Different companies have come up with different strategies to retain talent. While some encourage fostering a company wide work-friendly culture, others suggest career opportunities. Kush Kapoor, CEO of Roseate Hotels and Resorts suggests adding newer experiences both to cut boredom and open up their experiences, “Giving them global exposure that would help them grow helps. For instance, we have three hotels in UK (and three in India) and our key talent is sent to UK hotels for training. This helps them get a wider perspective and knowledge. We also have an extensive recruitment program that ensures that we hire talent which believes in the goals of organization and wants to grow within the group.” On the other hand, Marriott strongly believes in promoting its own staff for newer properties, to ensure a continuation of culture and trust, “We always have placements, especially in the management roles from within the company, rather than getting someone from outside. This helps us get going from Day 1.”
As the world gets used to hybrid models and flexible timings, the hospitality industry becomes a tough choice for those who look for more freedom at the workplace. Brands have struggled to compensate their employees in this regard. Says Kapoor, “Unfortunately, hospitality chains cannot offer work from home or hybrid models for most employees, as we are a consumer-facing sector. However, the industry is ensuring that shifts are not beyond the stipulated time and there is no paucity of staff. We have also conducted workshops on wellness and mental health that help employees understand how to maintain work life balance and its importance.”
For properties that are resorts away from the main city, such as the JW Marriott Bengaluru Prestige Golfshire Resort, accommodation is provided on sharing basis. Pick-up and drop services, flexible timings and no-overtime are some of the services that organisations have adopted to make the job more attractive and sustainable for their employees.
Since the pandemic, hotel occupancy has gone up to 66 percent, a significant increase from 34 per cent in the past few years. As travelling increases, the pressure is directly on the employees to protect their company’s reputation. At the same time, it is up to hospitality chains to overcome huge pandemic losses, fight inflation and attrition at the same time, as well as keep their employees happy and at peace. Everyone has their work cut out for them.