HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: Getting Ahead of the Coming Talent Crisis

New research from the HSMAI Foundation suggests that the talent pipeline is in trouble — which could hinder the recovery that is already underway.

By Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, President and CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

As hospitality moves into and through recovery, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re facing a double-edged sword. Insights from original HSMAI Foundation research indicate that, while business is finally returning to an industry that has been pummeled by COVID-19, a variety of factors have disrupted our talent pipeline, some related to the pandemic and some not. As a result, hotel companies may not be sufficiently staffed with sales, marketing, and revenue professionals at the property and above-property levels to meet the return — now or in the years ahead.

Let’s start with what we’ve recently learned from the HSMAI Foundation, whose mission is focused on talent and leadership development. In April, the Foundation convened two academic forums for hospitality school deans and program directors, followed in May by six forums for professors of sales, marketing, and revenue optimization. The Foundation has also been compiling data about enrollment and graduation rates and the availability of sales, marketing, and revenue courses at hospitality schools in the United States, including at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Taken together, this work has revealed some red flags for the talent pipeline, including:

Hospitality students are concerned about their career prospects. During the academic forums, we asked deans and directors to tell us in one word what perception hospitality students have of career opportunities in the industry today. While there were positive answers, including “varied” and “numerous,” more concerning responses such as “limited” and “unsure” dominated:

Students are less interested in sales, marketing, and revenue. We also asked deans and directors to rank student interest in different fields within hospitality. Event planning ranked first and finance/accounting was last. Sales, marketing, and revenue could have done better:

Overall interest in hospitality school is slowing. Foundation research shows that just before the pandemic, the total number of students enrolled in hospitality programs and the overall number of hospitality degrees conferred were showing signs of falling. Whether the stark declines seen in 2020 are a temporary result of COVID-19 remains to be seen:

Combine this with the Foundation’s previous research into declining enrollment and graduation rates for HBCU hospitality programs — as well as the limited availability of sales, marketing, and revenue courses there — and you have a potentially troubling outlook for future talent.

As for current talent — there are some red flags there, too. According to a new survey of hospitality and tourism workers from the Florida Atlantic University Hospitality and Tourism Program:

  • About 70 percent of workers think COVID-19 will have a negative long-term impact on the industry.
  • Sixty-five percent think the industry didn’t protect its employees better than other sectors.
  • More than one-third plan to leave the industry over the next year.

Whether these trends are temporary or permanent is up to us. The HSMAI Foundation will continue to conduct research and produce resources aimed at helping hotel companies attract new talent, develop emerging talent, and engage existing talent — and you can help. Start by supporting the Foundation directly. Then reach out to hospitality schools in your market to discuss the need you have for their students, who presumably have already identified a passion for hospitality. If your need is urgent, create internships, training programs, and other opportunities for students see first-hand how their passion can evolve into a fulfilling and successful career.

Have an open sales, marketing or revenue optimization position to fill? Post it in the HSMAI Foundation Career Center, with a 20% discount through June 30.

Categories: Revenue Management, Talent and Leadership Development
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