By Karen K. Wollard, Ed.D., CHDM, Adviser, HSMAI Foundation Board of Directors
In January 2020, the HSMAI Foundation Board of Directors met at the Omni Berkshire Place Hotel in Manhattan. The discussion included a just-launched website designed to attract new talent to hotel sales, marketing, and revenue optimization positions, strategies for retention, and initiatives expected to potentially open hundreds of positions in hotels and related industries for military spouses. At the time, military spouse unemployment stood at 25 percent even as thousands of hotel positions went unfilled and the national unemployment rate dipped below 4 percent. Foundation board members acknowledged that while the industry was doing well, change was coming ever more quickly, and how we responded, trained, taught, and educated hospitality professionals had to be a priority.
How right they were. When the board met this month — a year later — it was via Zoom. And the Foundation’s focus on educating and motivating talent was more relevant than ever thanks to a pandemic that has decimated the industry with layoffs, furloughs, and closures — including of the Omni Berkshire Place.
During the opening discussion, we asked each board member to answer this question: Where is your passion for talent? Because, in an industry reeling from more change than many thought possible, there is still a passion for the work among the people who do it. Sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals have been asked to come together in new ways, while working apart, to plan a way forward as a commercial team. There are concerns, there are plans, and there is optimism about what comes after the pandemic’s chaos.
Meanwhile, the exodus is real. As hospitality organizations continue to shift priorities, many emerging professionals are finding it hard to locate development opportunities or see a career path ahead. Students and younger talent are defecting to industries where more predictable futures beckons, potentially damaging the talent pipeline for years to come.
Even as we face that challenge, workforce issues are shifting. Foundation board members discussed social justice as a key consideration, with their companies focusing on gender and diversity initiatives. Recent reports that job losses during the pandemic have overwhelmingly affected women have been a wake-up call — especially because women are key to any economic rebound and family-buying decisions, especially in travel.
Similarly, board members shared that wellbeing and self-development are rising topics for hospitality organizations. As teams manage crushing workloads amid relentless pressure, Zoom fatigue, and continuing unknowns, wellness initiatives that focus on building personal and professional resilience have found growing support. Team members are taking on new roles, growing by studying or enrolling in courses, or simply stretching into new areas. This flexibility to try new roles has helped bolster loyalty and retention, especially among newer hires who want and expect individualized opportunities to prepare for a desirable career path.
All that said, many Foundation board members said that optimism abounds as one of the largest industries in the world looks toward recovery. Hospitality schools are telling students that the opportunities to rise have never been greater, even if they must toil in the trenches for a while longer. Human resources executives have become key players in their organizations’ planning, with many finding their positions elevated to the C-suite for the first time.
For the foreseeable future, the talent crisis isn’t going anywhere, but our talents might be. Figuring out what hospitality can do for them will be an ongoing challenge — and a continued focus of the HSMAI Foundation.