By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
The HSMAI Foundation hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for hotel chief human resources officers on July 14 for industry HR professionals to discuss current and potential future challenges they are facing in the new world of COVID-19. J. Bruce Tracey, Ph.D., editor of Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, professor of management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and member of the HSMAI Foundation Board of Trustees, facilitated the discussion.
Participants identified the areas that they wanted to focus on; participating companies included Best Western, Concord Hospitality, CoralTree Hospitality, Crestline Hotels & Resorts Inc., Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, IHG, Loews Hotels, sbe Lifestyle Hospitality, The Kessler Collection, and Wynn Resorts. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:
SALES, MARKETING, AND REVENUE PROFESSIONALS
As part of the Roundtable, participants answered a series of live-polling questions about employees who have been laid off, furloughed, and/or returned to work, with an emphasis on those working in sales, marketing and revenue optimization. Their responses suggest that sales, marketing, and revenue represent a sizable minority of affected positions:
- Nearly half of participants’ companies laid off or furloughed 50 to 75 percent of their enterprise workforce within in the previous three months; nearly a quarter of companies laid off or furloughed more than 75 percent of their enterprise workforce. Of the employees who were laid off or furloughed, up to 20 percent were sales, marketing, or revenue optimization professionals.
- Of the companies that furloughed employees, two-third have invited back up to 20 percent while one-third has invited back up to half. Of the employees who have been invited back, up to 20 percent were sales, marketing, or revenue optimization professionals.
Related to these questions, one participant voiced a concern that employees — particularly sales, marketing, and revenue professionals — will leave the industry for other sectors that may seem more promising. “We’re seeing that that skills in the hospitality industry are agnostic,” the participant said. “We’re getting destroyed by other industries taking sales and revenue specialists, especially as people are looking to come back from furlough. We need to position the hospitality industry as a viable industry of the future.”
Another participant said that while they have seen many salespeople start to come back to the hospitality industry, F&B professionals are leaving for catering or wedding companies that are hiring right now. Several participants said that they are struggling to get furloughed employees who are making more money on unemployment to come back to work. However, the additional $600 expanded unemployment insurance is set to run out at the end of July.
“The biggest problem is that lots of housekeepers are refusing to come back to work,” one participant said. “This has been an issue in key markets, because we don’t have the labor to clean all of the rooms, so then we can’t open them.”
“We’re torn in terms of next steps to take,” another participant said. “It’s an issue especially in union hotels, because their union says they are allowed to turn down the job offer because of the unemployment pay. It’s been tough.”
As devastating as the pandemic has been, participants mentioned a few positive changes that COVID has brought about. “With everyone taking on new responsibilities, for some positions we have found that the new structure is working well,” one participant said. “We may continue with it after this is all over.”
Technology has helped hotels adapt to a contactless environment while remaining connected to guests throughout the pandemic. By utilizing technology, hotels have been able to operate more efficiently. “We’ve enhanced our paperless and online systems to rely on them more,” one participant said. “People are now getting more comfortable with them. It’s forced us to be savvier with all that we have at our fingertips, which results in efficiency.”
“We’ve been able to engage with our remote employees, do more webinar-based learning, and welcome folks into our organization from far away,” another participant said. “We’ve learned a lot of new ways to do things; however, it leaves you vulnerable to cyberattacks. That was another difficult thing we ended up going through, but it was an important learning experience for us.”
The pandemic has forced hospitality professionals to come up with new solutions to every problem, exercising their creative muscles. “We’re certainly embracing creative strategies,” one participant said. “Being able to think creatively is quickly becoming a vital part of many sales and marketing roles.”
“We’ve been coming up with more customized solutions to our problems,” another participant said. “We’ve been experimenting to find things that will engage the audience. We’ve been throwing out ideas and trying to find the right platforms to get our message across, to see what sticks.”
Hoteliers are figuring out new ways to make the most of the capital and human resources that they have, even when it is not what they are used to. “We lost half of our team and had to regroup completely,” a participant said. “We are learning to do more with less, which has been a challenge, but our operational folks are happy that we haven’t had to spend as much money on training or celebrations.”
The mission of the HSMAI Foundation is to elevate the overall caliber and performance of sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals in the global hospitality industry by driving initiatives that will attract new talent, develop emerging talent, and engage existing talent. Learn more here.