How major operators are coping with tight jobs market
How major operators are coping with tight jobs market
07 FEBRUARY 2020 10:19 AM

Executives from top management companies such as Aimbridge Hospitality and Pyramid Hotel Group discussed how they’re dealing with issues like increasing costs and maintaining productivity with it becoming increasingly difficult to find and keep good employees.

LOS ANGELES—Few hoteliers would contest the notion the industry is coping with one of the most difficult labor environments in modern history, but executives from some of the top hotel management companies said they’re being creative in addressing the issue head on.

Speaking during the “Boardroom outlook: People” session at the 2020 Americas Lodging Investment Summit, Warren Fields, CEO and principal of Boston-based Pyramid Hotel Group, said the industry doesn’t have the typical safety valves like contract labor to deal with staffing shortages.

“I think even the outsourcing companies are having problems finding employees,” he said.

Instead, hoteliers are having to get more aggressive in various ways and lean more on partners like brands to help uncover the best people.

Brands “really understand the importance of being able to help the operators as it relates to being able to attract, retain, train and all those other factors,” said Michael George, founder, president and CEO of Crescent Hotels & Resorts. “It’s very helpful. I would encourage you if you do have relationships with the brands to engage with them as it relates to their people strategy, the resources they have and embrace it.”

Leveraging tech
Several panelists said technology is a key area of focus for addressing recruitment and retention issues.

Mike Deitemeyer, global president at Aimbridge Hospitality, said his company is being proactive to avoid the costs of being short-staffed and is trying to leverage both technology and Aimbridge’s unique scale in the third-party management space.

He said that includes developing “on-site digital and online recruitment tools, with things like chatbots and AI” that help point potential employees to multiple possible positions within Aimbridge. He said that can be powerful if used in tandem with other important tools to manage the company’s workforce.

“You combine that with the hotel efficiency and payroll productivity component, because certainly that’s been a huge focus as well,” he said.

James Carroll, president and CEO of Crestline Hotels & Resorts, said his company is putting added emphasis on accurate forecasting of demand to have a better gauge on staffing needs.

“As you’re trying to implement good labor management tools, if you’re properties are not forecasting well or don’t have the right financial tools to know what business is coming in and when, then it’s hard to use your labor tools correctly,” he said. “So, these things get integrated, and all the pieces become very important if you want to drive out every last bit of cost.”

Fields said consumer-facing technologies can also be useful in driving down staffing costs by using services like Uber Eats to replace room service.

“I look at it in terms of not just taking costs out but how can we be more efficient in terms of the things that we’re doing,” he said.

Similarly, Deitemeyer said Aimbridge is experimenting with ways to tap in to the gig economy to get more of an on-demand labor structure.

“We’re in beta in several hotels where you can get paid daily,” he said.

George noted, though, that it’s important to not take the reliance on technology too far or to work with partners who have impractical expectations for how much automation can take place at a hotel.

“I always run away from potential clients that want to talk about robots,” he said. “It’s not going to happen in my lifetime.”

Immigration and regulatory issues
Tougher immigration policies and regulatory issues at various levels of government have only made the employment outlook more difficult, panelists said.

George said it’s becoming ever more important to lean on advocacy from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and other groups.

“The government is burdening us right now as it relates to what’s taking place here in our workforce, especially in destination locations,” he said.

Fields said at this point, he’s seeing serious roadblocks cropping up within state and local governments, particularly in markets that are pushing up minimum wages or put restrictions on work environments for housekeepers, which requires hoteliers to be advocates for their own businesses and employees.

“Those are the types of legislation that are not only bad for the hotels but for the employees,” he said.

Asked if operators are reluctant to go into some more heavily regulated markets, Carroll said that’s not the way his company thinks.

“We’ll operate where our owners need us,” he said.

But Deitemeyer noted it’s ever more important to structure policies and benefits on a state-by-state basis, something that his company puts particular focus on doing in California, where Aimbridge has 170 hotels.

“We’re investing in more in-state resources in the more complicated areas and territories,” he said.

He noted that isn’t just a U.S. issue or approach. His company is setting up similar structures in France, and obviously the labor shortage issues carry overseas, as well.

“The biggest labor challenge is actually Brexit and what’s going to happen to workers in the U.K.,” he said. “We’re trying to get our arms around that and to be prepared to deal with the loss of 30% to 40% of our workforce.”

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