L. Aruna Dhir – What are the key factors in employee management and employee engagement?
Kenneth Vincent – Well, we can use all the cheerleading words we want. Show compassion, be sympathetic, promising employment as soon as possible, etc. The reality though is that most hotel personnel live paycheck to paycheck and when that paycheck stops coming there are no words or promises that will do much to improve morale. The hardest hit, are those that rely on tips for the majority of their income and they are among the most susceptible.
And that is the segment we must focus on.
When people are worried about feeding their families, paying the rent and utility bills, and possible loss of their car(s) there is only one thing that will improve their morale…money!
In the case of the United States, some hotels have qualified for small business help from the U.S. government. That is in the form of low-interest loans. However, those loans can be forgiven if the loan is used to keep employees on the payroll. Of course when that money runs out then the problem may still be faced. That is also of minimal help to tip employees.
It should also be noted that most of the known hotel brand names don’t own very many hotels. The vast majority are owned by others and have a franchise to carry the known name. That is true of Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton, Choice Hotels, Holiday Inn, etc. So when we are considering what hotel companies can do to keep up the morale of their employees we have to define just who we are talking about.
David Ourisman – During past financial crises, the hotels that bounced back most quickly were those who kept their entire teams on the payroll. Obviously, those hotel companies with large financial reserves have a distinct advantage. But even smaller ones will have to pencil in permutations and combinations to see how best they can balance out.
Jannes Soerensen – It is important to keep in constant touch with the workforce. We are extremely fortunate because a combination of the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme and the generous support of our owners have meant that we have been able to furlough all our staff on 100% of their wages. So they all feel secure financially and they know they can pay the rent and look after their families. But their mental well-being and morale is a concern and we have worked hard to stay in touch with our people.
Together with my Executive Team, who are not furloughed, we communicate on a daily basis with the staff, wherever they are, and especially with the most vulnerable.
We have set up Workplace (by Facebook) as a forum for interaction and communication; we send regular e-newsletters to the staff to keep them up to date; we have a daily social zoom call at 6 PM that anyone can dial into for a chat; we offer a daily meditation session at 10 AM; there is an active fitness group; we hold quizzes and competitions; there are voluntary training sessions, and managers keep in touch with their staff by telephone and email on a one to one basis. For those that are struggling, we provide access to one to one counselling, should they desire it.
Aruna Dhir – Guests are the fulcrum of our industry. What will have to be done to acquire an ideal level of guest-orientation?
Kenneth Vincent – A highway hotel has very few repeat customers in most cases. Therefore they have little need for a sophisticated computer system to stay in touch with the guest. Larger hotels, resorts, and chain-owned properties usually do have a system that tracks guests and thus can communicate with them. A letter or email expressing the hotel’s hope for their well being and updating them on planned changes at the hotel would be something that may both, maintain awareness and garner goodwill.
Some of the letters/emails I’ve seen from hotel companies include heavy discounts on room rates. Those vary up to 65%. Others have stressed their new cleaning standards and the steps being taken to protect their guests and employees. The latter is clearly an effort to override the fear that the Pandemic has implanted in the minds of the travelling public.
Of course, the downside of both tactics could be that it raises the question of why were rooms so expensive before, and why were hotels not cleaning to a high standard before. It is a Catch 22 position.
David Ourisman – Some hotels have found creative ways to stay in contact with their guests. I’ve seen many interesting emails that delight with film and storytelling, playlists of music, recommended reading, authentic recipes, and ingredients for iconic drinks for which their bar is known. There are several creative and interesting options to keep the relationship alive.
Jannes Soerensen – Be open, be transparent, and communicate. But do not sell. We have been in direct touch with guests that still had reservations, which we cancelled at no charge. We send newsletters promoting London as a virtual destination. We continue to engage on social media. And I am in touch with many guests on a one to one basis, people who cannot wait to start travelling again and to return to the hotel.
We will carry on with this discussion in Part Two where we will talk about the situational crisis, the solutions that can be explored, and the strategic thinking that must be put into place.