How Hotels Scrambled to Staff the Return of Events

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All too often we attempt to glean some semblance of an explanation or understanding when confronted with an understaffed hotel or event venue and you have probably strategized about all the ways you would “fix” the situation if you were in charge. Smart Meetings dropped in on several industry professionals to see what methods and strategies they’ve implemented to adjust to the sudden return of travelers and deliver the service levels expected by attendees.

Charlestowne Hotels, for example, is taking a proactive approach by placing an emphasis on enhancing the depth of their human resources and company culture while providing attendees and other guests with a heightened experience. As part of the company’s strategy to carry out a new planned realignment, Charlestowne recently added nine new vice president and director roles to create greater oversight of department-wide strategy and management.

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Our goal for 2022 was to reorganize our leadership structure to better handle portfolio growth and provide advancement opportunities for our team members,” says Kyle Hughey, CEO of Charlestowne Hotels. “We’ve been thoughtful with our internal promotions and new hires to make sure we placed the right people in the right roles to best position them, and our properties, for success. We feel confident that we’ve put a structure in place that will grow with us and leverage the diverse industry knowledge of our team in the best way possible.”

Stemming the Tide of Turnover

The churn of employees in the hospitality industry has been brusque for the last several years. Fingers are being pointed at the employer/employee relationship, engagement and employee satisfaction, among other factors—resulting in high demand and very low availability. A recent study by Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) and professors Haemoon Oh and Miyoung Jeong at the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management, University of South Carolina, and Hyejo Hailey Shin at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, noted that in addition to tangible incentives, such as adequate pay and other fringe benefits or rewards, status, job security and working relationships are crucial elements in stifling fast-paced turnover rates.

The result is that availability of employees in the hospitality sector has hovered at less than 10% over the last five years while turnover has accelerated at a staggering pace of 165% from 2019 to 2020 before dipping to 85% in 2021 and lowering again to 70% as of December 2022, according to the report.

Charlestowne is confronting this issue by creating additional operational roles to “better provide hotel owners and staff with stronger and ongoing guidance directly at the property level.” The goal is to produce a more empowering environment for long-term careers, Hughey said.

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New roles include a corporate food and beverage department and hiring of two corporate F&B managers and two task force F&B managers who will provide property teams with dedicated, on-site assistance and elevate the overall hotel experience. A corporate guest service support manager will be “dedicated to training, directing and developing efficient management of on-property guest services,” and a corporate human resources manager will bolster recruiting efforts.

The move to bolster support for hotel staff and service providers coincides with the findings of the IRF study indicating that organizational investment in the categories of employee engagement and employee satisfaction was directly related to high turnover rates.

And the leisure and hospitality industry as a whole is responding to retention issues by incentivizing employees with increased pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report indicating that pay in the hospitality sector rose by 6.9% between September 2020 to September 2021. The data was provided by the Employment Cost Trends program and doesn’t reflect seasonal adjustments or changes in consumer prices.

However, the study also warns that overinvesting in these two factors can, over time, lead to a saturation point and further investment may lead to diminishing returns. The study suggests that companies watch the return-on-investment data carefully.

Leadership in Action

Those tasked with building a supportive company culture at Charlestowne Hotels are doing so from the inside out. The recent creation of new leadership roles was carried out by promoting from within the organization to better inform the organization with a keen understanding of why the company realignment is so important to the retention of employees that support meetings and events.

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