Hotel Online  Special Report

 Hotel Companies Need to Be on the List – the Right List; 
Employees Can Make it Happen
By Joseph M. Gravish (May, 2006)

They’re every where – in local and national magazines and newspapers, in hardback and paperback books, on the Internet. Years ago I remember buying books about them (“The Book of Lists” by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace. Among 38 other “list/complete” books offered on written or co-authored by Walleshinsky one can even find “The New Book of Lists”. At 400 pages it weighs in at a hefty 2 pounds). 

People “on the list” have access to the White House, get free tickets to sporting events, and go to the front of the line at exclusive clubs. People not on the list stay or go home. Lists seem to amaze us. We obsess with the need not only to be on “the list” but at the top - presuming it’s the right kind of list.

And there’s a reason. Being on a well-known, high-respected list is an achievement, a sign of success. It’s worthy of shouting “I made it!” It boosts one’s personal and business image. People pay attention to who and which business is, or is not, on the “good” list – and who and which business makes the not-so-good list. And so it is in the hotel business. 

I began thinking about this after reading an article in the local business journal – the region’s “Best Places to Work in 2006” list. The article honored 20 companies from among nearly 150 that participated in the survey. First, second, third, and fourth-place winners were selected among five different-size categories, from companies with 3,000 or more workers to those with fewer than 50. The first-place winner in category five (fewer than 50) employed 12 people; the fourth-place winner 10. Winners represented a variety of industries – construction, Internet technology, dot coms, law, non-profit, education, medical, finance, credit card processing, agricultural biotechnology, engineering consulting, healthcare, and more. What was missing? Hotels. Come to think of it, I didn’t recall seeing hotels in many other “best” lists.

So I looked again – at Money magazine and’s list of “50 Best Jobs in America”. Among the jobs on the list: physician assistant, human resources manager, physical therapist, sales manager, writer, paralegal, convention and meeting planner, accountant, lab technician, school administrator, etc. But once more no hospitality industry-specific job made the list. Undaunted, I continued.

Annually since 1991 Workforce Management magazine has recognized companies of all sizes that “provide tangible business benefits through superior people management” with Optima Awards. According to the magazine Optima award winners prove that astute workforce management can be practiced anywhere. Results include improved customer service, more creative compensation plans, new opportunities for minorities, record profits and importantly, better reputations.  Winners are selected in 10 categories, among them: competitive advantage, financial impact, innovation, managing change, service, vision and general excellence. I had better luck here. In 1995 Mirage Resorts and the Hotel Coronado (San Diego) were honored in the competitive advantage and innovation categories, respectfully.  In 1991 the Marriott Corporation won in the Quality of Life category and Sleep Inn in the Managing Change category. But was that all?

I checked the 2006 Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. Finally, at #28 was Four Seasons and at # 99 was Marriott International. Why only two? Hardly enough to enhance the image and reputation of the industry. Hardly enough to grow the industry by encouraging bright, young adults to make hospitality their life’s career. 

What do the many “best to work for” companies have in common? It’s best summed up the Values Statement of ARCO Construction Company, a local first-place winner in the 50-199 employee category: (to) “treat people fairly and do the right thing” and “create opportunities for individual financial success based upon merit”. A core tenet of the company is to help employees improve their lives and the lives of their families. Why haven’t more hospitality companies figured it out? Why haven’t all hotel owners and operators adopted a people-first, profit-generating philosophy? 

On May 1 immigration advocates pro and con demonstrated throughout the US. Many of those make up a significant and critical part of the hospitality workforce. Very shortly hotels in larger metropolitan cities will be renegotiating contracts with their labor unions. It will be a difficult debate. Hotel owners and operators want to improve profit margins but are constantly battling higher costs, amenity creep and ever-increasing guest expectations. Hotel employees, union and non-union alike continue their demand for a decent quality-of-life wage and compensation package in the face of rising cost-of-living necessities. Both positions have merit. Both need to be successful in their negotiations.

What’s missing from both parties is the focus on people first – a priority unquestionably demonstrated by those companies on the “best to work for” lists – a business strategy centered on creating revenue through people. Organizations do that by, among other things, adopting a business philosophy which offers a quality-of-life sustaining wage and benefits package, as exampled by all 20 “best to work for” winners in the local business journal.

Unfortunately in the state in which I live, on the state’s 25 lowest paying jobs list can be found six typically found in hotels – maids, restaurant workers, food preparation workers, etc. Hardly the type of list upon which an organization can build a “there’s where I want to work” image and reputation, or attract (and retain) the “best of the best” quality employee. 

Labor union and hotel leaders need to rise above the pettiness to reward those who toil in the less glamorous but no less essential jobs – jobs which create the reputation (and revenue) upon which hotel owners and operators depend while providing a decent quality of life for hotel workers and their families. Rather than exchanging word daggers over procedural issues leaders ought to be mutually concerned with creating a situation in which hotels can be found on every “best company to work for” list. The results are obvious.  The reputation of both would be enhanced; the need for hotel owners and operators to excessively worry about profits would be diminished; and productive, efficient and loyal employees would work to their potential and beyond. And in the process an embarrassing industry black eye – a persistently high and profit-robbing employee turnover rate – would be significantly reduced. (Wouldn’t it be nice to have the voluntary turnover rate enjoyed by the Four Seasons and Marriott, at 17% and 18% respectively?) 

To do otherwise, particularly now as the industry climbs out of the doldrums created by 9-11, would be disastrous to both parties. Each can’t afford to lose the confidence of the traveling public.

I’m reminded of a quote by Oscar Wilde “There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else.”

It’s best to be on the list – the right list. Employees can make it happen. 

Mr. Gravish is a human resources professional with over 20-years leadership experience at numerous levels and diverse environments. He is an advocate of building business success through, and by, people. 


Joseph M. Gravish
St. Louis, Missouri

Also See: Marriott International, Inc.Recognized by FORTUNE as Third Best Company with 100,000 or More Employees to Work For / Jan 2003
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Makes Fortune Magazine’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work for in America’ for Fourth Consecutive Year / Jan 2001
What Are Hotel Employees Worth? / April 2006
Hotel Labor Union Negotiations - a Perspective / Joseph M. Gravish / April 2006

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