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Throwing Bones
As the Lodging Industry Reports Financial Successes,
Some Hotels Pay at the Bottom of the Scale
By Joseph M. Gravish, February 2007

The end of 2006 saw untold numbers of lodging industry reports and commentators extolling yet another year of financial success. Examples abound in every type of media.

Likewise, following the start of this new year industry leaders and veteran prognosticators again looked into their crystal balls and gave us their view of things to come in 2007. In sum, one respected writer predicts this year will be “…another spectacular year for most markets and segments… (with) business in the best shape at least since the beginning of the decade.” Wow! We must be doing something right.

Despite this writer’s enthusiasm one aspect of our business continues unchanged - mired in the mud of non-appreciation (employees describe it as a “lack of respect”). And it’s truly a sad reflection on our industry and its leadership.

The writer continues “It’s time to maximize rates and profits and sock away as much money as possible in case the cycle turns downward, and we all know it eventually will…Labor issues will continue to worry operators this year…(and) tough new federal and state immigration laws and regulations make it challenging for many operators.” Here’s the rub, he concludes “Unfortunately this double whammy of a problem seems doomed to only worsen in ’07 and beyond…”

Does anyone else see the problem here? We’re enjoying exceptional annual profits, expect to continue doing so through 2010 according to some future-seers, and the pipeline is growing like never before. Yet our major “problem” remains having to provide a decent wage (dare I mention benefits) for our most critical asset – our employees? Does that pass your common-sense test?

Will we allow ourselves, as the writer has, to once again be drawn into a Venus Fly Trap-like bean-counter mentality? Why are so few industry leaders finding it impossible to walk-their-talk? Why do we constantly have to be dragged by federal, state, local governments and labor unions into pay arrangements that allow our workers to share a little in the American dream?

Why, by doing so, do we offer the media the opportunity to expose our warts publicly? Why haven’t we accepted the obvious challenge to become the “industry of choice” by investing more wisely in our #1 asset? Why are we so opposed to throwing a bone to those working the frontlines, implementing every brand’s new “service culture initiative” proclaimed as absolutely necessary to profitability? Can’t we show real respect to those charged with making memorable moments day-in and day-out, creating long-lasting goodwill and unshakeable brand loyalty? Instead we told to sock it away. 

Is this how we show appreciation to the housekeeping staff? Those constantly challenged to clean a guest room in 30 minutes or less despite the adding more work – additional bed sheets, a buffet of pillows in snow white, pressed pillow cases to be placed at precisely measured angles, military-style turn-down service, an array of nicely placed bath/beauty items, towels folded in pleasing if not humorous shapes, etc?

Is this how we show appreciation to the front desk staff who are required to navigate instantaneously with grace and ease through ever more complicated computer software programs, and expected to know each guest’s hidden desires before he/she arrives?

Is this how we show appreciation to the food and beverage staff who must know how each menu item is prepared, its list of ingredients, and the various options for complimentary wine selections, etc? (Try doing that with young adults whose equivalent of a fine dining experience has been a less than a one-minute wait at McDonalds and a departing greeting “here it is”?) 

Is this how we appreciate managers who have to cope with all of this and are expected to beat the competition - and still improve upon last year’s bottom line?

As a whole we’ve created this situation. Many of us have deliberately chosen to pay close to the lowest common denominator. We fight every manager’s request for even a nickel and dime wage increase ignoring the impact quality-of-life issues have on employee motivation and productivity. The lodging industry’s reputation is tarnished. The facts speak for themselves. While we pay at the bottom of the scale and  provide comparatively few life-enhancing benefits compared to other industries we demand the staff  perform to ever-higher standards. I almost forgot - we also continue to cavalierly accept high staff turnover rates as a normal cost of business - essentially throwing money away. 

If you owned a NASCAR racing team and wanted to be the best I suppose you’d put most of your money into developing a bigger, better more powerful engine. Car color and pin-striping would be less critical. And so it is with the lodging industry. You need to prioritize spending – to put more money into meaningful compensation and benefits programs that build better, more long-lasting “people engines”. 

Some owners and management companies do recognize that an employee’s ability to provide for his/her family and improve their quality of life directly affects attitude, performance, motivation, commitment, job satisfaction, engagement, loyalty, and ultimately service to the customer. Michael Gallegos, President and CEO of American Property Management Company comes to mind. He takes the courageous but unpopular (among his hospitality peers) position that a living wage makes good business sense. It will cost him $1.5 million in raises for the employees of his Sheraton Four Points hotel. He and other forward-looking lodging leaders are to be congratulated.

This is an exciting industry. Everyday presents new challenges – opportunities to impress and grow. But I’m haunted by a quote by the French playwright, Moliere “There’s no praise to beat the sort you can put in your pocket.”

It’s time you share another year’s spectacular profits – to throw a bone into the pockets of those most deserving – while you can. They’ll repay your generosity with even greater productivity and better quality service.

Mr. Gravish is a human resources professional with over 25 leadership experience at numerous organizational levels both national and international. He is an advocate of building success through, and by, people – first.


Joseph M. Gravish



Also See: US Hotels and Their Workers Room for Improvement / AFL-CIO / September 2002
Preparing for the Assault by Organized Labor on Hospitality / John R. Hendrie / May 2005


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