When the pandemic shut down travel, forcing hoteliers to furlough or layoff large swaths of their teams, employers weren’t thinking about the long-term impact—they were in crisis mode, trying to staunch the bleeding.

It’s been a slow climb back, but as the hotel industry returns, some employees have exited, leaving a gaping labor hole, with owners and management companies desperate to find people to clean rooms, perform maintenance and fill many other roles.

Traditionally, hotels would hire full-time staff directly. Now, some hotels are looking at another way to fill positions, one that’s long been more common with the likes of Uber or Task Rabbit, to name two: the gig economy.

Broadly defined, gig workers are independent contractors or freelancers who typically do short-term work for multiple clients. The work may be project-based, hourly or part-time, and can either be an ongoing contract or a temporary position. Such laborers could perfectly fit the moment as hotels scramble for workers.

Further, a societal shift toward favoring jobs that provide a work/life balance are prompting more members of the labor force to seek out part-time or occasional work, allowing them to control their own schedules.

At the Hunter Hotel Conference earlier this year, Mike Deitemeyer, the CEO of Aimbridge Hospitality, the largest global third-party management company, told the audience that the company was testing the gig worker waters.

“We’re in a handful of markets with gig pay, so you can get paid at the end of the shift every day,” he said. “That is something that we think will appeal to a certain demographic.”

Hotel Effectiveness is already making this happen. The company, which serves independent properties and third-party management firms with large portfolios, started posting shifts for workers to take if and when they want it.

“We launched this tool about 30 days ago because we don’t have the team we need and the people I was asking to work were saying no,” said Hotel Effectiveness’ Chief Revenue Officer, Del Ross. “It’s huge. Let people work when they want to work.”


Get the Gig

General managers, department managers and sales teams all need to be full-time employees, Ross noted, but all other jobs in hotels are “variable,” meaning the number of people performing those roles should vary depending on demand.

Holding out for full-time workers in those other jobs could have dire consequences, Ross added. “Attrition among managers is higher than ever because they’re spending a tremendous amount of time finding coverage, and when they can’t find workers, they’re doing more line work and burning out.”

Further, current market conditions make it more important for hoteliers to find the right balance of workers. “Wage rates are at record levels and rising, so getting labor wrong is more costly than ever,” Ross said.

In general, the cost of labor is nothing to take lightly. Total labor costs per available room in North America came in at $47.17 in June, which is $17 higher than at the same time a year ago, according to HotStats data. In China, labor PAR was recorded at $32.82, 46% higher than in June 2020, while in Europe, the metric hot €28.83, 84% higher than at the same time a year ago.


All About the Story

Retaining gig workers requires the presentation of hotel work as more than just a job, Ross said. “Even ‘transactional’ workers need to be inspired and energized, so sharing the purpose and mission of hotels is critical to quality service delivery, irrespective of whether each worker wants a career in hospitality.”

Some hoteliers and management companies might push back on that idea, particularly while they’re busy just getting basic needs met. But the investment of time is necessary to secure a property’s future, Ross noted.

“Spend the time now to think through the employee experience and borrow that time from other stuff you don’t have time to do, like hiring replacements for the managers who are quitting,” he said. “There’s no convenient time to go to the dentist but if you don’t go now, you’re going to spend a lot more uncomfortable time in the chair later.”