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by Georges Panayotis

Jobs in hotels and restaurants, and, more generally, in tourism, bear the brunt of the backlash from the accumulation of cyclical or structural crises. For years, the biggest problem for the industry was to convince younger generations of the interest of and career growth potential within this very real industry. The constant shortage of quality staff, powered by high turnover, was enough to upset the most inventive Chief Personnel Officers.

Today, it is more a question of saving jobs and keep the workforce in place. Who would have imagined, only a few years back, that service jobs would ever be so endangered? But they suffered the conjunction of a cyclical downturn, precipitated by excessive price policies, with the surge of collaborative enterprises that attack stable jobs directly, and increased social and fiscal charges. In short, the stuff to worry investment funds, which found “wages” to be the main cause of the declining profitability of their investments.

Nowadays, everything is done to reduce the role of humans in French hospitality; they are seen as a necessary evil rather than a most essential wealth. While the deployment of the digital economy has created many new jobs in marketing, sales and promotion, they require less and less a presence in situ. In best case scenarios, companies keep these positions at their headquarters, but the outsourcing trend has seriously jeopardized the local presence of these jobs coming from the digital world.

Hotel groups’ marketing teams face the threat of being phased out in favor of call centers at Booking and Expedia, of multilingual teams at TripAdvisor, Trivago, Kayak and the likes, located abroad. Tourism businesses willingly offload support functions that nevertheless contribute significantly to the two million jobs in the sector and their prospects for progress.

Moreover, investors are closely watching the new hotel concepts that strongly insist on customers’ autonomy at check-in and check-out, in the restaurant, relaxing in the fitness center... More autonomy translates into a little less staff.

The situation in the restaurant industry is even more degraded. Its profitability has long been upset by the taxes and regulations that affect employment. As restaurants get emptier, the queues are getting longer at supermarkets, bakeries and fast food outlets. Even tourists prefer a bench on the Seine, now closed to traffic, to a comfortable seat in a brewery deemed unaffordable.

We must not delude ourselves, the economic model of the hospitality industry was mopped up by promoters of capital gains and heavier taxation. The sector has been weakened by choices made in previous years, inspired by laziness or narrow vision. We must restore its human depth, its fluidity, its life and desire, while preserving the ability to generate sufficient margins to ensure capex, offer viable careers and pursue innovation. Yes, it has become more and more complicated to square the circle, but not necessarily impossible.

So instead of bragging that tourism jobs cannot be relocated, it must be realized that the service delivery system is losing its human and local dimension. Digital marketing gurus have favored its global aspect while neglecting the need for a local version that gives field staff the necessary tools for their outreach. Differentiation, loyalty and service delivery are not handled only on the upper floors of the headquarters.

If the customer shies away, if operational services are outsourced, if social charges remain high and personnel are demotivated because salaries aren't worth the effort, particularly if there is no upward social mobility, there is little hope that hospitality will continue to be a chance for France’s economy. While investing in product innovation is vital, investing in a human dimension is fundamental. It is the only way out for a hotel industry that will one day be able to develop a new approach to customer relations.

About Georges Panayotis

Georges Panayotis is President of MKG Consulting. Born in a family of hoteliers for three generations, Georges Panayotis, left Greece at the age of 18 to pursue his studies in Political Sciences and to obtain his Master in Management at the French University of Paris Dauphine. He then joined the Novotel chain, which will become the Accor Group, to manage the International Marketing Division. After developing specific marketing tools for the hotel industry, he left the group in 1986 to start his own company, MKG Conseil, now MKG Group. In twenty years, the group has become the European leader in studies and consulting for the Hospitality industry. The company employs over 70 people in four departments: marketing studies, database, quality control and trade press, with two publications HTR Magazine and Hotel Restaurant Weekly. The company helped the development of over 2,000 hotels in France and in Europe, with offices in Paris, Cyprus and London. Georges Panyotis is the founder of the Worldwide Hospitality Awards and the Hotel Makers Forum, and the author of several publications on Marketing and Operations in the hotel business, He is a regular consultant for several television channels, among which Bloomberg Television, and radio networks.

Contact: Georges Panayotis

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