By Ryan Hamilton

“Where did all the people go?” This was the question so often on the minds of hoteliers over the last two years, as news of the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced and rapidly permeated throughout our lives. Hotel lobbies that were once bustling with excited energy and tired travelers emptied, while airport terminals fell quiet. Hospitality professionals are in the business of serving people but, suddenly, there were simply no people to serve. And so, the question wasn’t just “where did all the people go?”, but rather, when will they come back?

COVID-19 changed how we live and work in ways that will alter our behavior long after the pandemic subsides. Over the last few months, talk of the post-pandemic recovery has consumed our industry. Finally, it seems, people are ready to come back. But in our hyper-focus on the return of the guest, we seem to have forgotten another key player: the employee.

Hoteliers cannot throw their doors open and usher guests back through the lobby without the staff to facilitate that experience — and yet, that is precisely the dilemma many hotels currently face. In many cases, the staff members furloughed throughout the pandemic may not be waiting in the wings to return to their former role. In fact, they may have moved over to a different industry entirely. 

Of course, in the realm of hospitality, the challenge of finding and holding on to great talent is not a new one. In fact, research shows that the hospitality industry has a staff turnover rate of 73.8% despite being one of the world’s largest employers. Comparatively, the national average across other industries is 10-15%. In April of this year, reports revealed leisure and hospitality payrolls were 14.6% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Even this summer, as travel demand slowly returned, the leisure and hospitality sector was still down 2.85 million jobs compared to February 2020. This places hotels in an increasingly vulnerable position — how can hospitality secure a post-pandemic recovery without staff? How can hoteliers bring back the people who make great hospitality possible?

The thing is, hospitality professionals are in the business of people. People are, quite literally, at the forefront of what we do. But as hoteliers focus on continuously improving and enhancing the guest experience, they must also focus on improving the staff experience. Now, more than ever before, hospitality leaders must put people first — guests and staff alike. It’s time hospitality reexamines and reimagines the way they do business by taking a closer look at the experience and support offered to staff. 

On the technology side, vendors must consider their relationship with hoteliers under a similar lens. The role of vendors isn’t simply to offer the best platform at the best price — that is an integral part of it, but it isn’t the whole picture. Instead, vendors must look beyond the sale of any given product or service to consider the long-term relationship they offer to the hoteliers who purchase from them. Vendors are, after all, not simply in the software business — they are in the relationship business. Just as the guest experience doesn’t end at the moment they click “Book Now,” the relationship between vendors and hoteliers extends far beyond their decision to purchase new technology.

So, vendors, ask yourself: What support is offered to clients beyond the initial purchase and implementation? If a platform promises enhanced convenience and efficiency across key hospitality touch-points, how does that change staff’s experience? How will it be used and leveraged by the very people who champion great guest service? Is it easy for them to use and understand? Does it empower hotels to do more with less? Does it reduce or eliminate mundane tasks and, in turn, allow staff to focus their attention where it matters most: the guest experience?

Ultimately, great hospitality cannot be achieved without great people. The automation offered by new-age hospitality technology is not meant to replace the people at the forefront of the guest experience because, frankly, it never could. Rather, the platforms created and offered by vendors are meant to enhance the hospitality staff’s user experience, which, in turn, helps to transform the guest experience.

As hospitality looks to welcome guests back and embrace a period of recovery and revival, adopting a more holistic, people-first approach across all touch-points is not simply a suggested best practice — it’s the only way forward.