“Someone who has never worked in hotel industry or gastronomy knows nothing about life” – taught me my mentors, warning me that work in this field is anything but easy. Despite this discouragement, I loved working with people, I cherished the uniqueness that comes with every day and appreciated the vast opportunities for development.
Back in the day, lots of people wanted to work in the hotel industry, but few have succeed. Today the situation is reversed – not enough people want to work in the industry and rarely do they have the required skills. I decided to investigate why this is the case and what is the root cause of this problem.
Working in the hotel industry 30 years ago – dreams, development and prestige.
My mentors – seasoned practitioners – taught me with outstanding commitment and responsibility. They invested countless hours and offered me support to bring out my passion for this job. They wanted to see me progress, increase my competences and bring the satisfaction of our guests to a new level. Our guests – they always pointed out. Whenever they heard someone use the term client – they corrected them immediately. This was one of the first and most important lessons that I learned. Hotels have guests, not clients. This is the essence of good hoteliership.
I worked with people of all ages. There were no shortcuts. You had to work your way up from the bottom to understand what this job is about. You had to earn respect and learn to co-operate to become a special kind of manager – a hotel industry manager. Because of this, the manager could replace any employee – if needed – as every manager knew the ins and outs of every position.
Practice makes perfect. This was the mantra of every day – we were pursuing excellence. My employers were just as demanding as they were supportive. They didn’t allow guest to insult me, they stood firmly behind me, and gave me the wisdom of life and strength, that as a 19-year-old girl I had yet to come across. When, for instance, one guest was making a scene in the restaurant, they were reminded in a delicate manner that “we don’t provide services for troublemakers”. If the guest was still misbehaving, Mr. Stan was called into action, to discreetly – but resolutely – show the guest out.
This job was a dream come true for me and a pass to a better world – at that time it was the best possible life that I could have dreamed for. I was working like hell to soak in as much knowledge as possible and work towards the next “good job” remark from my mentors. They gave me positive feedback, but they never hesitated to point out what needed to be done differently.
And that was what kept me going: working at a hotel. It was prestigious and I was extremely proud when I got the traineeship at the Forum Hotel (now Novotel Centre) in Warsaw. This was partly due to my high results in education, but at any rate, during those times working at a hotel was a real dream come true.
The former director of the hotel – Mr Wieslaw Wilk – had an enigmatic routine. Few times a day, he would just wonder through the hotel looking around effortlessly without saying anything. Those who knew what was going on knew that he was taking mental notes of every detail, sometimes talking to the guests and usually speaking to the manager afterwards. They spoke quietly, almost whispering. Then he walked away. We, the newbies, were waiting in tension for the slightest sign of his gaze combined with smile – the ultimate look of approval, from the boss himself. That was the most valuable reward.
A postcard from my beginnings in tourism.
I worked in almost every department hotels have, maybe besides the technical ones. I washed dishes and helped in the kitchen, because nobody wanted to see me cook, as I didn’t have any formal qualifications. And can you guess what I did? I resigned, of course. I realised that most of it was hard physical work, burning the midnight oil, also on weekends, and generally during ungodly hours. Finally, I was about to be promoted to a prestigious position – the front desk. When they were taking the final measurements for the uniform, I decided that I should move on now or never. I was terrified by the thought that for the rest of my life I would have stayed at one hotel. At the time, I did not know that it did not have to be like that.
Following my dreams, I took the next step – a step into the world of tourism, which is all about travel. Everything so far was part of my own experience. A bit of it was luck, but most of it was my personality – and so I ended up sticking close to the hotel industry, within which I have met the most wonderful people one could imagine.
Why are employers struggling to hire in hotel industry?
Why am I writing this now, even though I thought I would have never come back to it?
I am writing this because a lot has changed since then. From around every industry corner I hear complaints that employers cannot find the right type of people to work in the hotel industry. I am gobsmacked when I hear this, since I know of countless perfectly-qualified, experienced and talented 50-year-olds without a job. And get this: some of them are even erasing qualifications from CVs!
So what is the root cause?
My reasoning for why this is happening, is based on observations and can be expressed through the following questions:
- Who fired people over 40 with the crucial experience, from all positions – especially executives and specialists?
- Who invested in marble, gold-plating and gimmicks, such as an overly-ambitious SPA (which will never pay for itself) instead of actually investing in increasing standards, high quality services and dignified salaries?
- Who repeatedly told managers that there are queues of others ready to replace them on their managerial position, while they were working 1500% of the norm?
- Who continually employed young people straight from schools to work for free?
- Who hired people for 3-month-tryouts and once that was over, fired them and did the whole thing all over again?
- Who paid outrageously-high salaries to family members, even though they did not know the first thing about the hotel industry or gastronomy?
- Who expected that hotel industry specialists would teach them everything for free as part of their job?
- Who forced young people to take care of difficult guests, when obviously they cannot have enough life experience? And who keeps allowing guests to go nuts on young employees and just counting the money instead?
- Who decided to hire only the young and beautiful?
- Who opened new hotels and restaurants while stealing whole teams (especially in small towns) offering them a salary higher by around 15 euro?
- Who didn’t check the references of new employees and refused to talk, when a decent person was calling to give a heads up on a troublesome person?
- Who fired people, thinning out teams, and shovelling their responsibilities onto the remaining staff, without extra pay?
- Who refused to pay for overtime and forced people to work on holidays?
- Who refused to invest in people and increase their competences, because it was pre-assumed that they will start working for the competition?
I have more similar questions. I know that this does not concern everyone, but it was enough to spoil this industry and devaluate the receptionist and waiter professions. And now everyone is surprised there aren’t any people to hire? Yeah… so it hurts now? It should be most painful for those investors, who were spreading this madness, who didn’t respect their workers and have been using a management-by-fear model. Unfortunately, because of these toxic people all of us have to suffer. As the saying goes: the fish rots from the head down.
We turned the hotelier profession upside down. Investors came to the hotel industry, having succeeded in other fields and thought that they will achieve the same results in hotel industry, but this is where hospitality comes in.
They didn’t understand that this is a special kind of business, where people have to be at the centre of all activities. These are not the times when people would arrive on horseback and only expect to stay the night, have their horse fed and go on. For decades now, it has been the role of hotel managers not to sell just the beds, but also dreams, rest and luxury. Traveling and relaxing is still a luxurious experience, but for another reason entirely – because people today simply don’t have enough time.
What is the solution?
Every crisis entails changes. Taking shortcuts is always detrimental in the long-run. In the post-war world there are no longer families rooted in the hotel industry or gastronomy, where knowledge is passed from generation to generation; where children could grow up and learn through observation and participation the respect for others, how services operate, team work – to fully meet the needs of returning guests and not just the ability to serve them.
What should be done in current situation? In my opinion two things are key. For a start: hoteliers should think as a team that cares of guests’ satisfaction. To make it happen, we need to investment in experienced staff and their development. We should not be afraid of middle-aged people, because they are the ones, who have the crucial experience.
Being a good boss towards one’s employees also has a positive impact on guests. When people enjoy doing their job, the guest can feel it. Furthermore, hoteliers should talk to each other – not as competitors, aiming to destroy one another, but they should rather compete in the fields of service quality and guests’ satisfaction.
This is my dream. Let’s make it a reality.