Understanding the Evolution of the People Behind the ‘People Business’

By Mike Chuma  

Everything about hospitality is currently in flux—and that includes the people on both sides of the front desk. Vast and growing areas of the hotel industry have been laser focused on collecting guest data, studying the ways their needs and preferences change over time, but the industry may be glossing over the impact recent changes have had on its workers. In a stop-start year full of shutdowns and condensed reopenings, where operating budgets were slashed and every precise cost is accounted for, hotel workers have had to reshape their outlook and strategies in order to survive.

If there’s a silver lining, it may be the unlikely opportunity hotels have been given to reimagine operations and go back to the drawing board with greater efficiencies in mind. There may be no “manual” on how to run a business in an environment such as this, but agile, proactive hoteliers can write their own. In order to do so, operators must be willing to break from conventional wisdom and embrace new ways of working—as well as new technology—to adapt to the changing landscape of travel and hospitality.

Crossing the Aisle
Many traditional roles within hospitality began to blur throughout the last business cycle as technology became entrenched within the industry and data gained greater influence over decision-making at the property level. During this period, front desk associates saw their role transform from simply managing guest arrivals and departures to becoming brand ambassadors capable of providing expert insight on their local area, and upselling amenities and services based on a guest’s curated profile.

This process must continue, but for the foreseeable future the venue has shifted from the front desk to travelers’ mobile devices. Today these same associates are using their skills in entirely different ways, since caring for guests at a distance requires a different approach from traditional hospitality. Now front desk associates are the first and last point of contact for guests once at the property, and these associates have been given more agency than ever before when making strategic operating decisions at a moment’s notice.

As a result, the purpose of individual staff positions are growing broader and more complex. Hoteliers who invested in cutting-edge property management and guest interaction technologies are benefitting from its adaptability by operating with reduced staff numbers, but this just means the remaining employees must be at the top of their game at all times. These associates need to be personable, flexible, attentive and adept at a growing list of tools and technologies to confidently operate in the current environment.

One only has to look to revenue management to see how the role has matured into one of the most impactful positions within the hotel ecosystem. Revenue management is a far cry from its early days, where it emerged as an offshoot of sales and marketing before transitioning into a data-driven watchtower able to shine a searchlight on operational inefficiencies and opportunities.

It is only natural that the functions of traditional hospitality roles will continue to be blurred as new efficiencies are realized and operations evolve. All corners of hospitality operations are seeing a convergence of duties and responsibilities. This trend may be driven today by budgetary limitations and the need to achieve more with fewer resources, but it is also a natural inevitability that comes about at the end of every major business cycle. Within this context, innovation is helping create a leaner, more impactful industry by equipping individual hotel operators with a broader toolset, machine-learning automation and the capability to run or assist with running multiple sectors of a property or portfolio simultaneously.

The greatest driving force behind this evolution? The development and adoption of new technology over the last business cycle, a trend that is only growing in importance with the passage of time and one that is now impossible to ignore without a hotel conceding to its competition.

Digital Helping Hand
No one can be sure exactly what hotel operations will look like 12 months from now, but the past year has lent insight into the direction the industry is growing. With fewer people on property and pressure to execute at an all-time high, technology is quickly becoming a hotelier’s lifeline. For example, modern cluster analysis tools and strategies allow revenue managers to link similar data sets to those in other groups, aiding them in data mining and statistical data analysis to recognize patterns and trends across entire hotel portfolios. This bestows singular revenue managers with the power to make or break a hotel’s success based on their ability to identify key cost-saving trends and other probabilities.

This deep level of analysis, once considered impossible to achieve, is becoming the most effective way for revenue managers to remain informed and competitive today. It is also not possible to accurately digest or act on data of this scale without the significant efficiencies made available through new revenue management tools. Technological innovations such as these are appearing throughout the hotel ecosystem in order to break down the barriers holding operators back even as staff sizes continue to wane.

The hotel labor climate may never again return to pre-2020 operating procedures, and the industry is reaching an inflection point as labor costs climb, room rates fall and guest expectations remain consistent. As cost reduction strategies and operational hacks continue to remain the most significant trends of this year and the next, it’s clear that operator aptitudes must improve with fewer people running the show.

Operators must ask themselves what is more important: preserving the established roles within hospitality that have not been challenged for decades, or prioritize retaining specific skill sets to improve efficiency, regardless of title or position. The future of hospitality rests in the hands of today’s operators as they lay the foundation for what will become a new era for the industry.

It’s survival of the most agile. The people in the “people business” are changing alongside guests, and it’s time for the industry to evolve with them. It’s unclear what the full picture of this transformation will look like, or even what the eventual shift will mean for the hotel manager role, but it will provide new opportunities for professionals with different, unorthodox skill sets to leave their mark on hospitality. Today, it is up to the industry’s leading educators, hotel policy-makers, owners and operators to lead the charge in this period of change before circumstance—or greater competition—makes the decision for them.

Mike Chuma is VP of global marketing and enablement & engagement teams at IDeaS, an SAS Company. He currently oversees product marketing, demand generation, branding and communications, as well as client, academic and industry education.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.

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