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Tourism is booming once again: but how can we solve the hospitality recruitment and retention crisis

Despite the cost-of-living crisis and economic uncertainty, the international hospitality and tourism industry is experiencing a surge in bookings as the summer season reaches its peak. Earlier this year the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer reported that international tourist arrivals reached 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023. An estimated 235 million tourists travelled internationally in the first three months of this year, more than double those in the same period of 2022. That promisingly upward trajectory has continued. In June the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) revealed that the EU Travel & Tourism sector is forecast to reach 98% of the 2019 peak. The WTTC has subsequently issued updates on country-specific tourism, with international visitor spend in Portugal set to reach a record-breaking high this year, strong recovery reported in Greece and Italy, and Japan also nearing pre-pandemic recovery despite lengthy restrictions. Hospitality staff shortages continue to hit Now there are even reports of ‘over-touristed’ destinations. However, whist this is good news, major hotels, restaurants and luxury brands continue to be challenged by staff shortages, which threatens to impact the customer experience. For example, figures from The Caterer show that 200,000 international workers have left the UK hospitality industry in the past four years, and UK Hospitalityreported that vacancies are 48% higher than pre-Covid. According to the DEHOGA industry association, more than 65,000 employees are currently missing in hotels and restaurants in Germany. And the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) recently reported that 80% of hotels are experiencing staffing shortages. This is the same everywhere. We know that recruitment is predicted to remain one of the biggest issues facing the hospitality and tourism industry over the next five years at least, but so is retention. So what can be done to address this global personnel crisis, at a time when traveller numbers are recovering? Shifting the dial on recruitment and retention The Future Skills Report, published by eHotelier in association with the Institute of Hospitality, sought to better understand the skills needs of a rapidly changing international hospitality industry, to identify the nature of those skills, and the education, training and professional development needs for industry operating environments. The report says the key focus for recruitment and retention is to attract individuals who have a range of personal skills and characteristics, rather than looking for individuals with specific professional and operational skills. That is not to diminish the importance of those skills, but suggests that some of the professional skills are those which can be developed in-house other than being an essential prerequisite for employment. Clearly, this does not hold true for certain specialist functions, such as chefs, financial accounting or technology, but does for more generic sets of professional skills largely deployed in guest-facing service roles, front office, food and beverage, and housekeeping. Succession planning through leadership development Additionally, 86% of respondents to the survey expressed a strong view that leadership training should be an essential or very important part of professional development. The challenge to support the development of new talent has never been of more importance. Chris Sheppardson, Founder of EP Business in Hospitality, recently mentioned: “There is a growing argument that, after close to 20 years of very stable industry leadership which has seen relatively little change, the sector will soon see the greatest level of knowledge loss it has ever faced. This is because the average age of a Board Director has increased by over 17 years in the past 17 years. It does, of course, highlight stability, but also highlights the lack of young emerging talent breaking through into senior roles.” To support that, we recently joined forces with ESSEC Business School to offer a part-time flexible Global Executive Master’s in Hospitality Leadership, Starting this November, the course is aimed at hospitality executives or career switchers who have already built a foundation of managerial experience, and now feel ready to move to the next level. Changing perceptions, opening minds For others, fundamental perceptions of the hospitality industry remain problematic to solving staff shortages, as also highlighted in the Institute of Hospitality’s white paper, The Real Hospitality Industry, published last summer. This was echoed in my conversation with Jane Pendlebury, CEO of HOSPA, who said: “Hospitality is a fantastic industry. And for those of us who have committed to it for the long-term, we know its many wonderful qualities. From career flexibility to career progression, travel and in-demand skills – hospitality offers enormous opportunities for those looking to engage in a dynamic and wide-ranging career. The trouble is, though, that too many people outside of our industry do not quite grasp those qualities.” Jane reflected: “It is also far more varied and diverse than many realise. It is not just the kitchen and front-of-house roles that need filling. From finance to technology, revenue management to marketing, as well as hundreds of operational roles, you can pursue any interest and develop in all sorts of areas. The opportunity for continued personal growth in hospitality is huge, and the rewards for doing so are enormous.” A career of choice, and a world of opportunity Distinguishing hospitality as a career of choice, and opening minds to growing opportunities in the industry and related sectors, is close to my heart. For example, the luxury industry has changed, and so too has luxury management education, and there are huge opportunities for careers in this multi-faceted profession. In October we begin our new Bachelor’s in Luxury Business, which is the perfect preparation for a high-level leadership career in the international luxury industry, and career pathways open to graduates include personal luxury goods, luxury retail, private jets, automobiles, private banking, luxury hospitality, and high-end health and wellness clinics. Our long-running Master’s in Real Estate, Finance and Hotel Development at Glion Institute of Higher Education London is another example of a traditional hotel school preparing students for opportunities in related sectors. For owners, developers, investors, managers and other professionals involved in hotel development and investment, the operating environment has shifted to such a degree that they need some form of bespoke professional development. However, as with the luxury industry, how are young people being made aware of these opportunities when they are at school or college? Education and industry working in partnership Generally, there is a need for greater alignment between the requirements of companies and the courses offered by educational institutions. You have to listen to the market and today it is imperative that educators get closer to professionals. At Glion, our Board is made up of industry professionals. Together we analyse industry expectations and create the best conditions to meet them. You have to scrutinise sector developments, build bridges between institutions, evolve your training courses and create new ones. Equally, the industry needs to anticipate the arrival of students in their businesses. If you want to keep these talents, take care of them from the crucial stage of internships. Our new Talent Connection initiative is another recent example of this connectivity, available exclusively to outstanding candidates who apply for Glion’s MSc International Hospitality Business. It offers them the chance to earn expert coaching and guidance from industry partners in three key sectors: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (Luxury Hospitality); Cushman & Wakefield (Financial Real Estate Services); and pre-owned watch specialist Watchfinder & Co. – part of the Richemont Group (Luxury Retail). So we have this pathway of issues and challenges to overcome when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, tackling the recruitment crisis, and future workforce planning. There are renewed opportunities to distinguish hospitality as a career of choice and create a people strategy for tomorrow’s hospitality industry. We need to transform the employee experience to take into account the demands of younger or new entrants to the industry who expect better work-life balance. Also the fact that environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly important for hospitality industry staff. As we stand today, guests are looking for high levels of customer service, services that can only be delivered by having professional well-educated and well-trained staff who have stronger customer/guest service skills, people skills and professional operational skills. The reality is that vacancies will hit hard this summer, and beyond. We also know that recruitment and retention issues will not be going away soon, but together we can make sure we are nurturing talent, providing career opportunities, and showcasing the multitude of opportunities available in hospitality, as well as related industries and professions. Frédéric Picard is Managing Director of Glion Institute of Higher Education.


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