By Frances Moffett, Editorial Content Director, HSMAI
Increased budgets, the expansion of leisure travel, more digital resources — these are some of the trends that hospitality’s digital leaders are seeing as we near the end of the first quarter of 2022. HSMAI recently gathered insights from leaders at Aimbridge, Atlantis Paradise Island, Concord Hospitality, CoralTree Hospitality, Indigo Road Hospitality Group, NCG, Prism Hotels & Resorts, Remington Hotels, and Stonebridge Companies during its Hotel Management Company Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable, presented in partnership with The Hotels Network and Uplift.
The group also discussed the talent landscape and the challenges they saw at the forefront, the top-rated one identified as employees being poached by other industries, as many of their employees’ skills are transferrable and some people are no longer interested in working in hospitality. As one member of the group said, “When we tried to bring back a couple folks who were laid off, pretty uniformly, the response was, ‘I don’t plan on coming back to the industry.’” This sentiment has added to the industry-wide shortage of new sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals in hospitality. The runner-up challenge related to talent was being able to meet compensation and benefits expectations for new employees.
“Doing more with less” was rated a top priority for the rest of this year — a prevalent issue the past two years that many are redefining as they move forward, whether that’s getting away from doing more with less or determining how to better maximize the time of their still-understaffed teams.
“We’re trying to find tools that allow us to streamline processes to get the same results with fewer people,” one participant explained. “We’re more willing than we were over the last two years to put resources toward outsourcing something, so it doesn’t hit the internal team’s bandwidth. Now we’re trying to do less of ‘doing more with less.’”
In addition to asking for more resources or outsourcing, these digital leaders are also managing “doing more with less” by:
- Increasing focus on automation and project management tools
- Saying no to some activities to prioritize bandwidth
- Focusing on specific tasks each quarter instead of constantly trying to tackle everything at once
- Customizing scope of services to the true needs of the property
- Training property team members to backfill positions
Other highly rated priorities among the group include ensuring the mental health and wellness of their teams, upskilling and cross-skilling, and defining work-from-home options and policies, which has become a hot topic as more prospective employees want to have the flexibility of a remote work environment. “People are expecting to work remotely,” one participant said. “And the best talent isn’t always local.”
When it comes to talent, roundtable attendees shared that they’ve spent more time involved in hiring activities this year than ever before. Some have been successful in using digital campaigns through Google or Facebook for recruiting purposes, while others have amplified their company culture and incentivized their current staff in referring professionals to join their team. For those who are still building back their teams and navigating the lack of staffing at agencies, using gig workers and contractors has been the way to go. They’re also tapping into smaller boutique agencies or agencies with specialized knowledge related to a specific need.
Navigating the tech stack — and the brands — to get a complete picture of the guest has still proved to be an obstacle as well, as many digital leaders are figuring out what CRM solutions work best and what it will take to have access to data across the management company. “We have a lot of disparate systems right now,” one group member expressed. “We have a data warehouse, we have an email service provider. We’re using lots of separate systems, so for this year, we are looking to bring all that together and have everything under one umbrella. We’re looking at new solutions across the board to map all the data together.”
Another participant put it this way: “It’s tough to fully know the full value of a guest when all systems don’t integrate.”
Other topics of discussion included the use of social media (while it’s difficult to track direct revenue for social efforts, the low cost of entry has been “worth the exposure; it’s just one more lever we can pull to get traffic over to the website”), as well as inflation in a world of automation.
“There’s a real push at my organization to understand, from a revenue generation and strategic marketing positioning, that our cost to operate hotels is going up pretty quickly, from utilities to labor costs to the cost of food in the restaurants — everything,” one participant said. “Even where demand may not be peak in pushing our pricing up, we’re taking some risk and trying to hedge inflation. And then that impacts our marketing strategy because we’ve got to really highlight the value proposition of the experience guests are getting, and we have to try to get more of top-tier guests who are willing to pay for the experience. The cost model at the hotel is driving revenue strategy, that’s impacting how we market to customers to keep conversion up at higher positions, so it’s been interesting to see.”