Features.

How to hire great people in hospitality

Exceptional guest experiences don’t happen by accident – they’re created by enthusiastic, skilled individuals. From Amsterdam to Ethiopia, we speak to hiring managers in travel and CEOs worldwide about how they attract and retain top talent

by Lottie Gross, Click. Travel Writer

Topic: Guest experience Managing operations

Click. Takeaway

  • Disengaged employees cost the US economy up to $350bn annually due to lost productivity, according to research by McLean & Company
  • Open interviews can be an effective method for finding brilliant staff
  • Local talent is often crucial, so considering how you can partner with schools, colleges and universities to find great people is well worth the effort, according to Eugenio Pirri from the Dorchester Collection

First impressions count for everything, especially in hospitality. A customer’s first interaction with staff can make or break the rest of their visit. It can be the difference between a good or bad review, or be the deciding factor in whether they return.

In an interview with Click, Co-Founder of Zoku, Hans Meyer, talked about the importance of hiring ‘nice’ people, and Chief People and Culture Officer at the Dorchester Collection, Eugenio Pirri, recently told us that getting it wrong can be costly.

“Disengaged employees cost the US economy up to $350bn annually due to lost productivity, [according to research by McLean & Company],” he says.

But in a sector where staff often come and go quickly, finding the right people can be tricky.

Disengaged employees cost the US economy up to $350bn annually due to lost productivity – Eugenio Pirri, Dorchester Collection

In its latest JobsOutlook survey, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) found that demand for hospitality workers in the UK, as an example, was growing, but the supply of qualified people can’t match it. To add to the challenge, thanks to the industry’s transient nature, it’s notoriously difficult to keep those ‘right’ people once you’ve found them. Though Pirri believes the industry can do things to change this and that the starting point must be getting recruitment right.

Attracting the right people

Sophie Wingfield, Head of Policy at REC, says it’s all about what organisations have to offer, not just in terms of salary, but training opportunities and progression too. “Employers should look at the whole package,” she says. This means the salary you’re offering, as well as benefits such as bonuses, flexible working, training opportunities and growth potential.

A survey by catering specialists Nisbets showed that pay was the fourth most important thing for keeping people in hospitality roles, and that the working environment, relationships with other staff and the work-life balance were the three most important considerations for staying in a job. This all goes to show: the better the package, the more attractive you’ll be to the best candidates.

One person in a desert. Photo: Credit to Dan Grinwis

‘Open interviews give an applicant who may not be as strong on paper a unique opportunity’. Photo: Dan Grinwis

Good hospitality recruitment goes beyond looking for the right skills, though. Joseph Heck, Director of People Support at HHM Hospitality – who manage big-name properties like Hilton and Ritz-Carlton in the US – says: “To understand recruiting the right staff, you have to first understand your hotel’s image and its customer. Whether it is for front of house or back of house positions, you want to build a team that meets the guest’s needs.

“Take the front office for example, at a hotel in a key gateway market, it’s essential to find staff who are familiar with the local tourism scene. Having someone who can recite names of nearby restaurants is one thing, but looking for the right person who can share their personal favourite casual eatery is even better.”

Innovative recruitment methods

Heck says that open interviews have been an effective method for finding brilliant staff at HHM properties.

“On Tuesday afternoons from 2pm to 4pm,” he explains, “applicants can come dressed professionally with a resume in hand and will be guaranteed an on-the-spot meeting with a member of HR or a department head.”

He adds: “Open interviews give an applicant who may not be as strong on paper a unique opportunity to display why they are a fit for the hotel culture and the brand.

“The interviews also create a buzz around the hospitality community that shows a level of opportunity and commitment to staff.”

Open interviews give an applicant who may not be as strong on paper a unique opportunity to display why they are a fit for the hotel culture and the brand – Joseph Heck, HHM Hospitality

New apps also have a lot to offer recruiters looking for well-qualified candidates, too. Matthew de la Hay, CEO of London-based hospitality recruitment app, inploi, says: “It’s really important for employers to keep up if they are to maintain access to pools of strong talent, and particularly if they want to remain appealing to the next generation of staff.

“It is vital to understand what they are looking for in their working lives, and to be able to engage them through channels and technology that they are familiar with. Signs in windows or boring posts on job boards no longer cut it.”

Pirri says hotels must ensure their online presence – from social media to job ads – is engaging and tells their story so people know what kind of opportunity lies ahead of them. “There’s a real push towards local talent. So considering how you can partner with schools, colleges and universities to find great people is also important,” he explains.

Going local

But what about when your property isn’t in a big city or metropolitan area? Perched on a remote escarpment in the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, the five-star Limalimo Lodge has invested in the local community.

Hours from the nearest city, Shiferaw Asrat, CEO, says it was important to her and the business that the local community would benefit from the lodge’s existence. And what better way than to offer employment opportunities?

He says: “Community relationships are at the core of how we do business. Most staff at the lodge were hired from nearby villages and were involved in building it and then trained on how to run it. By hiring locally, we benefit the community and ensure the park’s protection, because they then have a vested interest in the preservation of the park. And of course that’s good for Limalimo Lodge.”

It’s often many ingredients that help find great candidates, but with the right investment of time and energy, Limalimo’s approach shows that ultimately it’s about finding bright, reliable staff, who are willing to learn and build a brilliant place to stay.

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Lottie Gross is a freelance travel writer and journalist

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