Deep-seated shifts in behaviours pivot on the pandemic

exercise bike with city view in the window
Exercise bike with city view in the window. (kosmos111/Getty Images)

Insight Comment
Values – in contrast to value for money – are creating new challenges for the hospitality industry. Sustainability and ESG are becoming ever-more important priorities for customers, operators, employees and owners. Meanwhile, there are other, less obvious shifts in personal and corporate standards of behaviour. 

The hospitality industry is emerging from the pandemic with a long list of changed priorities.

Not for the first time, delegates at the Annual Hotel Conference in Manchester heard that investors want to know what hotels are doing to alleviate issues around sustainability and ESG (environmental, social and governance). Customer are making the same kind of value judgements. 

The keener focus on provision of wellness facilities, such as gyms and spas at the expense of bars and restaurants, is an indicator of the life-choices being made by guests.

At the same time, labour shortages meant customers often have to accept later check-in times caused by gaps in the housekeeping functions. Similar problems further down the supply chains meant that clean linen – for example – is harder to come by.

Meanwhile, sector employees have become exposed to customer behaviours that are sometimes aggressive. Many understandable frustrations are created by the pandemic and lockdown necessities way beyond the control of, say, restaurant staff. But they have had to endure the impact of questionable personal codes of ethics. 

Conference participants heard about shifts in the power balance between owners of hotels and the companies whose brands are often on show during a panel discussion entitled: "Pivot! Rethinking Business Models and Growth Strategies". According to Nicholas Northam, executive vice president - international for Interstate Hotels & Resorts, there was increasing acceptance across the industry that responsibilities are shared more equitably.

Hubert Viriot, CEO of YOTEL, spoke of the hard-to-define characteristics such as “creativity and independence.”

On the employee side, Camil Yazbeck, Accor’s senior vice president and head of development for Northern Europe, said employers need to do more to encourage workplace feelings of pride. Speaking of his own relatively unusual experience, he said he joined the industry at first because he wanted a job. He added: “But a job became a career and then a calling.”

Alongside the changed priorities, the hospitality industry is emerging from the pandemic with new imperatives. 

Most business executives used to avoid making overtly political statements. Yet the adverse impact of the UK’s Brexit split from the Europe Union is commonly acknowledged. That said, speakers have quite different views about the depth of the effects and persistence of the problems. 

But Chris Dexter, CEO of Kew Green, in a directly political appeal to the UK Government about relieving pressure in the labour market said: “Open up the visa channels,” he said. Pay rates were rising, he said, but jobs remained unfilled because there were insufficient numbers of people available for work.

Northam, who leads Interstate’s white-label operations at more than 120 hotels in the UK, Ireland, Continental Europe, Russia and CIS, said the labour shortage was less about the number of people available for work and more about the skills of potential employees.

“We are looking at many different ways to find the talent we need,” he said. Among the programmes that may have previously fallen foul of a company’s behavioural sensibilities, Interstate has set up what he called “academies” in some UK prisons. Thanks to Intestate, Northam said, inmates were receiving instruction on kitchen and housekeeping roles.