How to Overcome Hospitality Industry Challenges by Empowering Employees


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If you are a hospitality industry leader, or a leader in another business sector who has been reading about the industry, you have encountered some grim statistics. It is true. The hospitality industry faces real challenges. By extension, guests face potentially fractured experiences that contradict the promises hospitality brands make.

However, coming off a recent Hospitality Standards Training we conducted for a client, we see a bright future for the hospitality industry. That future includes opportunities not only to reclaim successes of the past. But to develop new methods of building dedicated, driven hospitality teams that are stronger for having overcome the challenges of the last three years.

Hospitality Industry Challenges by the Numbers

First, let’s look at the picture we have of the industry. Employee churn is at the top of the list of concerns. In fact, in 2021, the average employee turnover rate in the leisure and hospitality industry was 84.9%. Compare that to an overall employee turnover rate of 47.2% at the same time nationally. We see that, when it comes to providing continuity of service through long-term employees, the hospitality industry is struggling.

But there is a way to help keep those employees. BetterBuy conducted a study that reveals, when a company offers professional development including in-house training programs, they see a 34% higher retention rate than those who do not.

Further, the study reports 75% of employees with development opportunities are likely to stay with their employer for an additional five years. This compares to 56% of respondents who said they would leave within five years because they had no opportunities for professional development.

Hospitality Industry Challenges Post-COVID

The hospitality industry continues to feel the impact of the pandemic. 4.1M employees left their jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry between Apr 2022 – Apr 2023, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who remain in the industry face burnout. With longer shifts, smaller teams, and pre-COVID training that does not align with post-COVID behavioral changes, burnout threatens to pull away the veteran employees who are often essential to a team’s success.

In fact, post-pandemic, 57.8% of frontline workers report their decision to leave their job was due to burnout. The hospitality industry shakeup already happened. To recover, and to get back to the business of delivering world-class experiences to guests of restaurants, hotels, lounges, airports, and other properties, we must rethink how we strengthen teams to encounter challenges and unite around commitments to customer-centric, employee-empowered hospitality experiences.

How to Overcome Hospitality Industry Challenges?

The question, then, is how do you make people care in a way that positions your brand to deliver on the promises you make to guests?

The answer to that comes in three parts. The first is to embrace customer-centric perspectives that start with service and grow into authentic hospitality experiences. Second, is to adopt employee-centric training practices that foster a culture that sees, values, supports, and empowers every member of the Hospitality Team.

The third part is essential, though it may not be immediately evident. And that is to leverage Hospitality Standards (and employee-centered training on those Standards) to build and sustain teams that foster creativity, confidence, trust, and loyalty.

Customer-Centricity in Hospitality

For hospitality brands to be effective, the guest must be at the center of the experience. This requires alignment with an intentional Customer Experience Strategy, informed by Voice of the Customer.

When the customer, or in the case of hospitality, the guest, is at the center of the operation, it becomes possible to create the experiences that define world-class hospitality. Moreover, when there is an organizational commitment to guest experience, from the inside out, and when teams are empowered by training and culture to deliver customer-centric experiences along every step of a guest’s journey, you pave the way for employees to create Wow Moments for your guests.

These Wow Moments, that grow out of a hospitality mindset, define exceptional experiences for individual guests. They also promote loyalty and brand advocacy that returns your investment in hospitality training and culture many times over.

The overwhelmed parent who comes into a hotel lobby and immediately gets a place to sit and a favorite beverage courtesy of a responsive, empowered employee remembers that experience and shares it. The business traveler who receives a charger and a quiet place to take a call during an unexpected flight delay makes sure to come back to you next time, and to share that story with fellow travelers.

We must recognize, here, that customer centricity depends heavily on internal organizational culture and values. Yes, those values align with customer commitments. However, they also reinforce a strong culture of employee autonomy and the power of teams that work together to build and maintain positive, memorable hospitality experiences.

Employee-Centric Training for World-Class Hospitality Experiences

That level of employee autonomy does not happen automatically. It starts with a customer-centric perspective and culture-driven hiring practices. But finding “the right people” does not immediately translate into building effective, empowered teams.

Hospitality training is the next essential step to encounter the current hospitality industry challenges. And to deliver on promises to guests. The power of this training process cannot be overstated. In our recent experience, we heard a team, who had not known each other prior to our training, say, “the sky is the limit for what this team can do.” And that is absolutely true!

When we take the time to tailor training to meet employees where they are, and to give them space to share, discover, and connect with each other, we pave the way for them to trust each other and to start bringing creative solutions to meet guests’ needs and exceed guests’ expectations.

Who to Train

But before we get there, we need to unpack what employee-centric training really looks like, and who it includes. Often, we get the questions, who do I train on hospitality, and who do I train first. These are excellent questions. Everyone needs training on Hospitality Standards. That means you do not stop at training the front lines.

In fact, you start by training leadership because, just as culture starts at the top, so, too, does hospitality. You need leadership buy-in on your Hospitality Standards for consistency in hiring and incentivizing. But that is the tip of the iceberg. To have truly impactful hospitality experiences, leadership must understand the value of those Wow Moments. And they must empower employees on the frontlines to deliver those exceptional, customized moments, seamlessly.

And while it is obvious that frontline providers are prime candidates for Hospitality Training, there is another layer just as essential to delivering exceptional guest experience. That layer is comprised of the heart-of-the-house employees. Often referred to as back-of-the-house, we prefer the term heart-of-the-house. Because these employees are the engine of guest experience. And, as a result, their participation in training on Hospitality Standards is critical. Further, their perspective on how to deliver on hospitality promises is invaluable.

Empowered Hospitality Teams Deliver Exceptional Experiences

Fueled by Hospitality Training that promotes customer-centricity and employee empowerment, hospitality teams become strong, resilient, and creative. Daily challenges are more manageable when team members grow to rely on, support, and sustain each other. When they center around their commitment to providing the best for their guests. And when they embrace the capabilities they have to live out those commitments individually and collectively.

Strong teams foster loyalty not only to your organization, but to each other. This makes employees more likely – and more confident – to help each other, and to solve problems creatively. This has a positive impact on guest experience, for sure. But it also has a profoundly positive impact on employee engagement.

Now, this is where we see strong internal teams are a direct counter to the hospitality’s employee turnover problem. Gallup research cited by MIT Sloan Management Review, shows employee friendships (a direct consequence of commitments to culture and team building) to be a “strong predictor of whether you are likely to stay in your job.” Training that builds strong teams, also builds real friendships.

In a study of 50,000 employees, cited by Inc Magazine, engaged employees were 87% less likely to leave their jobs. Larger sample sets may yield a lower percentage, but the message is clear statistically and anecdotally. Employees who are seen, heard, and valued, and who are empowered to contribute to the success of the team and the quality of the guest experience, are not looking to leave. They are looking to grow with you.

And, if you are training them correctly, with an eye on customer-centricity, employee-empowerment, and exceptional experiences, you are looking to grow with them.

What’s Next?

Uncover how to empower your teams for exceptional hospitality experiences. Schedule time with The Petrova Experience to discuss your specific needs and goals.

And to learn more about this topic, register for our upcoming webinar, How to Build Processes and Procedures to Support World-Class Hospitality Experiences.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Liliana Petrova
Liliana Petrova CCXP pioneered a new customer-centric culture that energized more than 15,000 JetBlue employees. Future Travel Experience & Popular Science awarded her for her JFK Lobby redesign & facial recognition program. Committed to creating seamless experiences for customers and greater value for brands, she founded The Petrova Experience, an international customer experience consulting firm that helps brands improve CX. To elevate the industry, she launched a membership program to help CX professionals grow their careers. Ms Petrova lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.


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