Staff retention and skills shortages are the biggest obstacles facing today's hotel general managers, says a survey from American Express.
This is cited as the number-one problem by more than half (51%) of those polled by the credit card company.
The survey was conducted among members of UK trade bodies The Master Innholders and the British Hospitality Association.
The issue of staff retention and skills shortages is ranked as one of the top five difficulties by 96% of respondents.
More than four out of five (82%) feel the problem is worse than it was three years ago.
Second on their list of challenges is "increasing legislation". This is ranked in the top five by 72%, with 86% feeling it is more pressing than in previous years.
In third place is the business climate, with 72% expecting the cycle of negative economic conditions to continue as a key factor in 2004.
Fourth is the issue of "more demanding owners". Nearly half (45%) rank this as a top-five challenge.
Fifth is the impact of electronic distribution channels, such as Internet booking. Some 43% feel it will affect the industry this year and 86% think it is considerably more relevant than three years ago.
Only 2% of respondents rank hotel security as their number-one challenge.
Despite the problems faced by general managers, they are optimistic about the prospects for 2004.
A substantial 69% of respondents think the industry will get marginally stronger in the next three years. Only 4% think it will improve dramatically.
But nearly two-thirds (65%) expect the market to improve slightly in 2006 and 10% think it will get dramatically better.
Buy this week's Caterer magazine for more industry news and analysis