Hoteliers now have to sell themselves to win a job applicant such is the demand for staff, according to a London hotelier.
Georgian House hotel owner Serena von der Heyde said: "Recruitment has changed to a sales job. Now we hold interviews to try and win an applicant."
She was speaking at a panel discussion on hotel operators' view on the state of hospitality in the UK at the Annual Hotel Conference at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate hotel yesterday.
Hosted by Katharine Le Quesne from the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland, the panel also included managing director of Interstate Hotels & Resorts Nicholas Northam, and Principal Hotel Company chief operating officer David Taylor.
Panellists expressed positive feelings regarding the industry, both this year and next, but also concerns regarding staffing issues and the expansion of industry disruptors.
The panel agreed positive statistics around occupancy and revenue per available room (revpar) this year have reflected their own experiences. Interstate had seen good growth in occupancy, and Principal has seen revpar growth over the last two years of over 30%.
"We have had a great year. Our revpar has been up by nearly 20%, a lot due to ADR," said Von der Heyde. "[But] we can't afford to be complacent. London has been swamped with extra supply across all different levels," she said.
He emphasised that hotel operators need to realise that Airbnb is going to become more of a challenger in the business travel market.
Labour and product supply were the biggest Brexit-related concerns. "We are starting to hear stories that there's a real challenge encouraging people to come [to the UK]," said Northam. "[And] since the beginning of January we've seen a steady increase in food inflation."
Von der Heyde added: "We're going to have to change how we staff our business. We're already feeling the pinch. We're going to have to attract every part of society to our industry, not just school leavers. The key to that is to be flexible."
She said that hotels are going to have to be "future fit" if they are going to survive further cost increases, and innovate the guest offering. For example, Georgian House transformed several of its bedrooms into 'wizard chambers' to appeal to guests visiting the Warner Bros Studios. Not only did it make the hotel's basement bedrooms appealing, the rooms have a waiting list, and are selling without any need for online travel agencies.
Northam emphasised that hotels need to be paying attention to rentable communal workspaces like WeWork taking a slice of the meeting and events market.
"We as hotel operators are still talking about day rates, we've fallen behind the curve," agreed Taylor. "If you can rent an office space for an hour elsewhere, we've got to catch up with that."
Despite these concerns, all three panellists concluded the session expressing positive feelings about what 2018 holds for hospitality and their businesses.
Northam said Interstate is seeing an "enormous amount of interest" from developers, while Taylor said the market is looking "very positive". Von der Heyde added that there is a real appetite for the "different", and independent hotels can find opportunities in this to express their own characters.
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