Day 2 Keynote: The Prescription for Recruitment, Retention and Recovery
Day two of HT-NEXT opened with Deborah Gilboa, MD talking with attendees about the persistent and painful stressors facing the hospitality industry. Gilboa began with some eye opening statistics: 4.3 million adults left their jobs in August, 4.4 million left in September and 1 million specifically chose to leave the hospitality industry. Of that 1 million who left hospitality, 52 percent left hospitality with no other job lined up to go to. Why? Most managers assume employees leave for more money, but in reality – material incentives only hold people to a job – on average – three months longer, according to Gilboa. Instead, she focused on two different reasons.
The first reason is burnout. In the hospitality industry, 40 percent of those who left their job in 2021 said it’s from burnout or chronic workplace stress.
The second reason falls under Pandemic Epiphanies.
“We have been through an upheaval unlike anything since World War II and as a consequence of this, adults have seen a complete reshuffling of their priorities, roles, obligations and more,” Gilboa explained. “People are now weighing their jobs, their careers differently and work no longer comes first.”
Employee Retention Requires True Connection
So how can employers keep staff? Gilboa noted that the reason why people stay at their job – even if the job isn’t the best fit, doesn’t pay the most money, etc. – is because of the people they work with and the people they work for. So, if employers want to retain staff they need to create excellent relationships between managers and staff.
To help attendees do this, Gilboa provided three important strategies for managers to follow.
First, ask “How are you?” and then take the time to really listen to their response. If you don’t have time to listen, be honest and upfront while letting the staff members know you care. Gilboa recommended saying something along the lines of: “I really want to know how you’re doing but I don’t have the time right now to really listen to you. When can we connect later?”
Second, managers need to learn how to properly respond when a team member expresses their honest opinion. The best way to respond is to express gratitude, use empathy and find a way to tie your response to the company’s mission.
While every company is different, the hospitality industry serves to help people relax and connect. This is a very important mission.
“There has never been a time in history when this is more important,” Gilboa noted. “Everything you employ people to do serves the mental health of our society. Have you mentioned this to your employees and helped them to make that connection as their mission/purpose for their job? Remember, doing good is a top driver of retention.”
To tie it all together, Gilboa recommended a response along the lines of: ‘Thank you for telling me how you’re feeling. You’re struggling and I can see that. Remember, our mission as a company is X, so let’s brainstorm ways we can accomplish our mission while solving this problem.’
But remember, she admonished attendees, managers don’t want to turn themselves into problem solvers – they want to create problem solvers. So encourage employees to find solutions to their own problems instead of relying on you to find it for them.
But even employees who have great relationships with their managers will need help adapting to changing situations.
“All change is stressful,” Gilboa explained. “Even change you’ve been working and hoping for creates stress.”
Just like seatbelts, our brains lock up when they feel we’re about to go through a change. And it’s not just one lock, it’s three locks: loss, distrust and discomfort.
“Managers need to expect that any time you announce a change at work, employees are going to express discomfort,” Gilboa said. “This is completely normal. It’s a reflex. Don’t feel betrayed.”
The good news is that after staff members experience those first three locks, they go through another three stages: choice, engagement and reunification.
“Remind employees that they have choices. When people feel like they have a choice, the discomfort quiets down and it becomes easier to become resilient (navigating a change and coming through it pointed towards your mission),” Gilboa added.
Managers can also help move staff through a change and to resilience using four key strategies. First, offer empathy. If you can authentically tell someone they value and that you care about them, you literally change the chemical response happening within their brain which allows them to hear you totally differently. Second, be transparent with where your information is coming from and explain why the change is happening. Third, give staff time to process the change and navigate a decision. This is key because it will ultimately encourage staff members to make better decisions and get used to the change that’s going to happen. And fourth, give team members some avenue to make choices. Any type of choice – big or small – moves people toward resilience.
“The goal is to create resilient employees because those employees can handle change, are confident, engaged and positive,” Gilboa reiterated. “But it takes work. Employees don’t retain themselves, so give them a reason to stay.”
IT Leadership Panel: Tech Initiatives That Drive Revenue
Dr. Gilboa was immediately followed by the IT Leadership Panel, a perpetual favorite of HT-NEXT attendees. This year’s panel featured Dan Kornick, CIO, Loews Hotels, Brent Haines, VP of IT Product Development and Services, G6 Hospitality and Ramki Srinivasan, CDO and SVP Digital, IT and Contact Centers, Great Wolf Resorts, and was moderated by Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Editor-in-Chief of Hospitality Technology magazine.
Firpo-Cappiello kicked off the discussion by asking panelists to discuss how their companies have been handling the labor crisis.
“At one point, we were trying to hire for 1700 positions,” Kornick noted. “We’re down to about 700 now, but we’re still looking for staff. As we’ve begun hiring staff, we’ve created a learning management system that new employees can use to learn about the company and culture while at home. Plus, we’re frequently doing market wage surveys to ensure we’re compensating our employees fairly, and we’ve instituted small weekly surveys so that we can quickly become aware of issues and address them as soon as possible.”
Srinivasan agreed noting that at one point Great Wolf Resorts was short 2000 employees. To help engage with and hire staff, the brand allows prospective staff members to apply for jobs via text messaging.
“Our workforce is made up of younger kids for the most part,” he explained. “We need to be where they’re at. They don’t have time to fill out an application on a computer so we made it easy for them. Plus, all of our training is digital and online for this same reason.”
For G6 Hospitality, a heavy franchise centric organization, the company is focused on making the jobs of their owner operators easier.
“We deployed a new PMS about five years ago,” Haines explained. “The feedback we got was that mobile apps have been a huge help, so we rolled out a managers app that allows the managers to see key operational metrics on a mobile device. We also have a housekeeping and maintenance app that helps housekeepers walk around a hotel property and see what’s happening which allows them to save time.”
CLOUD COMPUTING & COMMUNICATION
Firpo-Cappiello then turned the conversation to the cloud and the importance of integration among a variety of systems.
Kornick revealed that Loews Hotels moved all of its on-property systems to the cloud approximately two years ago and shut down its data centers.
“We used to not update our systems for years,” he said. “Now we do it monthly and sometimes even weekly. That has been really important to us because it allows us to focus on driving the guest experience and revenue.”
In the future, Loews is focused on how it can harvest guest data from siloed systems and then bring that data together in meaningful ways.
G6 Hospitality also moved most of its systems to the cloud including its PMS, CRS and RMS, Haines noted. This means that owners can see data more quickly and make faster decisions because all of the data they need is accessible from a mobile app.
The next topic Firpo-Cappiello brought up was staff communication and how panelists were using technology to improve communications between staff members and between guests and staff.
“We recently put texting in place internally so that our employees could chat with HR including when they’re being onboarded. We don’t want people to drop out or ghost us,” Kornick explained. “We’re also using call centers to take the burden off of our front desk staff which means educating them about individual property issues and the answers to common on property questions. And for guests, we recently implemented a chat service where guests can message us anywhere at any time and receive a response from a human via our guest portal.”
Srinivasan echoed these sentiments noting that Great Wolf Resorts made contactless communication a priority and enlisted its mobile app and other on property technologies to provide guests with as many answers as possible before requiring that the guest interact with a staff member.
HOTEL TECH UPGRADES
The conversation then turned to hotel technology upgrades planned for the near future.
“We try to keep things simple knowing that our guests won’t pay for what they don’t need. For example, do guests of Motel 6 need mobile keys? We’ve looked into it, but have decided this is a technology that still is further away in implementation than some others we’ve been looking into,” Haines explained.
Loews, however, is planning to launch mobile key technology next year, Kornick noted.
“Our point of view is that we want to give customers the choice to do digital check-in with a mobile key or go to the front desk and talk with a staff member,” he explained. “Of course, with any new technology implementation you often ask: Will it raise my daily rate or occupancy? Will my owners invest in it? We’re not sure mobile key technology with add to the daily rate but it could improve brand loyalty and engagement – so we’re willing to implement it for those reasons.”
Great Wolf Resorts is “leaning heavily into automation in the check-in phase,” Srinivasan said. And the company has seen great results with a 45 percent uptake on automated processes. One reason for this could be the Great Wolf Resorts model that requires guests check-in between 1 and 4 PM.
“We need to find a way to disperse crowds and prevent lines,” he noted. “If technology will help families get into their room quickly, we believe the majority of our guests will use it.”
In the last few months, Great Wolf Resorts has begun using kiosks to allow guests to check-in and gain access to its required on-property wristbands. Previously, guests could check-in at the kiosk but had to see a staff member to get a wristband. This didn’t help to alleviate queuing and wait times but the new functionality of the kiosks does. These kisoks also enable us to upsell to guests and the company has seen a significant uptick in upsells since implementing these kiosks, Srinivasan added.
THE RMS AND IMPORTANCE OF DATA
Firpo-Cappiello then asked the panelists about their plans when it comes to their revenue management systems citing a recent Lodging Technology Study statistic that said 40 percent of hoteliers plan to upgrade or switch their RMS in 2022.
G6 Hospitality put in a new RMS approximately five years ago and it currently has no plans to upgrade or switch it out, Haines explained. However, it did recently notice that over the last few years only 40 percent of owner operators were using the system to it’s full potential. When asked why they weren’t using it, owner operators told G6 that the user experience wasn’t very friendly.
“So, we engaged the company that built our RMS to redo the user interface,” Haines noted. “We went from a worksheet view to a calendar view and created some templates and simplified the workflow to be more of a guided process which allowed our owner operators to leverage some more of the complex capabilities of the system. Within 45 days of the new user interface rolling out, our adoption rate of the RMS went up to 80 percent. We consider that a real success story.”
The discussion about revenue management systems turned into a bigger discussion about the role of data in hotel operations and how the panelists’ companies were using data in bigger and better ways.
Kornick noted that Loews Hotels incorporated HOWARD BI from Microsoft into its tech stacks so that general managers can see which groups are in house, how the hiring process of for various positions is happening, how group business is doing, and more.
“What’s great is that all of this information is on a single page and allows the managers to drill down into whatever content they want in more detail,” he added. “It’s done in a very visual way and anyone can look at the exact same data on a laptop, tablet or phone in order to make important decisions daily. That data transparency has been key.”
Srinivasan discussed that it’s a lot of work and investment to create data warehouses, but that investment builds over time and enables the business to democratize data so employees can all look at the same thing without having to constantly look at various spreadsheets.
Haines added that G6 Hospitality did a proof of concept earlier in the year where it pulled in data from its CRS, PMS and other systems to see if it was capturing data in the right places.
“We have started piloting a data lake and we’re going to start ‘hydrating’ the lake next year as we focus on redoing our mobile app and using this information for more personalization for our frequent customers,” he noted.
The New Hybrid Workforce: Humans + Machines
Right before our Day 2 networking lunch, Kerry Goyette, Founder & President, Aperio Consulting Group, took to the main stage to discuss the relationship between artificial intelligence and human resources for the acquisition and management of staff.
According to Goyette, employers need to take the time to understand their employees – what drives them to succeed and what characteristics make them the perfect fit for that particular role within a company.
“So we went into the lab and wondered how we could leverage technology to connect people to business outcomes while keeping in mind that humans occur on a spectrum and can’t be reduced to ones and zeros,” she explained. “We had to find a way to use data to give us insight while also honoring our complexity as human beings.”
To that end, Goyette found that there are three key steps to ensuring that technology improves the employee and guest experiences. First, organizations need to not only collect data but then turn that data into valuable insights. For example, one international trade association was collecting data to capture the employee experience, customer feedback and financial datasets – but all this data was siloed. When Goyette’s lab used its AI platform to piece the data together, it found a way to develop a connection between the customer experience, the employee experience and the associations financial outcomes. Second, organizations need to segment their data because it allows companies to better listen to what the data has to say. While working with a different company, Goyette’s team found that the customer service team was having a hard time finding new hires. The hiring manager was looking for specific skills and relying on talent assessments.
“We took a much broader approach and used our artificial intelligence to discover certain archetypes among the customer service reps,” Goyette explained. “We could tell based on the archetypes why and where some customer service representatives had strong or weak skill sets and this became critical to completely restructuring the department.”
Third, organizations need to work on personalization or ensuring the right role is filled by the right employee. In a third company, Goyette’s team was working with a sales team that had a very high rate of leakage – to the tune of $29 million. New business was overly prized and rewarded at the cost of retention, causing current customers to constantly drop the company’s products/services.
“We used talent assessments and fed them through our AI and found that the revenue each salesperson brought in was directly tied to their perseverance score,” she explained. Those with a high perseverance score were great at getting new business but weren’t great at maintaining current clients. Meanwhile, those who were being scored poorly by the company for not bringing in a lot of new business happened to be great at client retention.”
What was the lesson: team members have different strengths and the best way to ensure the company is profitable is to divide up the team according to strengths. Some salespersons became lead gen oriented while others worked on client retention. And those team members that were originally scoring poorly are now considered to be top performers in their organization because the employment role has been personalized to cater to that employee’s strengths.
“We have to get better at understanding our people,” Goyette implored the audience. “If we can better understand our staff we wouldn’t have to fire so many or we can find new ways to recruit the right type of employees.”
With the hospitality industry having such a hard time recruiting during this labor shortage, Goyette recommended looking for employees who have never worked a day of their life in hospitality. She gave the experience of a company that employed insurance underwriters but was having a hard time finding staff for this field of work.
“First we looked at who were the top performers and what characteristics they had. Then we used those characteristics to start recruiting students right out of school that had those same characteristics. Company leaders were very skeptical but it worked! The company had a very high success rate with hiring and keeping new staff members in this field of work,” Goyette added. “Why? Because we set the staff up for success by putting them in a job that matched how they liked to work and think.”
Remember, humans are not apps. Employees are searching for meaning and purpose at work and when they find that purpose they become much more resilient. When companies find out how they can provide purpose to their employees, it sets up the organization for success and creates a path to leadership and regenerative workforces where staff can thrive.
“This is what excites me the most, creating a new era with aggressive sourcing programs,” Goyette said. “My challenge is to consider and make sure the human is always at the forefront of those decisions. To that end I need your help – the technologists in the room – to create a strong relationship with HR. Don’t let HR make siloed decisions. Instead, find out what they need and want and help them implement the technology they need. Let’s challenge how humans interact with technology, grow our organizations and create leaders.”
Following the afternoon lunch break, attendees filtered into one of two breakout sessions. In the general session room, Brennan Gildersleeve, VP, Property Technology for Sage Hospitality Group spoke with Michal Christine Escobar, Senior Editor – Hotels, Hospitality Technology magazine about his experience in creating a variety of unique guestroom experiences during his time at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Equinox Hotels, and now Sage Hospitality Group.
Gildersleeve began by discussing how he got involved in hospitality technology. His career started as an F&B manager at the St. Regis Aspen Hotel and eventually he landed a position at the Starwood Corporate office in New York just as hotels were beginning to install high speed internet networks. After 15 years at Starwood working on guest facing technology installations, he left to join Equinox, a luxury fitness club company based in New York City, and helped to launch its hotel business.
“This was great because my focus broadened from guest-facing technology to all hotel technology which was a major learning experience for me,” he explained.
Gildersleeve then discussed some of the highlights of implementing guest technologies during his career.
“In the early days, guest technology was about getting Internet access into guest rooms. It started with DSL, the CAT5, and then of course Wi-Fi,” he said. “The network is still probably the most important piece of guest facing technology that hoteliers need to get correct in the guest room. And HTNG has had a lot of influence on helping the industry get it right!”
Of course, guest entertainment is another important area for guest facing technology in the guest room. Gildersleeve discussed the big push around adding flat screen TVs with HD channel lineups which has now turned into smart TVS with OTT capabilities and mobile apps.
“The vendor community has done a really nice job in building reliable guest entertainment systems, and big hospitality brands such as Marriott have also helped push the industry forward in a very positive way,” he noted.
And while it may not be “sexy” to talk about, Gildersleeve noted that one of the best things hoteliers have figured out how to do in the guestroom is provide guests access to outlets and USB charging ports that aren’t hidden behind beds, under desks or behind the dressers.
Gildersleeve also discussed his experience at Starwood with creating the first mobile key solution within the hospitality industry.
“We rolled out mobile key to every W Hotel, Aloft and Element property around the world at the time,” he said.
Later, when Gildersleeve was working with Equinox, he worked on adding a variety of technologies to the guest room from AppleTV to iPads that handled room controls and doubled as a phone, and enabled guest orders for room service, housekeeping and more.
Of course, not every single one of Gildersleeve’s tech implementations were a success. For example, at one point Gildersleeve was working to outfit conference rooms in his hotels with very expensive, high quality video conferencing equipment to help business travelers feel like they were in the room during a meeting even if they were traveling across the country.
“At the same time we were implementing this tech, basic video conferencing technologies such as Zoom were taking off and business travelers just got comfortable hopping on a video call from anywhere using their built in laptop cameras,” he explained. “We saw the handwriting on the wall and ignored it. And that ended up costing us a lot of money and being a real flop.”
According to Gildersleeve, he learned how important it is to understand consumer technology and figure out what technology the hotel needs to provide versus what technology will guests bring with them and be more comfortable using on their own.
Escobar then asked Gildersleeve to provide a few predictions for where guestroom technology will head in the next 12 months and five years.
“I think seamless check-in/arrival and ultimately mobile key adoption will be a continuing focus over the next 12 months and beyond,” Gildersleeve noted. “Hyatt’s recent announcement that it’s going to be partnering with Apple incorporate mobile key into the wallet is a great step forward. And, of course, Hilton has worked really hard at making mobile key more seamless. It will be interesting to see if it ever truly takes off.”
Gildersleeve then predicted that in five years guests will have much more control of the guestroom either from voice-based technologies or from mobile solutions and the guestroom will likely be much more tailored to that guest’s particular preferences based on deep CRM integration. For example, the guest’s favorite music playing or the TV turned on to a particular channel, the temperature set to the guest’s preference, etc.
Attendees of the day’s third breakout were met with an amazing group of panelists brought together to discuss how technology could be used to help stop human trafficking from happening within hotels. Chip Rogers, CEO, AHLA kicked off the session discussing how important this initiative was to AHLA.
“When we started this campaign a few years ago, we knew we would never be able to declare victory over human trafficking – it will always happen,” Rogers explained. “But we are doing our best to ensure that every hotel employee is not only aware of the signs and but also knows how to properly act on those signs.”
As of July 30th, more than 500,000 hotel employees have been trained via the AHLA and ECPAT-USA partnership. Rogers then turned the session over to Larry Birnbaum, Principal Consultant, Xenios Group, who moderated the discussion with panelists Robyn Conlon, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lori Cohen, Chief Executive Officer, ECPAT-USA and Rosemarie Vesci, FBI Supervisory Special Agent, U.S. Government.
Birnbaum began by asking Conlon how her organization is involved with this initiative. According to Conlon, PwC helps companies face and navigate the social responsibilities necessary when something happens that threatens the safety of employees or customers.
“When it comes to trafficking, hotels used to say: ‘I’m not law enforcement or a non-profit. I don’t need to get involved in this issue.’ But we need to change that attitude among hoteliers and create a new standard for how the industry as a whole responds to trafficking,” she noted.
Cohen agreed noting that ECPAT-USA was initially begun to help create laws around sex tourism that would penalize Americans for traveling overseas to have sex with children. In 2000, ECPAT-USA was instrumental in getting these laws on the books, but the organization knew its work wasn’t over especially since children in the United States were facing this exact same issue. So, the organization is now focused on protecting children in the United States.
Vesci then educated attendees on how traffickers use technology to advertise to and recruit clients.
“We used to see blatant ads posted to Craigslist or Backpage, a website used only for purchasing sex. When the FBI took Backpage down, several others popped up to replace it. We even find ads popping up on social media or traffickers using fake profiles on social media to market these trafficked individuals,” Vesci explained.
Birnbaum then asked the panelists what they thought hotel technologists could do to prevent trafficking from happening on their properties.
Conlon began by discussing the need for hoteliers to develop a risk assessment for each of their properties. Hoteliers can use external data sources such as social media layered with internal data sets such as the CRS, training, observations, guest Medallia systems, etc. to paint a profile of each hotel property and discover which properties are likely to be at higher risk for human trafficking.
“For example, do you have hotel properties that are close to an airport, have easy access to a highway, have high turnover in property managers, have a large amount of staff that haven’t been trained on the signs of trafficking, etc.,” she explained.
Vesci added that the need for records is critical for the FBI to bring these cases to trial and get traffickers incarcerated.
“Often hotel records are instrumental to piecing together a story or corroborating a trafficked person’s account, but unfortunately the records hoteliers keep aren’t always detailed enough or aren’t accurate. Traffickers might make the reservation under one name but check-in under another. Or they use one of trafficked persons to reserve the hotel room. The FBI needs phone numbers, copies of driver’s licenses, and more to ensure we can prosecute the right person,” Vesci explained.
She also begged attendees to improve video camera footage in hotel lobbies, hallways, elevators and more.
“I can’t tell you how often hoteliers are using low quality cameras which prevents us from being able to identify perpetrators or their victims,” she noted.
Cohen also asked technologists to look into transactional details as a way to signal red flags to hotel staff. For instance, is someone reserving multiple rooms next to each other and also requesting that they be on the ground floor or next to a stairwell? Are they paying cash for the rooms? Do they refuse housekeeping but are constantly requesting new linens and towels? Are they asking for a lot of additional key cards? All of these details, especially when combined together, could indicate something nefarious is happening in those rooms. If technologists are able to create a system that could keep tabs on these types of details and then report it to hotel staff or management, this could be extremely helpful.
As this discussion came to an end, Vesci left attendees with a final thought.
“The FBI isn’t the answer to this problem,” Vesci noted. “It’s time for us all to partner together and ask how can we do better?”
Day 2 ended with our ever-popular awards ceremony! To begin with, 10 semifinalists from HTNG’s TechOvation Awards program were given four minutes to present their solution to a set of on-site judges and the audience at large. Those semifinalists were:
1. LG Electronics presents LG CLOi UV-C Bot, Chris Barton
2. Beekeeper presents Beekeeper Work, Tasia Johnson
3. Virdee presents Virdee Virtual Reception, Branigan Mulcahy
4. Nonius presents Nonius Hub, Dominic Locascio
5. Agilysys presents Agilysys PanOptic Kiosk, Dr. Prabuddha Biswas, CTO
6. Oracle Hospitality presents Oracle Hospitality Integration Platform, Laura Calin
7. UniFocus presents ShiftGenius, Chris Durso
8. Hapi/DataTravel presents Hapi Guest, Brian Erdman
9. Enseo presents VERA, Jeff Smith
10. Belden presents OptiTuff Mini Fiber Cables, John Wojnicki
After their presentation, the judges narrowed down the semifinalists to three finalists: UniFocus, Hapi/DataTravel and Oracle Hospitality. Attendees were then given the opportunity to vote on and choose the winning solution. In the end, UniFocus took home the coveted TechOvation award!
Hospitality Technology also used this time to announce the winners of our 2021 Hotel Visionary Awards.
This year, Choice Hotels International won in the Enterprise Innovation category for its creation and implementation of a new revenue management system called ChoiceMAX to help franchisees optimize their pricing structure and increase revenue production. Accepting the award on behalf of Choice Hotels was Douglas Lisi, Vice President of Revenue Management.
Loews Hotels & Co. won in the Customer-Facing Innovation category for its creation of a new guest portal that dramatically improved the guest experience, offered a variety of contactless option, and improved F&B revenue for the brand significantly. Accepting the award on behalf of Loews Hotels & Co. was Barry Phillips, Sr. Dir IT Strategic Systems.
Both Lisi and Phillips returned to the stage on Day 3 to explain their winning solutions in detail. To learn more about each solution, check out our press release announcing the winners and stay tuned for a in-depth article HT will be writing on both companies and their winning solutions.