A complete absence of business due to Covid lockdowns forced many hotels, B&B’s, guesthouses, and lodges to let go of staff as they could not pay their salaries. Now, as we continue on through the coronavirus pandemic, a new set of staffing challenges is cropping up for many in the hospitality industry as occupancy levels are now very difficult to predict.

“Uncertainty about the virus has made it extremely tough to anticipate the expected occupancy levels for next week, next month or next year. Without that visibility and ability to plan, money can be lost.”

This is according to Neil Markovitz, CEO of NEWMARK Hotels, Reserves, Lodges & Residences who highlights an example: “A hotel creates its weekly staff schedule based on bookings and the incoming guests expected for the upcoming weekend. However, a COVID-19 spike causes widespread travel cancellations that decrease occupancy by a huge percentage.  This in turn significantly reduces the number of employees needed on duty over this time. If the hotel fails to adjust its schedule accordingly, or is unable to pivot in time, and ends up paying for the staffing costs for the occupancy volume it originally expected, its profitability suffers severely.”

Because of this, many businesses within hospitality are not re-hiring staff that were let go through hard lock-down, and are keeping their employee numbers to a minimum – operating with a smaller team in order to maintain as much profitability in the current reduced income circumstances.  Markovitz advises that with profit margins unprecedently tight, companies just don’t have the wiggle room to overspend on staff.

multi-skills teams - Nkomazi Private Game Reserve

Enter the age of adaptable, multi-skilled hospitality staff

“Covid’s impact meant that operators within the hospitality sector had to react agilely, battling the need to operate with significantly less staff whilst still delivering a premium level of service.  As a result, we saw employees became incredibly adaptable when it came to learning new skills,” says Kate Zaaiman, HR Director for NEWMARK.

“In order to remain profitable, hotels have had to cross utilize their staff – so employees often fulfil multiple positional responsibilities during a single shift.  Staff have had to learn how to efficiently perform a diverse range of tasks during a single shift, switching from front of house responsibilities to serving during peak dining hours to room-cleaning and preparations, all in one day.  In our experience, the Covid crisis and its impacts on hospitality has made employees much more open and receptive to learning new skills.  Before, if we had asked a front office executive to help with housekeeping, they would have turned their nose up, but this is not the case any longer.  It has become accepted that hospitality staff need to multi-skill themselves for increased employability.”

“Regardless of responsibilities, employees must now be trained for tasks rather than positions. A versatile, cross utilized team is what provides hotels with the adaptability needed to have the right labour costs without sacrificing service quality.”

According to Zaaiman, small, multi-skilled teams within the hospitality sector is a silver lining consequence of Covid-19 and a trend that she believes will continue to shape the industry going forward into post-Covid times.

“Now as we prepare for full re-opening, the need for multi-skilling is more prevalent than ever. Not only does having a cross-trained workforce offer significantly more flexibility and responsiveness to fluctuating demand, it also reduces labour costs at a time where, financially, our industry is still reeling from the effects of the last 18months.”

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Diageo SA - Julian Short, The Hand-Up Mentorship Programme mentor and trainer demonstrating how to pour four drinks at once for customer flare.Wikus Human