By Phil Bruno

Let’s look back on a very busy summer and forward to opportunity to improve.

On the surface, the return of business travel and tourism after the pandemic is cause for celebration. Underneath, we see tourism and hospitality management struggling to evolve. Yes, business is up, and demand is expected to stay strong through 2023. But most staff employed in 2019 are gone and staffing levels at hotels and attractions are a significant issue. At the same time, travelers in every category are demanding more – group, business, convention, leisure, and people visiting friends and relatives.

We will tackle these challenges by stepping up and changing the culture of the tourism and hospitality industry. To stay competitive, organizations must:

  • Provide exceptional visitor and guest experiences; and
  • Improve the employee experience.

Start by catching up to staffing levels where we were four years ago. To do so, hospitality management must treat employees right.

What Guests Want From the Hospitality Industry

Getting ahead of the curve in the hospitality industry takes a relentless drive to improve guest experiences. Improvement starts with setting new goals and creating plans to reach them. Guests expect to have their needs met by staff with excellent interpersonal skills. Deloitte researchers asked hotel guests what they want most. These five factors influence guest satisfaction most:

  1. The hotel knows them. Many brands understand, remember, and predict customers’ preferences. Guests expect the same from hotels.
  2. The staff engages with them. The hospital industry excels in this area, offering personalized service from friendly staff. Friendliness is the number one reason guests give a hotel a positive review.
  3. The hotel hears them. When guests have a problem, they want to be heard and receive empathy. Then they want follow-through.
  4. They feel empowered. Guests want to be able to customize their experience on their own. This is especially true for next-generation guests who enjoy adding day trips and services to their itineraries.
  5. Guests want to be delighted. Surprise them and exceed their expectations. This need skews young, as well. Guests under age 35 valued being delighted twice as much as those aged 60-70.

Guests told researchers hotels are not meeting their needs in any of the five areas. The need to be delighted scored 56% in Deloitte’s satisfaction survey. Other needs scored between 62% and 67%.

Meeting the needs of guests begins at booking and continues through checkout. I encourage you to map your typical customer journey. Look for touchpoints you can personalize and strengthen. The more time and effort you invest in improving the guest experience, the more traffic you will see in the months and years ahead.

The Importance of the Visitor Experience at Tourist Destinations

Every museum, gallery, and cultural site wants visitors to post a five-star Google review. It takes more than warm bodies and digital marketing to create those brand ambassadors. Today’s tourists research online and behave differently once they reach a destination. Leaders are revising their visitor experience (VX) strategies to keep up.

What can your destination do differently to exceed visitors’ expectations? If you do not have a written VX plan, now is the time to get on it. Every destination needs a written plan with goals, timelines, and collaborators covering all aspects of their VX including safety, technology, and education. In addition to creating a more positive visitor experience, the benefits of a robust VX strategy include:

  • Fulfilling your brand promise;
  • Establishing the organization as a trusted source of knowledge in its field;
  • More opportunities for community engagement;
  • A greater sense of security for visitors and staff;
  • Improvements in internal collaboration in support of common goals;
  • Promotion of sustainable tourism practices;
  • Removing barriers between visitors and residents of the community;
  • More impact on visitors and the destination community; and
  • Having data in one place to use for grant applications.

Message to Hospitality/Tourism Management: Treat ‘Em Right

The tourism and hospitality industries have yet to recover from losing 75% of their workforce during the pandemic. Our industries suffered, but now we are seeing, in some cases, record traffic. Yet we still struggle with workforce challenges.

The extensive layoffs during the pandemic mean most folks who were around in 2019 are not employed in hospitality and tourism anymore. There are fresh faces with new roles as we as an industry have rebuilt and adjusted strategies and tactics to adapt to our new role.

As we rebuild, and face the future and new challenges, let us keep the best of who we were and roll that into the best of what we need to be today. I offer four solutions for getting the hospitality and tourism industries closer to full employment:

  1. Put aside expectations for inexperienced staff to have basic communication and hospitality skills. Coach them or have Treat Me Right come in and train everyone together.
  2. Train all client-facing employees in upselling and cross-selling. This includes front-desk staff, food and drink staff, and activity sales staff. Doing so engages customers and increases revenue.
  3. Treat employees better.
  4. Win back former employees.

Let us dig deeper into the last two solutions. I surveyed people who left during the pandemic. They decided not to come back because of unfair pay for long hours at irregular hours; constantly being treated badly; too much stress; and no time for a personal life.

The industry veterans I talked with said they will come back if things change. They want:

  • Fair pay for their work. They said fair means recognition for their years of experience, overtime, vacation time, and bonus pay.
  • To be treated like human beings, not machines. This includes recognition, opportunities for career advancement, and less micromanagement.
  • Time to de-stress. They need regular lunch breaks and time off to lower their stress levels.
  • Consistent and flexible schedules. Employees want schedules that allow them to enjoy life outside of work. And they want childcare.

Tourism and hospitality management must change to turn around the staffing dilemma. Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson said, “Train employees well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough they don’t want to.” We know how to treat guests and visitors. It is time to treat our employees the same way.

The Treat ‘Em Right team helps organizations across the country enhance their customer and employee experiences. We will guide you in adjusting your processes, coaching your team, and adding touches to help you exceed expectations. Contact us online or at 314-221-6037 to start a conversation about how we can help.