Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. "On Experience" dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
One of the questions that may play the greatest role in shaping the future of hospitality is one that is also the least discussed.
How does the industry, from a restaurant to a top-tier hotel, attract both the best talent, and challenge itself to not mine the usual venues to find it? We know the usual paths into a career, and the established hospitality schools like Lausanne and Cornell. We also know some of the smart, emerging grassroots projects like Saira that introduce people to a career they might not have known existed.
But here’s a bold proposition: the industry must look for people outside of the typical purview, for those who may not have ever worked behind a bar or a front desk before.
Why? A shortage of qualified labor, for one. But also importantly, the industry is obsessed with experiences, and for all the lip service that is paid to it, these experiences are created by individuals. And individuals with a variety of backgrounds, life experiences, and contexts are more likely to provide something of value and depth.
One of the biggest opportunities to find incredible talent is in the career pivot: figuring out pathways to pull in mid-career professionals that want a change of pace. People who have put in the hard yards and distinguished themselves in other professions, but want something that creates a tangible effect on humans and puts a smile on a face immediately. By properly learning how to tap into this energy, a new lifeblood can be created for the industry.
An example of the mid-career hospitality pivot can be seen with the CEO of hospitality for Singita, Tom Fels. He previously worked at digital communications agency Publicis Machine and had a career with experience working in systems and high growth companies that provided him a skill set that would be hard to find elsewhere.
Fels (show at right) suggested to me that outside perspectives can bring competitive advantage to an industry that is increasingly seeing competition on all sides. “Without the infusion of new energy no industry can sustain itself competitively,” said Fels. “Already the hospitality industry has been disrupted by the likes of Airbnb, and rather than sit still, is standing up to bravely champion the next cycle of innovation. This requires a different mindset and, in this respect, the value that diverse skill sets, cultures and out-of-category thinking delivers will generate the change that is needed if current players are to continue to thrive and grow.”
In addition to the innovation and mindsets that mid-career switchers bring, in a tight U.S. labor market, this idea becomes even more appealing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current level of open jobs in the sector equates to 5.3 percent of the total personnel currently employed. A recent Hotel Business article suggested that the labor shortage is about to get much bigger, citing a bureau statistic that “projects that the growth in labor supply in the U.S. in 2020 will be the lowest in recorded history.”
Gary Thulander, the recently appointed managing director of the Chatham Bars Inn in Cape Cod, sees this trend, stating “currently there is a shortage of strong, skilled workers. Any time you can encourage a person to join your resort is a win for the industry. It helps us to grow our base and bring new fresh perspectives.”
There’s both a new energy being created from the new employee, and enthusiasm that is felt by the guest or customer but also other co-workers. Thulander added, “…You get positive attitude, energy, and a fresh perspective…this added engagement and excitement on their part is felt not only by the customer but by their new colleagues.”
These types of employees exist everywhere, but the industry would be better if there were more of them. As I stayed in Hoshinoya resorts in Fuji and in Tokyo last year, in my conversations, I noticed a lot of the staff had transitioned from serious careers in banking or consulting, switching instead into hospitality because of the human touch and how tangible their efforts were in creating a positive experience. It moves beyond the abstraction of spreadsheets and theory, and into something as simple as creating a feeling for guests, and anticipating their needs.
Yoshiharu Hoshino, CEO of Hoshino Resorts (owners of the properties mentioned above), agrees. He said he “has no boundaries when hiring people who will work at our company, even though they have no hospitality experience.” Hoshino cites the importance of a open minded recruitment condition in order to come up with the most unique ideas for the company.
“Uniquely, many of the decisions we made in the past are based on the people who had experience from other industries,” said Hoshino. “Going beyond the conservative ways and inventing something new will give this company a competitive advantage. This is why I would like to keep an open mind when hiring people from other backgrounds.”
Fels agreed, suggesting, that “in an age of increasingly impersonal work and detached consumption, what every traveller wants is…to feel the essence of a country and its people. In order to create their own story, they need to be able to shape their impressions of different personalities, places and moments. Diversity in frontline staff is fundamental to delivering on this promise because these moments become unquestionably real, memorable and meaningful.”
Now does this mean the Ritz Carlton is going to be hiring just any person off the street? Of course not. But there is a hospitality gene and mindset that employers can be better at selecting for, and also knowing where to look for adjacent skill sets from resumes in other fields. When executed properly, the entire industry, and undoubtedly smart individual properties will benefit as a result.