Are Rising Labor Costs Draining Your Hotel's Profits?

By Gary Isenberg President, LWHA Asset & Property Management Services | July 08, 2018

A significant share of a hotel's profits gets spent on labor, making it the most expensive line item in a property's budget. In fact, CBRE 2017 Trends report estimated payroll and related costs gobble up nearly 43% of a hotel's revenues. To put that in perspective, operating expenses account for 35% of a budget, sales a mere 7.2%.

Of course, there's a good reason why labor tops all other operating costs: Hoteliers need staff to clean rooms, check in guests, prepare and serve meals. Yet labor, I believe, presents the most controllable expense account in a hotel's budget. Hotel operators have the ability to control labor dollars, even if they don't always realize it. First, though, hoteliers must recognize all the interrelated components that influence labor costs. Some of those factors reside outside a hoteliers control, like mandated municipal minimum wage hikes and always-rising health insurance costs. Other pieces fall well within a hotel's purview -- how staff is scheduled and the impact that schedule has on labor expenses.

Operators know costs are spiraling. So the challenge becomes, what can operators do to mitigate those increases and reduce payroll expenses? Even though wages constitute the largest expense category, hotels can manage those costs when operators analyze the delicate relationship between staffing and scheduling practices and payroll.

Living Wage Laws & Healthcare

First, let's examine some external factors, specifically, efforts to raise the minimum wage and the impact of the Affordable Care Act. On the national front, the National Employment Law Project currently backs an initiative to increase the minimum wage, which has spurred a counter-lobbying program by the hotel industry.

Particularly worrisome to the American Hotel and Lodging Association is the singling out of the hotel industry for mandated minimum wage hikes. The organization notes the industry has boosted wage and salary for its workers by $18.5 billion since 2005. Further, the lodging industry collectively paid its employees a total of $74 billion in 2015. Those statistics only underscore the steady rise of wages in the hotel industry.

On a state level, several cities in California have passed living wage laws, including Santa Monica, which as of July 1, 2017 mandated hotel wages be set at $15.66 per hour, far in excess of the federal minimum wage standard of $7.25 an hour. Los Angeles's minimum wage for workers who staff hotels with more than 150 rooms now stands at $15.37 an hour. Long Beach's minimum hourly wage is set a bit lower at $14.35.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.