Team Member Retention in a Seasonal Market

By Christopher Manley Chief Operating Officer, Stonebridge Companies | January 13, 2019

Occupancy and demands on team members in the hospitality industry tend to follow similar patterns, with certain seasons requiring enhanced focus. For some markets, occupancy soars with the start of summer. Others peak when the ski slopes open or are especially active during the holidays. Seasonality has a great effect on tourism in the hospitality industry, including an impact on associate retention rates for businesses, especially hourly team members. In today's economy, general managers are in a constant battle to remain fully staffed throughout the swings of a seasonal market.

It is important for a hotel operating in a seasonal environment to understand and predict its patterns in order to strategically plan for team member retention.

Identify & Combat Threats

If a property is near a location that is considered a destination during a certain season, there is an undeniable need for additional team members to support the tourism influx. And aside from the obvious factor impacting nearly every company's ability to successfully recruit talent – competitive wages – there are other numerous elements that can influence staffing levels. Identifying the threats specific to a property's market is paramount.

The most apparent challenge in seasonal markets is the fluctuation in occupancy. It is during the tourism booms that the workforce is stretched and the pool of available qualified team members dwindles. Hotels need additional support most during these times, yet team members are most vulnerable to the potential lure of other employers who also need additional talent. Hotels can face similar retention challenges during slower seasons as well, which equates to a varying demand for hourly team members. Such swings in staffing demands can hinder a company's retention efforts when additional support is required only in certain segments of the year.

Stonebridge Companies operates two hotels in the resort city of Glenwood Springs, Colo., a mountain destination during the summer months that is renowned for its hot springs. Though the town is small, the demand for hotels to accommodate the flood of tourists is strong, with more than 20 hotels in this small city comprised of fewer than 10,000 residents. Attracting and retaining talent in this market is especially critical, given the number of hotels competing for talent within a relatively small population.

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.