When an Inspector Calls....September 2018

With customer expectations forever growing and changing, and innovation the buzz word of the day, how do businesses keep up? Director of Quality in Tourism Deborah Heather considers how hoteliers can adapt and innovate to maintain a competitive edge.

Innovation begets changing guest expectations and changing guest expectations beget innovation… usually. As an industry, we are stuck in a largely wonderful, sometimes terrifying and often expensive, cycle of improvements which increase expectations, which in turn command more improvements. Businesses that succeed in adapting and innovating stay ahead, while those who do not are often left behind. So where do businesses apply their focus to enable a competitive edge in this dynamic forever shifting market?

In our experience, staff training and retention is key to this cycle, and those with a strong, proactive process excel in their field. The industry is currently typified by issues with staffing and quality recruitment, which is resulting in a trend towards a much more transient staffing basis. This problem is further exacerbated by the reputation of the industry and the external political situation, both of which make quality and consistency a challenge in most areas. Each year, Quality in Tourism is appointed to conduct hundreds of mystery shopping visits, designed to identify areas for improvement and any ‘quick wins’. As part of these visits, we engage with hoteliers to discuss their challenges within the context of the wider industry. In the last six months, 60% of our mystery shopping customer base reported a problem with recruitment and these collectively experience an average staff turnover annually of 50%. 10 years ago the same average was 33%, with rural properties achieving much higher levels of retention with an average turnover nearer 25%. 

While some staff turnover is natural and can be tolerated, without stability of staffing it can be difficult, if not possible to maintain innovative practices and consistently meet guest expectations. Basic training is frustrated by a dilution of skill sets within properties because of reliance on staff members with longer service training new staff members without proper guidance and instruction. We have also experienced situations where clients excel in training in one department but not another, and switch their focus following a mystery shop, only to lapse standards where they previously excelled.  It is essential therefore to ensure training is continuous, has senior level ownership and is constantly checked. It's not easy, but committing to a mystery shop and training program will not only improve the competitive edge of a property, boosting customer satisfaction by more than 10% and market position by one or two positions, but also an average 7% boost as a result of improved revenue.  In the case of Strand Palace Hotel and Ufford Park, making sure the properties can exploit capital investment by raising standards has been fundamental, but I would argue in these days of more competitive markets and tougher markets, anything that helps continuously improve your bottom line has got to be attractive.

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