How resorts are grappling with post-pandemic workforce challenges

Leisure businesses in southern Europe must adapt their standard operating procedures and communication methods quickly to the new multi-culturalism of their workforces.

While the pandemic generally led to many owners and operators having to recruit entirely new teams, it is a relatively recent experience for resort owners and operators in southern Europe to be employing young people from every corner of the world.

In 2022, the Indian community in Portugal increased by 13% making it the fourth largest immigrant population in the country. Greece is one of the main entry points into Europe for people escaping conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Various challenges arise from the cultural gap between long-term loyal employees and these new recruits, said Konstantinos Santikos, managing director, Santikos Collection.

Generation Z - people under the age of 26 - often want shorter and flexible hours and they want to work from home if they are in marketing or finance positions. But then, many of their colleagues have jobs that must be done on site, so there is a question of fairness to tackle.

Expectation management

Ambitious young starters can have expectations of being in management positions by the age of 25, while the company employs locals who have been working many years to get into the same managerial positions.

Sankitos said: “In the hotel business, we're lucky enough to see different kinds of guests. We can’t approach every guest the same, and the same has to happen with our employees. We have to listen to them. Not everybody wants free food and accommodation. Some might want their own accommodation and to cook their own food. They might want a gym subscription; or have somebody guide them through mental health issues that, if not treated, will cause more issues for you and the rest of the team.”

Paulo Mesquita, COO, Dom Pedro Lisboa, said that internal communication in his company is in Portuguese, but now 20% of his team don’t understand Portuguese. “Maybe we’ll have to change to English. Some of our team just speak English and some not even English. Sometimes we must draw instructions for our housekeepers, so they are aware of the proper execution.”

New approaches to training and personal development are needed to make employees want to stay longer and pursue a hospitality career, said Carlos Ribeiro, senior consultant, Amazing Evolution: “What are their needs? What are their expectations? We started to give them support to overcome their personal challenges and flourish personally and, of course, professionally. Staff want to be loyal, but we must give them a reason to stay: personal growth. And if they don’t get that, they will go elsewhere.”

Importance of good owners

Seema Lodi, hotel director, Martinhal Oriente & Martinhal Residences, Lisbon, said she had spent her career skipping jobs and properties every couple of years, mostly in the Indian Ocean region, Middle East and Southeast Asia. Previously employed by Kempinski, she has now been with Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts since 2018.

“Why am I still here? One of the best things that has happened to me is the owners of the company Chitra and Roman Stern,” she said. “They really know how to look after their people. They've looked after me like I'm part of the family.” In the end, success for guests, employees, investors, and owners depends on how welcome they are made to feel, she said.

Staff at Martinhal go through a process of continuous learning and Lodi identifies the most talented individuals: “We identify the hot potential, and we pick those people between the ages of 18 and 20. And we start to look at what they want from their life. What do they want from their careers? How can we as a company support and nurture these people to become the leaders of tomorrow? Of course, you can't do it to 100% of the teams, but you can do it in some small measure, and that's how we retain and nourish the people who work with us.”

ESG can be used as a framework for shaping a company’s values, said Ana Beatriz, CEO, ABC Sustainable Luxury Hospitality. Starting with ‘governance’, she said, Martinhal was a good example of how good governance must come from the top – from the owners. One criterion of ‘social’ is the mental health of employees, and ‘environmental’ refers the contribution hospitality businesses make to the local community.

Investors and developers must consider the full impact of a new resort and factor in the housing needs of locals and future employees, added Santikos.

“Especially on a small Greek island, hospitality investors are creating jobs that need houses which might be taken from locals who need those houses too but can’t afford them because they are on lower salaries. Loans should not be given to companies that do not treat their employees well, or do not give housing back to the locals. Everything is linked,” he said.

All above quotes are taken from the panel discussion Team work: Considerate and Productive Staffing in Leisure Hospitality at the Resort & Residential Hospitality Forum 2023, Lisbon, Portugal