Send in the SWAT team 

This week’s PwC forecast for next year wasn’t the wholesale chipper fest that many had hoped – revpar for London next year is likely to be 50% of 2019 under their ‘moderate’ scenario – as the lack of international travel continues to weigh heavy.

Looking away from the rising covid caseload in the UK and how that is colouring the global view of it as a destination/source of visitors, there was some interesting chat from the panel after the big reveal at PwC, with Frank Croston, owner, Hamilton Hotel Partners, commenting on What To Do About Staff.

Frank reported having to increase wages by 10% to 20% to attract and retain staff, although was also pleased by the general nimbleness of his stripped-back teams, which created lovely operational efficiencies. He also spoke yearningly of a SWAT team, with multi-skilled team members who could plumb, garden, check people in, generally Swiss Army it up. 

This SWAT concept has popped up before during the pandemic, with Tom Magnuson, CEO, Magnuson Hotels, commenting: “We consider our people as agile SWAT teams who can deal across every aspect of hotel operations and the guest experience”.

Clearly such a team is lovely to have, but has the sector created the conditions where they are likely to find them, particularly in the UK, where service is not seen as a seemly career for clever people? 

There are many hoteliers, particularly in the independent sector, who are well versed in the ways of being a SWAT team, having to cover all bases at once. It is here where acquisitive parties are finding the richest pickings, as the stress of operating under such conditions becomes too much and they consider selling up and moving into something less stressful, like disposing of nuclear waste.

How much can we blame the brands? As anyone who has stayed in a hotel knows, initiative is not the strong suit of the typical branded hotel employee. Tell them you’ve suffered a sudden demonic possession and they’re unlikely to be out of the door hailing down a Catholic priest, but instead consulting the brand handbook, or trying to hand the issue off to a more senior team member.

Too much centralisation has led to not enough thinking. And if you’re not allowed to think, if there is no mechanism to be allowed to take the initiative, then there won’t be too much thinking. 25hours was one of the brands to realise this pre-pandemic and its staff are allowed to act as autonomous units, breaking free of the ridiculous rules that say if one of your guests does suffer a demonic possession, then you can offer them a drink or free pudding as a compensation. Seems like such a small thing, but a HQ three time zones away often forbids such an enterprise. 

It’s all very well remembering to call your staff a team, but if none of them are allowed to act, then it’s less team and more cannon fodder. What the sector is starting to realise is that, with fewer staff, it has to spread the power more evenly. This should lead to staff retention – as it did at 25hours – but what will it mean for brand standards? That’s something for the brands  – and their sense of purpose – to worry about. 


Photo: Stephan Lemke for 25hours

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