Competition within the hospitality industry has never been fiercer, with the battle for staff as intense as that for guests. Luxury and location may entice tourists, but without competent, enthusiastic hotel staff, their experience will inevitably fall short. Amid labour shortages, exponential growth in emerging economies and shifting guest expectations, the value of employees, from kitchen porters to general managers, has surged. Rapid career development, global opportunities and high-quality training are all carrots used to entice prospective recruits, while empowerment, culture and diversity are wielded to hold onto them.

Millennials have challenged the notion of luxury across the hospitality sector with their preference for technology to traditional room service, and a growing propensity to explore new markets and tap into growing economies away from the more traditional, saturated locations has seen hotels rapidly increase their property portfolios in emerging markets. Though the importance of recruiting, training and retaining the very best employees has remained constant, the altering landscape is impacting how hotel operators achieve this.

Hotel schools, such as the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), are famed for the refined, proficient candidates they produce. Using their connections throughout the sector they evolve their scholarships in line with industry trends and ensure their students continue to offer high-quality, relevant service.

Though the schools excel at producing future CEOs and general managers, operators are equally dependent on developing unskilled workers for much of their labour force, particularly in emerging markets, where competition is hottest and firms rely on their brand and reputation to attract the best.

How hoteliers attract and develop staff is immaterial if they are unable to retain them; operators are well aware of this and are exploring innovative measures to inspire enthusiasm and loyalty among their workforces.

Millennial employees share many traits with their traveller counterparts, and until hotel firms take these into account, the attrition rate among its personnel will continue to rise.

Well schooled

Founded in 1893, EHL is frequently ranked among the best hospitality management schools in the world. Throughout its extensive history, it has altered its curriculum to fulfil sector demands. "Today’s changing industry has given rise to a new generation of guests, distributions and IT. The people in our business need to adapt to these," says André Witschi, president of the board of governors at EHL.

"The economics behind the hospitality sector has moved on; in all fields people want things immediately, they want to be entertained, they want flexibility and a different kind of luxury. Business travellers now become leisure travellers after five o’clock in the evening and all the while things are becoming more personalised. We need to teach our students how to handle these changes."

Having spent years with Accor and Steigenberger, Witschi values working with hotels and industry associations to shape EHL’s curriculum. "We’re very close with the Swiss Hotel Association and prominent hoteliers, all of whom contribute to our programme," he says.

"We also work with the international advisory board – one of the best circles within the industry. We want our students to understand what makes the success of a hotel and when they grasp this they can adapt it to where they are, be it a developing or mature country."

The EHL’s student body is as diverse as the sector itself, with more than 90 nations currently represented. Witschi believes that while the fundamentals of hospitality are applicable across the world, specialisation is important in a globalised economy and its master’s course now offers semesters in Hong Kong and the US.

Looking to capture a greater share of the calibre of student graduating from institutions like the EHL, some operators have initiated proprietary schools. The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management is Jumeirah’s privately managed university located in Dubai, opposite its Burj Al Arab hotel. It offers the 300-strong multinational student body the opportunity to undertake business focused degrees in hotel management.

"It’s where I started my career," says Alan Simpson, vice-president of talent and resourcing at Jumeirah. "It’s a great academic institution that enables students to study for their MBAs and the professional development department to train people from different industries in hospitality."

Regional variations

Just as hotel chains adapt their properties to take into account local context, hotel schools adapt their theories and practices to reflect cultural variations. "I was recently in Mauritius where we’re opening a property and the difference in the hotel school there was amazing, it was much more about the practical side of things," says Simpson. "Most hotel schools in Europe will focus primarily on academics, but as you move east they’re much more led by operations. From West to East it can be quite different."

"Business travellers now become leisure travellers after five o’clock in the evening and all the while things are becoming more personalised. We need to teach our students how to handle these changes."

Starwood, too, is no stranger to the challenges of recruiting in emerging economies. With well over 50% of its development pipeline outside the US, from Bali to Bogota, it will be drawing on all its previous experience to ensure recruitment and training run smoothly.

"In the emerging markets, you’re looking for core competencies more than previous hotel experience, because you’re probably not going to find the latter," says Jeff Cava, Starwood’s executive vice- president and chief human resources officer. "One of our main strengths is in our ability to provide that unskilled worker with their first opportunity.

"There will be individuals without the equivalent of a high-school education, or who may not have the first language within the country, but what we’re really interested in is a strong work ethic, a sense of collaboration and service orientation – the desire to solve problems for the guests."

Meanwhile, Jumeirah is focusing heavily on building its portfolio in China and is already present in Shanghai, but despite its ambitions and brand, enticing the best staff is not without its challenges. "Perhaps the biggest hurdle we’ve faced in China is a lack of recognition, as presently we’ve only one hotel. As a result, compared with Europe and the Middle East, it’s been more difficult to attract the best," says Simpson.

With all jobs listed on its online portal, from waiter to general manager, the focus has turned to refining its training modules to reflect regional differences.

"As we move into China it’s time to evaluate our development programmes; we have to translate these modules into the local dialect wherever we are. When it comes to the Burj Al Arab, we focus on Chinese etiquette because a huge demographic of our guests are from there," says Simpson. "There are individual modules that we allow hotels to conduct themselves, but we do provide strict guidelines on how that’s done. We want them to have the same look and feel, whether you’re in Dubai or Spain."

Hospitable employers

Encouraging loyalty in a highly competitive sector represents a significant challenge for hotel chains, many of which are using their global networks to offer staff opportunities to work all over the world. It is a hugely attractive proposition, particularly among millennial workers.

"Starwood has a large footprint in both India and the Middle East, and what we have noticed is that many of those attracted to working in the latter are from the former," says Cava. "We have been able to create a special kind of employee value proposition that allows for multinational career development. We have similar programmes in Asia and in US seasonal areas. The opportunity to truly expand their careers all around the world is one of the reasons we’re able to attract so many people.

"When you attract a large expatriate population at the mass level, you really have an obligation to do more than just provide them with a great job. We provide living quarters, a community spirit and a sense of belonging for our emigrant workers which I think builds a connectedness to Starwood."

This sense of belonging is not enough on its own to keep the employees. The changing desires of a younger generation extend beyond the realm of customers, with many employees now motivated by diversity as much as the guests they serve; as a result, cross training, opportunities to move between brands and flexible working hours are now regularly offered by hotel chains.

Hoteliers have been quick to adapt their recruitment and training policies to the demands of a younger generation and an increasingly globalised economy. As competition for staff intensifies, chain partnerships with hotel schools will become more common. But unless firms can inspire loyalty amongst their employees, the efforts made in adapting their education, career development schemes and associations, will go to waste. Just as there is a consistent focus on improving the hotel experience for guests, directing such a mentality towards employees could prove the difference between retention and attrition.