According to HTFP survey results, many of the adjustments that hospitality professionals made as a result of the pandemic will remain in place. Several relate to remote working that reached new heights amid business shutdowns and government lockdowns, as various respondents indicated they will continue to offer work-from-home opportunities, remote access for staff or a hybrid work environment. Other work-related solutions that were identified as becoming a permanent part of operations include third-party accounting services, a streamlined hiring and onboarding process, pay rate increases for hourly employees, limited housekeeping services, staff restructures, cross-training and combining tasks, employee handbook modifications, as well as additional training and development opportunities.

Various health and safety practices are also here to stay, including expanded outdoor dining, to-go menus and various health practices such as the sanitation of high touchpoints, encouraging staff to stay home when sick, mask wearing, providing protective shields at the front desk and performing health checks.

Other respondents have implemented technologies to improve business and streamline operations that will remain in place, including purchasing controls, centralised accounting, updated telephone systems, POS packages, virtual meeting spaces and chat groups to improve collaboration, touchless payment and check-in processes, direct keys, remote audits, personalised email marketing, and mobile ordering and take-out services.

Results snap shot

A total of 175 respondents provided insight into the various ways they addressed the challenges experienced during the course of the pandemic. Their answers represent a wide range of solutions. Many individuals chose to resolve staffing issues by increasing salaries, offering retention bonuses, engaging in creative recruiting tactics, using contract and temporary labour, reorganising duties, increasing overtime, implementing technologies and cutting back on staff where they were able. In response to health and safety challenges, respondents increased outdoor seating, implemented new reservation guidelines, allowed staff to work from home and enforced safety protocols such as mask wearing, testing and vaccinations. To resolve issues impacting business and finance, respondents reduced expenditures, developed audit programmes, performed more cost/ benefit analysis, invested in sales and marketing, and scoured “the earth looking for product”.

Other responses were more simplistic and straightforward. When asked how their challenges were addressed, one person simply put, “they weren’t”. Another wrote, “hunker down and wait it out”, while a third wrote “working to recover”. On a more optimistic note, one respondent said they tackled challenges with “persistence”, while another said, “with every bit of creativity and positivity that we all had.”

What were the biggest challenges faced over the course of the pandemic?

Of the 201 respondents to answer this question, 118 (59%) indicated some form of staffing issue as their greatest challenge during the pandemic. Common phrases that cropped up in their open-ended responses include: staff shortages, reductions and lay-offs; difficulties with recruitment, retention and maintaining employee morale; greater workloads with smaller teams, and wage decreases.

56 respondents (28%) identified a challenge related to health and safety during the pandemic. These responses indicated difficulties navigating government mandates and restrictions related to the pandemic; remote work; guest compliance, negative guest reactions and pushback to protocols designed to minimise Covid-19 infections such as face masks; and personal health and safety concerns for guests and employees. For 40 respondents (20%), impacts to business and finance presented the greatest challenge to overcome throughout the pandemic. Business and finance are closely interrelated and, therefore, grouped into the same category – as many put it: no guests equalled no income. Low occupancy levels, lack of visitors, reduced cash flows and investments, loss of business and decrease in sales are frequently referenced in this category of responses.

What challenges do you continue to face currently that stemmed from the pandemic?

A total of 165 individuals provided feedback to this question. Staffing remained the most common challenge, represented by 104 respondents (63%). Many of the comments matched those made in the previous question on pandemic challenges, with respondents specifying staffing shortages, retaining employees, and finding quality candidates for available positions. One individual noted the difficulty in finding engaged workers, writing: “With high inflation, many staff members are finding positions outside of the hospitality industry that pay more and allow work from home.” Another referenced a phenomenon called the “wage war”, where businesses must increase wages in order to remain competitive. Residual impacts of staff shortages include burnout, “constant inconsistency in performance” and “many problems in services, delays and lesser quality services… provided”.

23 respondents (14%) noted challenges related to business and finance persisting in the pandemic’s aftermath. Again, many of the comments reflected scenarios that had been relayed previously, including low occupancies and declines in room revenue, diminished cash flow forecasting and reductions in business. Additionally, respondents noted socio-economic factors from this period of time affecting business and finance such as inflation, geopolitical instability and impacts on costs – including “food cost fluctuations” and “fuel, pesticides and fertiliser increases”.

22 respondents (13%) indicated miscellaneous issues, also categorised as “other” that could not be easily sorted into the main categories of staffing, business and finance, health and safety, or none. These challenges include lack of supplies, product availability, firm delivery dates and supply chain issues, an inability to plan and the unpredicability of a constantly changing situation, overburdened technology, flight cancellations, and general fear and uncertainty. A greater number of respondents (12 individuals, or 7%) indicated that no challenges (none) remained related to the pandemic in its aftermath. Again, there were several respondents who listed more than one challenge in their response to this question; for example, one person noted the impact on costs, as well as a necessity for wage adjustments and “aggressive” competition from other clubs in recruiting their staff.

There was also protracted concerns regarding personal health and safety, with one respondent observing a “lack of confidence in safety with indoor activities” from their elderly members, another admitting a “fear of colleagues coming to work sick or infected by the virus,” and a third writing, “due to my personal high risk for Covid… not being able to return to the office yet with co-workers”.

The takeaway

The global Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 irrevocably altered the hospitality industry and had a years-long, lasting impact on business practices, revenue streams and staffing. The HFTP survey offered a unique opportunity to collect feedback from hospitality professionals and create a historical snapshot of the challenges that arose as a direct result of the pandemic, as well as how these individuals chose to respond. This information may serve as a future reference if another widespread, cataclysmal event should occur.