In the second of this two-part series, we continue the conversation with our supplier relations partners and turn our focus toward staffing. Over the last two years, the meetings and events industry has faced ample challenges in the arenas of recruitment and retention as a result of the economic stresses caused by the pandemic. But as business begins to rebound, staffing shortages have become top of mind as partners across the industry ecosystem begin re-growing and strengthening their teams.
Below, our partners share insights on the challenges, strategies, and solutions they've utilized to navigate staffing shortages during the pandemic and continue innovating through the resurgence of business today.
Industry staffing shortages in meetings and events
Throughout the pandemic, stereotypes began to develop around the meetings and events industry being an unstable space for work. Despite this however, many employees who had left or been let go as a result of economic pressures, have begun returning to their former roles. Leaders from Accor believe that is in part, due to the positive experiences employees had prior to leaving, and the ways they were treated and taken care of by good employers, even through economic hardship, furloughs, and layoffs.
On the talent acquisition front, there has been a push for marketing the industry as a great place to work and highlighting the benefits. The flexibility, creativity, fun, and travel that comes with the meetings and events industry are areas to highlight when looking for new talent. For Accor these strategies have paid off, and hosting mass recruitment days have been successful means of attracting new talent in large numbers to fill open positions more immediately.
From a more long-term perspective, luxury hotel group ALHI has begun investing in younger talent. ALHI begun working in partnerships with junior achievement programs and high school students to introduce the brand to a younger audience earlier in their career exploration to increase awareness of opportunities within the industry. They then place younger talent in roles to support more senior employees, so they have mentorship and support to learn and grow within the organization.
Flexibility, growth opportunities, and employee investment have also become key pieces of the talent attraction and retention puzzle. At BCD M&E, these values have shown up in both recruitment and retention strategy. People want to work differently, so offering different ways to work whether virtually, hybrid, or in-person, has been valuable in keeping talent who values more work/life balance. Additionally, embracing talent from outside the industry—even if that means accepting a slight learning curve—has been a great way to acquire new employees that also bring in new perspectives. BCD’s Global VP of the Life Science Center of Excellence, Ashley Williams says “ As long as potential applicants have learning agility, a drive to succeed, and intellectual curiosity, we can teach, train, and mentor them into successful and impactful contributors.”
Challenges in contracting and service
Labor shortages, increased demand, and lingering fears about the coronavirus have lent themselves to two major challenges: unreasonable force majeure clauses in contracts and service gaps. For ALHI, Accor, and Liberty DMC, they are seeing fears around coronavirus being translated into contractual clauses which present problems because the unrealistic nature of the request makes the contracting take longer, in an already lengthy process that has been burdened by staffing shortages. Fear of someone contracting covid during a program is not grounds for force majeure, neither is a cancellation for cautionary reasons.
In response to solving this challenge, Accor’s Meenaz Diamond says, “ultimately communication and partnership is the key. Try and make sure that clients are clear about what force majeure is before completing or entering into the contracting process. Sometimes what people need, is just some reassurance from meeting with a hotel’s GM that everything will be ready and okay for the upcoming event. Open and transparent communication is critical to contracting and can alleviate some of these fears.”
In addition to contracting challenges, hotels and DMC’s are also facing some challenges around service fulfillment. ALHI has noted that as a result of drastic pick up in business, there have been service delays on the hotel and supplier side due to staffing shortages, which vary by property. While resort locations were able to resume service and open up more quickly, metropolitan areas were slower to fully reopen due to restrictions. Certain things like daily maid service were unavailable for periods of time and when not communicated clearly to the client, caused friction during events. ALHI’s Michael Dominguez says the solution for the short term, is transparency and clear communication.
“There were certainly delays and service misses as we jumped back into more steady business. But ultimately open communication and transparency between suppliers, hotels, and clients alleviated a lot of the challenges that came with service and staffing issues. By being clear about what to expect that may be “out of the norm”, those gaps can be communicated to the client and alleviate confusion and frustration before they arrive to their event.”
Impact on RFP Timelines
Ultimately the biggest factor in the delay with RFP responses is understaffing at hotels, DMC’s, and other suppliers within the meetings and events industry. In addition to understaffing, lots of salespeople have been pulled into other roles in the short term to fulfill business needs, while simultaneously looking to fill open positions, resulting in delayed response times.
Currently, hotels have been prioritizing revenue from leisure travelers who are eager to book vacations and stays, rather than corporate groups that may hold dates for weeks or months at a time. Meenaz Diamond of Accor and Alan de Paulo of Liberty DMC agree that, “Clients holding multiple dates, multiple groups, or holding without booking for long periods of time, cause substantial delays. Navigating that much ambiguity makes it difficult for hotels and DMC’s to reply in a timely manner because they have to check with a number of sellers and suppliers to see what’s available for each hypothetical date. All while potentially being understaffed.”
The solution to navigating these delays? Prioritizing communication, simplicity, and timing whenever possible. To start, copying in your hotel’s NSO is a good way to cut down on response time and get a better understanding of what’s happening at a local level with the hotel and other suppliers. When it comes to timing, understand that short stays in the middle of the week will be harder to accommodate that weekends, especially if the contracting period is drawn out over an extended time.
Beyond that when booking groups, simpler may be better in the short term. ALHI has over 2000+ unique leads going to hotels each month. To further reduce response time, President and CEO Michael Dominguez says, “If you’re flexible or still uncertain on destination, this is a great time to ask for just rates, dates, and destination or space availability. You’re likely to get a more immediate answer from hotels who may be bogged down with other requests and low staffing that way”. After deciding on location, then you can begin the more formal and robust RFP process with the hotel.
When it comes to addressing clients with these delays and solutions, Ashley Williams of BCD M&E says transparency is key, and that “…for the most part our customers are understanding of what’s happening in the industry. They’re experiencing these delays as consumers with hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality and service spaces and understand how understaffing affects timing”. Her advice for managing clients during this time is to keep detailed notes and records of attempts to contact suppliers, follow-ups, and conversations to share with clients for transparency and to make it clear that everything is being done on all ends to organize the event.
Communicating increasing costs
The answer to this begins and ends with clear, honest, and consistent communication. At ALHI, Accor, Liberty, and BCD M&E, professionals are beginning those conversations by relating what’s being experienced at their respective businesses, to the client’s own company or life.
From a supplier perspective, it’s critical that planners understand that where pricing used to be 2-3 years ago, is not where it sits today. COVID protocols, labor shortages, and inflation have increased the cost of goods and services across every industry in the world, and hospitality is no exception. Having conversations that may be difficult but candid, on realistic expectations about cost is important.
On that note, Ashley Williams of BCD M&E said, “we hope to have a trusting relationship with our clients where we can have tougher and more transparent conversations with them. The hard truth is that inflation is happening, prices have gone up, and those prices have to be absorbed within your budget. We must be able to have real conversations that remove emotion from the equation about how we move forward together in a way that works for both clients and suppliers.”
After having those tough conversations however, suppliers, hotels, and event agencies alike are willing to work with clients to make their budget fit however possible. One suggestion on how to help hotels better accommodate budgeting in particular, is communicating price as a per/person budget rather than a lump sum. “Having a million-dollar budget is only as helpful or large as the number of attendees at the event. One million dollars will go further for 100 people than 500 people. It’s important to make sure that we’re starting to look at a price per person to make creating a budget so that it makes the picture clearer for hotels when pulling that budget and experience together,” says Michael Dominguez, CEO of ALHI.
Other ways to increase cost savings
It can be difficult these days given inflation to find areas to save when planning meetings and events. But savings can certainly be realized when you get creative and work collaboratively with your suppliers and partners to achieve them.
It’s commonplace for suppliers and event agencies to take what clients ask for and run to give them exactly what they’ve requested. But it pays to take the time to think through creative ways to save money without sacrificing the experience. One of the ways to do that, is through reconsidering traditional event destinations. Alan de Paulo of Liberty DMC suggests introducing secondary locations outside of traditionally popular destination cities.
“If someone requests an event takes place in Paris, it’s going to be more expensive because it’s a major hub. But if you look at secondary locations like Marseilles, or Leon, where there are fabulous experiences but hotel and restaurant cost is lower, you can still provide an incredible event for a little less cost. If you’re looking to save, turning to unique, lesser utilized options is a good way to go.”
Additionally, from a food and beverage perspective, there are ways to save money while also making your program more sustainable in the process. Start by having conversations with properties to save on those costs. For example, instead of having a four-course dinner, change it to two or three which could save on cost. Michael Dominguez of ALHI, shared one creative solution he encountered earlier in his career, “one of the things we did in a former role of mine, was reduce the size of meals depending on the other meals that were had throughout the week. For example, your breakfast on the last day of a trip after having a large gala dinner the night before, does not need to be robust and expensive. That breakfast could be switched to continental or lighter to save some cost and also save on food waste from a sustainability standpoint”.
Throughout our conversations with suppliers, we've learned that partnership, communication, and collaboration are key pieces to successfully navigating the past and working towards rebuilding the future of the industry. While the challenges that staffing shortages have presented have been difficult, the innovative practices that have been shared across the industry ecosystem, and the results of those efforts, are certainly a positive indicator of what's to come.