Travel and tourism have long been a critical part of the world economy, and a sizeable component of the global workforce. The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that in 2019 (pre-pandemic) travel and tourism globally accounted for:
- 1 In 4 new jobs created
- 3% of all jobs
- 3% of global GDP
In 2020, the industry's workforce was reduced by 18.6%, or 62 million jobs worldwide. As travel demand returned over the course of 2021 and 2022, the need for staff has increased. However, positions have been difficult to fill leaving airlines, hotels, transportation companies, and restaurants understaffed. A survey of US hotels by the American Hotel and Lodging Association found that 97% of hotels are experiencing a staffing shortage, 49% rated the shortage as severe. In Europe, the World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that 1 In 9 hospitality vacancies will remain unfilled.
At the same time, demand for travel and meetings has sky-rocketed in recent months in all regions of the world. One source (Knowland.com) reports that US meetings grew by 136.1% when comparing August 2022 to August 2021.
What do these numbers mean to hospitality professionals?
Hotel managers are stretched thin working the front desk, responding to group sales, and overseeing F&B functions all in the same day. Pre-pandemic, each of these roles would be fulfilled by dedicated individuals. We have seen transportation companies literally run out of drivers. Vehicles sit ready to pick up passengers from the airport, but there are no drivers to drive them. And as you may have seen on the news or via your own experiences, airlines are canceling flights because there is no crew to staff them.
How does this impact meetings and congresses?
Meeting planners are also feeling the stretch as they navigate the understaffed supplier landscape. Teams are trying to work under pre-pandemic standards and expectations, but this is not realistic given the current environment. You may be noticing:
Slow venue sourcing with limited options: Hotel sales departments are understaffed, increasing response time to RFPs. With their limited time and the high demand for meetings, sales staff are responding to the highest revenue and simplest opportunities first. This means that small meetings may have limited venue options.
Inability to accommodate last minute requests: Reduced staffing combined with elevated demand means that suppliers are running tight on inventory. There simply may not be hotel rooms available to extend your stay, or drivers available to add an additional transfer. Limited staffing also means that requests are processed slower than pre-pandemic, often with at least a 24-hour turnaround. Last minute requests may not be reviewed by our vendors until after the need has come and gone.
Different service standards on site: Your experience on site is likely to not feel like what you were accustomed to in 2019. Limited housekeepers mean sleeping rooms will not be clean and ready for check-in prior to the standard check-in time. Understaffed banquet departments mean that changes to meeting room sets (more tables and chairs, different set-ups) may not be possible in a tight time period or may incur additional charges. Servers and front desk staff may be new to their job and take longer to perform their tasks.
How can the process be improved?
While staffing issues are obviously outside of your or a meeting planner's control, there are things to do to make the planning process smoother:
Register your meeting or congress participation EARLY.
We all experienced shorter lead times in the virtual world. We now need to swing in the opposite direction and extend lead times as far as possible and register meetings even earlier than was necessary in 2019. In response to this, your planning partner may have updated their published timelines and deadlines. Review these and do your best to observe them.
Communicate and collaborate with your meeting contact.
Ask them what challenges they are facing and how you can help. They may be able to suggest small tweaks that make a big difference in the overall planning process. Talk to them about what you should expect onsite, and prioritize the components that matter most to you and your invited guests.
Flood people with kindness.
Everyone In the hospitality industry (including your MPA partners) is frustrated with the situation. Individuals that chose this career path place a high value on customer service and aim to please. Those currently employed in the field have been carrying heavy workloads while waiting for empty positions to be filled. Others are new to their role and the industry. Show compassion and appreciation for everyone you encounter in the planning process, and approach challenges with constructive feedback and a collaborative attitude.
Educate your colleagues and attendees.
If you are hosting a meeting, partner with your meeting planner to communicate to invitees the importance of meeting deadlines. Echo the message to register meetings early to your peers.
For more trends and what to expect in the meetings and events industry in 2023, download our global trends report by clicking the image below.