Staff are a key hospitality asset – we need to invest

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Comment by Simon Soar, head of hospitality and tourism at Jersey Business

IT HAS been no secret that the hospitality and tourism industry has faced some of its most challenging times over the last two years. This year was set to be one of recovery and of great potential for regrowth, but last Christmas going through to Easter certainly had other plans.

The resilience of the industry and its members shone through. Businesses displayed superb agility to adapt and innovate to the changing environment and they were able to keep going until we saw the light at the end of a rather long and dark tunnel.

The reopening process took time. Confidence in travel, and even local confidence in going out was stifled. The perseverance of all involved allowed us to welcome back the first non-essential flights to the Island.

Many of the first travellers were friends and family desperate to see loved ones. Soon after we saw the reintroduction of our tourists to the Island and the season slowly cranked up.

Summer went from strength to strength. Restrictions meant that some areas of the industry would see less of the season than others, but it was a start on the return to normality.

As we reopened, other issues came to light. It was not just about restrictions on businesses or people wanting to fly over. Supply of goods and staffing were now highlighted as a serious hurdle to getting back to full operational capacity.

It was time to continue the agility we had relied on so heavily for the last 16 months and get creative. Staffing shortages were being seen worldwide within the industry, so this was not just a localised problem.

Staff were sourced from outside of the Common Travel Area, only to then have travel bans from their country of origin.

The resilience of the workforce was clear. Everyone from the owners down rolled up their sleeves, changed beds, served the breakfasts and did it all with a smile.

Staff across the Island stepped up to support those businesses that had looked after them when lockdown was in place. But this was not sustainable. There are only so many hours people can work in a week, and so many guests can be served.

This has led to restricted services, capacity and more. Not always a good thing when trying to maintain the vital air links for the island when you cannot house the visitors.

Next year will present challenges too, but at the same time, opportunities. Recruitment and workforce accommodation will be key to delivering the standards we expect to offer our guests.

I believe we will see an increase in local produce being showcased by our venues, with a need for venues to provide value in their offering.

We cannot devalue our industry. It is tough when the perception is that businesses are making a greedy amount off their offering. This is far from the truth. At the end of the day, these are businesses and should be financially viable, yet they still have to be able to attract guests.

Rents, utilities, staff, cost of produce plus shipping it here, local taxes and much more make up a large part of the prices charged. Many of these have increased drastically in the last year and will continue to do so as the full impact of Brexit and Covid-19 takes shape.

We have opportunities to analyse our productivity, to seek new solutions to how we operate. We should not lose focus on the guest experience but seek to develop ways to enhance it.

We need to look to remuneration value provided to our workforce. This is not just a basic wage but looking at the total package. Someone’s salary doesn’t dictate their disposable income and that should be how we look to promote jobs.

With the reduction in the Common Travel Area post Brexit, more and more of our workforce have no choice but to be temporary and transient, meaning the lifestyle we provide for them here, and the money they can finish their time with here become essential.

Accommodation being provided at an appropriate price and level (not everyone needs a one-bedroom flat) are key. Meals and other perks play a large part in expense reduction and benefit the disposable income a transient worker can enjoy.

We must continue our journey to train our staff to be multi-skilled. To work across multiple departments and inevitably, increase business productivity. We need to look at investing in one of the most important assets a business owns, its workforce.

As an Island, as an industry and as businesses, we must look at our operational models and work out if they are appropriate in the new environment we find ourselves operating in, or can they be adapted to become more sustainable.

For those not involved in accommodation, a seven-day model may no longer be best for their staffing position, and closing for a day or two may see a reduction in issues, an increase in average covers per night and, without doubt, an increase in staff morale.

The future is uncertain, but that may not be a bad thing. It allows us to be creative and create a new industry that puts aside terms such as ‘we’ve always done it like that’. We have a chance to shape our Island into a world leader when it comes to our offering, something I believe we are well on our way to doing.

We need our Island’s leaders to support us to creating a thriving hospitality and tourism economy to benefit the Island. The importance of the industry on maintaining and developing the connectivity that allows our Island to thrive must not be overlooked.

This does not just seek to benefit tourists, but those visiting friends and family, locals travelling off-Island, as well as our business community. Hospitality and tourism underpin our island’s infrastructure and quality of life and we must work hard to build back better.

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