Comment: What’s really going on under there?

How to determine if assets are being used to their fullest potential

Opinion, Comment & analysis

Do you remember the first time your parents asked you to clean your room?

If you were a typical child, chances are that the moment they turned their backs you were immediately distracted by your favourite toy or the temptation to torment a younger sibling. When they would shout to make sure you weren’t messing about, you would panic and shove everything under your bed. On the surface, you’d done everything they’d asked of you, but if they thought to investigate below the surface they’d see that the problem of your messy room had merely been relocated –  with the imminent possibility of everything spilling out at any moment to destroy your pristine space.

Maybe it’s because I’m a parent myself, but I see this pattern of behaviour not only in my own house, but also in the hotel industry. Dubai prides itself on its beautiful properties and five-star service (as well it should!), but from a profit perspective I’ve often wondered if there are even bigger wins that could be gained from lifting up the corner of the duvet, so to speak, to examine each aspect of the behind-the-scenes business. The region is in a time of transition, with costs on the rise and RevPAR on the decline, so I think it’s time to take a different approach. Let’s start by looking at your staff; specifically, their housing, transportation and training.

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First, housing. Staff accommodations are notoriously difficult to bring into a state of financial efficiency, because unless they’re operating at full capacity you’re spending money on empty beds and empty rooms. As an alternative, many of our clients have reported that they’re seeing great returns when they lease per person. When compared against renting a massive block of rooms and averaged out over a year to account for seasonal periods, they’re discovering that this non-traditional approach is actually more cost effective.

Another as-yet unexplored opportunity for cost savings is with transportation. I always shake my head when I see half-full shuttles for hotel staff stuck in traffic on their way to properties on the other side of town – and sometimes they’ll be one lane over from another half-full shuttle for a neighbouring hotel! Imagine the cost savings if these hotels (even if they’re competitors!) looked at their respective shift patterns and staffing needs and actually worked together or with a third party to provide a collaborative transportation solution that got everyone to work on time with a single vehicle. Even with the recent mergers and acquisitions in the industry, properties are still to some extent "doing their own thing", which I think is a missed opportunity.

I see two additional opportunities for efficiency when it comes to training: cross-utilisation and specialised courses. For example, what do you do with your housekeeping staff during their downtime? Instead of letting them sit idle, Transguard offers its clients a talent pool that is also cross-trained with complementary skills, such as F&B. Not only does this mean our hotel clients need fewer staff, the employees they have are multifaceted and can be deployed as and where necessary, all at a moment’s notice.

This brings me to on-the-job training, which, in my view, is a mixed bag: On one hand it seems like a practical, real world approach to introducing a new employee to the environment and the team with whom he or she will be working. However, because no two days are the same, in my experience it can actually take longer for that new staff member to hone a particular skill or approach. By contrast, taking the time to thoroughly teach the necessary skills at the beginning of the employee’s tenure (or later, by enrolling them in a specialised course with a maximum amount of practical training) will have a greater, long-term impact than casual, on-the-job instruction. In other words, slowing down is the key for you (and your property) to speed up.

We’re all aware of the changing market realities, but there are ways to get ahead of the trend. Start by looking at what you need and then work backwards to make the right adjustments. Who knows? Staff accommodations, shared transport and the cross-utilisation of employees may just be the start. What’s certain, however, is that those hoteliers who move the quickest will no doubt lead the way.

About the Author: Alex MacDonald is the director of Transguard Group’s manpower, hospitality and workforce solutions division, which provides 44,000+ employees to a variety of sectors on both fixed, short and flexible terms.  An MBA graduate from the University of Leicester, Alex has been in the region more than 14 years and has been involved in the outsourcing industry for more than a decade.

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