At last month's Hotel Industry Conference, industry leaders from across New Zealand and Asia Pacific discussed a wide range of topics, from changing attitudes towards sustainability to the radical transformation of Asia's tourism market. But one issue which consistently cropped up throughout the two-day event was the challenge facing the hotel industry when it comes to recruitment.
According to Leanne Harwood, managing director of Australasia and Japan for InterContinental Hotels Group, hotels are facing a crisis when it comes to finding fresh faces to represent the brand. "Talent is a fundamental issue in Australia-New Zealand. The hospitality industry just isn't attractive to young people," said Harwood.
Historically, the hotel industry has been renowned as an industry in which a 16-year-old pot-washer can realistically hope to one day be general manager, if he or she has the right skills and attitude. Employers have sought out un- or under-qualified individuals who are otherwise hardworking, aspirational, and looking for a 'foot in the door'.
Yet, as the millennial generation comes of age, it's becoming increasingly clear that, by and large, they are not seeking the stability their parents sought until much later in life. Bruce Sheppard, managing partner of Gilligan Sheppard, gave some clues as to why that might be the case. "Millennials, in particular, are incredibly flexible," said Sheppard. "I have accountants that do modelling, or DJ at nightclubs - just because they can. They think differently."
This 'gig economy' is worlds away from the traditional loyalty-based employment structures in the hotel industry. Very few millennials are seeking a company with whom they can expect to spend the next two, three, or five decades of their life. Until recruiters acknowledge this, they are likely to continue to struggle. "Shared values are the basis of culture," Sheppard explained to the HIC crowd. "You have to run your business to deliver what your employees aspire to achieve."
So what do young people aspire to achieve today? According to Deloitte's 2019 Global Millennial Survey based on the views of 13,416 millennials across 42 countries, millennials are no less ambitious than their predecessors: more than half want to earn high salaries and be wealthy.
However, Big Business - historically seen as the route to those high salaries - is a turn-off for many modern 20-somethings. "Millennials' opinions about business continue to diminish, in part due to views that businesses focus solely on their own agendas rather than considering the consequences for society," according to the study. But it doesn't have to be this way.
When asked, only 55 percent of millennials believed that business has a positive impact on society, down from 61 percent in 2018. In order to convince young people to join the hotel industry, hotels are going to have to work hard to change their minds about what the industry is for.
Large global chains like InterContinental Hotels Group and Accor have already figured out that diversification is key, distinguishing their boutique offerings from their more corporately-minded groups to cater seamlessly to different markets. But they might do well to capitalise upon the changing values of young people, in order to attract fresh talent to the industry.
Rather than seeing property or vehicle ownership as hallmarks of a life well-led, millennials are far more concerned with experiences. "Travelling and seeing the world was at the top of millennials' list of aspirations (57 percent), while slightly few than half said they wanted to own a home (49 percent)."
With this in mind, the hotel industry already has everything it needs to attract young people searching for employment. It's an industry built on travel, and one which can provide its employees with plenty of opportunities to see the world with relative ease.
A giant global chain like IHG, which to young people might look like a blank corporate giant, could be rebranded as a gateway to the world, with entry-level positions made much more enticing by the inclusion of travel perks.
Work six months in Fiji, then transfer to Thailand, Mexico, or Myanmar; for many, it might sound like an unstable and stressful employment schedule. But for business-minded young people seeking to develop their careers whilst still getting their fair share of adventure, it could be the perfect job advert. Just make sure you mention the complimentary use of the pool.