Hotels are innovating in their approach to recruitment to ensure they continue to provide quality service to their guests, says a hospitality expert.
John O’Grady, managing director of Cork-based Perfect Reception, a specialist call center for hotels in Ireland, the UK and France, says he’s not surprised to see hotels resolving quickly the imbalance between growing demand for hotel nights and downsizing in the wake of the pandemic. He says hospitality service providers have always reacted quickly to challenges.
“Hotels are very busy right now and they’re going to have a great summer,” says O’Grady. “Their big challenge is staffing. For most hotels, their recruitment campaigns have not solved the problem.
“Traditionally, hotels have employed a lot of students during the summer months, but many more students than usual have decided to go abroad to work this summer. On top of that, hotels have lost a lot of staff during Covid closures.
“Yet guests of four- and five-star hotels expect personal attention. Hotel owners want to make sure their guests get the level of service they rightly expect. To take care of their product, hotels are now adapting quickly, and that’s where some outsourcing comes in.
Mr O’Grady’s views are backed by his 32 years working in the hospitality industry, including in senior roles with PREM Group, Dalata Group and a suite of leading Irish hotels. He has also worked with Mövenpick Hotels in Switzerland, Forte Group (Trusthouse Forte) in London and other hotels in the UK and the Caribbean.
John has also worked with Complete Outsourcing Solutions, working closely with Jim McCoy, CEO of Complete Outsource Solutions and Executive Chairman of Perfect Reception.
Hotels John currently works with to optimize human resources include Radisson Group, iNua Collection, Choice Hotels, PREM Group, and Winward Hotels, among others.
John says hotel owners are acutely aware of the potential impacts that staffing shortages could have on the guest experience as well as their brand equity.
“Hotels need to take care of their customers first,” he says. “When I sit in front of people in hotels I know exactly what they are talking about. With 90% occupancy this summer and an increase in weddings and other events that have been backed up due to Covid.
“One area that hotels can outsource is to use call center support for their front desk. About 30-40% of incoming calls are for reservations, so hotels need to protect that revenue. Guests also often call to find out how to get there or to ask about services in their room.
“Our phone agents are perfectly equipped to engage with these customers. We spend a lot of time and money training our agents, customizing service for each hotel brand; our agents are ambassadors for that brand.
“We do weekly quizzes and our agents have to meet a knowledge target for each hotel. With quality hotels, we must exceed the expectations of our customers and their guests.
All Perfect Reception agents are bilingual, with a mix of English, Spanish, French and Italian. Some of the agents are based in France, but most are based in Cork.
While some agents work from home, most of its approximately 130 agents work in the company’s call center in Douglas, Cork, in shifts from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., providing hotel reception with coverage 14 hours a day, seven days a week.
On average, most hotels will receive 30,000 to 35,000 calls per month, rising to 70,000 calls in a busy month. Without backup, hotels miss 40 calls a day, many of which are actually lost reservations.
When away, approximately 70% of hotel guests use their mobile phones to book food, beverages and room services. Perfect Reception also handles these mobile ordering and payment services, as well as telemarketing and other technology-driven interactive services.
Wilson Bird, General Manager of Breaffy Hotel & Resort, located on 101 acres in Castlebar, Co Mayo, is a Perfect Reception guest. The Breaffy Hotel, its sister hotel Breaffy Woods and their self-catering apartments are all seeing an increase in the number of international and Irish holidaymakers. Wedding bookings are particularly strong.
“We are lucky as we managed to retain most of our staff as we also acted as a vaccination center and as a testing center during the pandemic,” Mr Bird said. “Nevertheless, staffing is a real challenge at the moment, which is why Perfect Reception is a real boon for us.
“It’s Sod’s law that a series of guests arrive together at 3 or 5 p.m., so having reception calls covered is a boon for the business. Missed calls mean missed reservations.
“We also find that a rush in bookings can occur during television commercial breaks, for example during the 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. newscasts. When we do a radio ad campaign, we also tend to get an increase in phone calls. Our front desk simply couldn’t handle these surges while dealing with our guest requests.
Breaffy Hotels has also seen a surge in bookings in the stay-at-home market after media coverage of the chaos for passengers at Dublin Airport. Reservations for weddings, postponed during the Covid, are now exploding.
Breaffy Hotels employ approximately 230 people. They hire about 70 other seasonal employees, many of whom are 17 or younger. They expect to hire another 20 people on top of the usual summer surge.
“We have three weddings on hold hoping that a Friday or Saturday will become available, but we are also seeing people getting married on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which we have never seen before,” Mr. Bird.
“People have adapted. We have organized hen nights where the bride is already married. Due to a series of postponements, we had a wedding that had a baptism on the same date. So yes, demand is skyrocketing.