What I heard at 2019 ALIS
What I heard at 2019 ALIS
08 FEBRUARY 2019 8:21 AM

Hotel executives and speakers had some encouraging things to say at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit this year, and I’m hoping that means beneficial change is coming for the industry.

The Americas Lodging Investment Summit kicks off the new year of the hotel industry each January and often sets the tone for the rest of the year, barring, of course, any major outside factors. Though there weren’t any major surprises or upsets at the conference this year, some of what hoteliers were saying last week was encouraging to hear.

Offering a purpose
Everyone knows finding and keeping talented employees is a challenge for the hotel industry. It has been for a while and should continue as long as unemployment remains so low. For almost the same amount of time, we’ve heard executives talk about the difficulties in attracting and retaining staff. One of the solutions to this problem is pay, especially for younger employees still hurting from the recession.

Another solution is something I heard during a “Boardroom Broadcast” general session in which hotel executives recognized a need employees have to feel like they’re contributing something of value and that they have a purpose.

Both Douglas Kessler, president and CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust, and Elie Maalouf, CEO of the Americas at InterContinental Hotels Group, spoke of younger employees wanting to feel at home where they work, have a connection with people and to feel they are contributing to something bigger.

Maalouf said giving people a purpose can matter more than profit, margins, occupancy and revenue per available room.

“It’s productive, but people need to feel part of something greater,” he said. “Because everybody can find a different paycheck. What they can’t find is a meaningful purpose.”

As a millennial, it’s encouraging to hear employers understand the need to create such a workplace, because feeling like you have a purpose can make a job feel like something more. All we need now is for every employer to understand this and follow up on it. Also, that whole pay thing.

Trying, failing and learning from it
During the morning general session on the first day of ALIS, Best Western Hotels & Resorts President and CEO David Kong spoke about his company’s test of in-room smart speakers and its less-than-stellar results.

“We found out firsthand in testing Alexa as a means for guest request for special services,” he said. “So if someone wants a special room or a light bulb isn’t working or something, they can use Alexa to communicate with us. But what we found out was that most people got into the hotel room then disconnected it, presumably because they didn’t want Alexa to be listening to what’s going on in the room. At the same time, when I was talking with our partner in China and also South Korea, people were being awakened in the middle of the night by Alexa. … We didn’t see any lift in satisfaction scores and the usage was minimal.”

It’s kind of amazing (and refreshing) to hear an executive talk this way about a recent experiment and how it didn’t turn out as hoped. I think we need to hear more of that in the hotel industry. Hoteliers shouldn’t be afraid to try new approaches to hospitality and, should they fail, talk about it. Having this shared knowledge of what works in some ways and doesn’t work in others can better the industry as a whole.

Sexual harassment
While she isn’t a hotel executive, Tina Tchen, partner at Buckley Sandler LLP and co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, has worked closely with the hotel industry. During her discussion on the hotel industry’s Five-Star Promise, Tchen said the fact that sexual harassment and assault are being discussed in boardrooms, at the C-suite levels and at major conferences like ALIS gives her hope. There is absolutely more work that needs to be done, she said, but companies are realizing that their talent is part of their bottom line.

“They have to invest in talent not just in wages and training, but in the safety measures and compliance we need,” she said. “They need to recognize sometimes the law is not enough.”

That is how employees will be at their best for their employers and help the companies be more profitable, she said.

It is great that more companies, including those in the hotel industry, are paying more attention to making their workplaces safer and that they are doing more than just talking about it. The Five-Star Promise and workplace policies and procedures are important parts of this, but they’re only part of the solution, not it entirely.

Still, as Tchen said, the fact that so many are paying attention to it and wanting to take action is a reason to have hope.

What did you hear at ALIS this year that stood out to you? Anything encouraging that makes you think the industry will change for the better? Let me know in the comments below or by reaching out to me at bwroten@hotelnewsnow.com or @HNN_Bryan.

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