Eastern Europe’s labor struggles mirror other markets
Eastern Europe’s labor struggles mirror other markets
24 FEBRUARY 2020 7:51 AM

Even in markets where unemployment is low, hoteliers are struggling with labor issues mostly centered on indifference to the job available, and that problem requires a mindset change.

BUDAPEST—As Eastern European markets continue to increase in popularity with tourists and be further developed by hoteliers, the region must grow its workforce.

Still, finding the right employees remains pretty much the same problem in Eastern Europe that it does in most other markets, according to panelists who participated in “The people challenge” at the recent HOTCO conference.

Across all of Europe, there are 1,700 hotel projects in some form of development, and there is a need for an additional 200,000 new employees, or 6% of current staff.

“Four out of 10 jobs are directly related to tourism, and this requires a lot of qualified labor that needs to be produced,” said Olivier Verschelde, senior consultant at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. “We have to further and increasingly invest in human capital.”

A healthy number of those additional hotels are in Eastern Europe.

“Putting people at the center of the industry is something that is sustainable, and absolutely can embrace diversity and inclusiveness. … Basics are important, and it is fine to have (hotel schools) who question everything, but (employees) have to have a knowledge of how the money is made,” said Cornelia Kausch, managing director of hospitality consultancy CK Hospitality Advisors.

Gorjan Lazarov, CEO of Czech company Orea Hotels & Resorts—which has 15 hotels, all in the Czech Republic—said hoteliers need to think differently about labor concerns and be prepared to solve those problems themselves.

“We need to change our mindset, to understand fully that diversity creates added value,” he said. “We cannot sit and wait for hotel schools to tell us or governments to make us.”

But there are barriers to the sweeping changes necessary, panelists said. Verschelde said in other parts of the world local staff normally are not considered for executive positions.

“In Africa, higher positions are given to either international employees or those who studied abroad. The promotion of domestic staff takes years, and thus there is a shortage of domestic labor,” he said.

But there are opportunities to find top-notch, homegrown employees.

“As for operators, it is not sustainable for them to import those staff, so they milk best in class, and in Africa that is South Africa and, to some extent, Kenya,” Verschelde said. “Technology can alleviate this a little, but it has to be people-first.”

Spreading nets
In Eastern Europe, Dániel Csángó, participatory co-teacher at ELTE University, Bárczi Gusztáv Faculty of Special Needs Education, said any shortfall can be in part closed by what he said are 300,000 of Hungarians of working age with disabilities.

“Only 20% of those have employment, most with stupid jobs with very little income, and this needs to be changed,” he said.

“It is all about people, whether it is guests or staff,” said Kausch, who said one problem is that diversity is often only seen from the customer’s perspective.

Potential employees in markets can have their overall attitude changed, Verschelde said.

“In Russia, the notion was seven years ago if you worked in a hotel you had failed, but the Sochi Olympics, the World Cup, might have changed that, but that is not the case in every part of Europe,” he said. “It is about the mindset of employees, and also of the parents.”

Johannes Fuchs, head of product and co-founder of Robotise, which manufacturers service robots for the hospitality and other industries, said robots can help cut costs on expensive service items, while allowing human staff to concentrate on other aspects of what is more important to guests.

“Everything provided for the room is expensive via staff, and we were surprised to see that guests immediately started talking to the robots. There was an emotional attachment, so we now will allow (the robots) to do small talk. Originally, they had no ability to speak,” Fuchs said.

Lazarov said at one of his hotels, the Orea Hotel Pyramida in Prague, robots tell jokes and recommend places to visit.

“Where the internet changed the industry over the last 15 years, (artificial intelligence) will do so in the next 15, but this certainly will not mean the disappearance of staff,” Lazarov said.

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