A look at crucial HR policies adopted by leading hotels to tide over the COVID-19 economic crisis

Industry experts walk us through the various short-and long-term human resource (HR) measures adopted by hotels to streamline their business

Human Resource policies, Accor, Radisson Hotel Group, Conrad Bengaluru, The Ascott Limited (Ascott), President, Mumbai - IHCL SeleQtions, COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of livelihood across the spectrum. Of all the sectors, travel & tourism and hospitality have been severely impacted due to travel bans and the lockdown induced by the global pandemic.

The data by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reveals that in 2019 the tourism industry in India contributed Rs 194 billion to India’s GDP. The industry also supported 87.5 million jobs, 12.75% of total employment in 2018-19.

However, due to the impact of the pandemic on the global economy, the WTTC is estimating losses of up to USD 2.7 trillion, with up to 100 million jobs at risk. The travel and tourism industry in India is looking at up to 40 million job losses (both direct and indirect) and about USD 17 billion in revenue loss in the next one year.

Owing to crisis, major hospitality brands across the globe are either shutting down permanently, some are struggling, while others are resorting to cost-saving measures such as layoffs, furloughing of employees and pay cuts. However, certain hotels are taking various short-and long-term human resource (HR) measures to tide over the crisis.

Furloughs and cost-cutting
Many hospitality groups across the globe have been forced to take harsh measures such as layoffs, pay cuts and furloughing of employees to keep their businesses afloat.

Zubin Saxena, Managing Director and Vice President - Operations, South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group

As a cost-saving measure, Radisson Hotel Group has recommended a payroll mitigation plan to the owners of their hotels. “Decisions have been made in the light of business realities, which we continue to monitor optimistically for reinstating affected colleagues. With more than 50 hotels under development, our pipeline provides us a robust opportunity to absorb talent internally when the time is right,” avers Zubin Saxena, Managing Director and Vice President – Operations, South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group.

The severity of the situation has forced Accor to take difficult, but necessary protective measures such as temporary leave of absence, freeze on hires and pruning all non-essential costs. “We value our employees tremendously but the severity of the situation means the need to cut costs is a reality. Our strategy is to protect our employees that find themselves in a difficult situation due to the COVID-19 crisis,” says Ashwin Shirali, Vice President - Talent and Culture, India & South Asia, Accor.

The group has launched an ALL Heartist Fund, a €70 million COVID-19 special purpose vehicle whose mission is to assist the group’s employees, pledging to pay hospital expenses for those who do not have social security or medical insurance, and on a case-to-case basis, to furloughed employees suffering great financial distress.

While the entire industry is under pressure to optimise resources and reduce costs and many industry peers have retrenched team members, Conrad Benagluru has not initiated any layoffs. “These decisions are never easy and the property owner, Prestige Group, has exhibited solidarity in terms of zero layoffs. While there have been some voluntary adjustments in remunerations temporarily for managerial staff, a large portion of our team remains unaffected,” asserts Srijan Vadhera, General Manager, Conrad Bengaluru. In fact, for the last few months, there was no change in employee salary. However, recently, Conrad Bengaluru has had to introduce contributions at the managerial level only. “Our sentiments remain positive and we hope no other actions are necessary. We have worked on managing energy costs, aligning timings to operate our chiller plants and other high-energy consuming areas as well,” Vadhera adds.

Ascott is taking adequate steps to review costs on all departmental fronts. It has renounced additional staff activities that require employee entertainment funding. The group has worked with the local labour office to avail free rations provided by the government and distributed them to staff who have migrated from other states. Besides, the hotel has accommodated the frontline staffs at the properties, for their own safety and that of their family members. All staff meals are provided by the management.

Swatee Chaturvedi, Director of Human Resources, President, Mumbai - IHCL SeleQtions.

Swatee Chaturvedi, Director of Human Resources, President, Mumbai - IHCL SeleQtions presents a very contrarian point of view on cost optimisation. Quoting Sir Winston Churchill, she said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. She opines that the cost structure of a unit is like its DNA; it is a relatively constant number over a period of time and requires more than a cosmetic surgery to have a lasting impact.

“The best way to restructure would be by adopting technology for every aspect of the business, right from client acquisition to guest experience, delivery of service and procurement of materials, and finally to the staff,” explains Chaturvedi. Technology adoption can bring in cost and operating efficiencies. Its rigorous implementation could be a source of competitive advantage over a longer period of time, she adds.

Many hotels have been forced to make difficult but necessary protective measures such as layoffs, temporary leave of absence and pruning all non-essential costs.

Restructuring human resource needs
The need for collaborative approach has intensified and hotels are restructuring hierarchy to promote efficiency. “Clustering of resources and deployment of internal task forces are a few upgrades we have implemented to breakdown the hierarchy and promote more cross-team collaboration,” informs Saxena.

Vincent Miccolis, Regional General Manager – Middle East, Africa, Turkey & India, The Ascott Limited.

Vincent Miccolis, Regional General Manager – Middle East, Africa, Turkey & India, The Ascott Limited says, “Staff efficiencies are higher at Ascott as there are lesser layers in the middle and senior management levels. Our organisation structure is quite nimble and our multi-faceted managers are trained and empowered to handle multiple verticals with ease. This versatility has helped Ascott groom existing staff to cater to future company growth and to take on new roles.” In addition to reducing manpower-related expenses, this structure allows better flow of communication across all levels.

Conrad Bengaluru is encouraging cross-exposure learning across different departments for team members. “Our managers are learning and practicing the nuances of business development. Considering the times ahead will remain challenging for a while, it is imperative for every resource to think like an entrepreneur,"opines Vadhera.

Training for changing times
The hospitality industry will need rigorous re-skilling and new training for employees, as customer behaviour undergoes radical changes.

Radisson Hotel Group has initiated a number of training programmes that include a 20-step protocol for hotels and a 10-step one for meeting and event spaces across all their properties, in partnership with SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company.

Hotels are holding training sessions for their staff to understand and implement the new protocols.

“Apart from hygiene, various other aspects of customer service and backend operations will see a shift due to accelerated use of new technologies such as contactless payments. To ensure a seamless transition to their new roles and exceed guest expectations, the group has devised ‘Business Recovery & Re-Opening Training’ modules for employees across all the hotels,” added Saxena.

Srijan Vadhera, General Manager, Conrad Bengaluru

Keeping up with the standards of housekeeping and hygiene in compliance with overall Hilton Worldwide practices, Conrad Bengaluru has introduced new training programs for staff members to further heighten their hygiene standards. “Slight alterations in the daily life of team members have been made, such as hand wash frequency, high touch-point surface sanitisation every 30 minutes, luggage sanitisation protocols, and ultra-low-volume misting (ULV) of Oxivir solution for deep-cleaning have been added,” says Vadhera.

Accor, too, is re-evaluating their strategies towards apprising their staff about the new normal. “Our teams are undergoing sessions on how to interact with guests and manage the operations once the hotels re-open. Starting from entering the hotel premises to check-in, room service, housekeeping, dining and check-out, the staff is being trained to maintain social distance and follow stringent measures to ensure that the guests feel safe,” informs Shirali.

In a bid to help the staff to enhance their skill sets, Ascott has made various online courses accessible to the employees that they can avail at any time during the lockdown. Other internal training programmes include new protocols to be followed, updates on local regulations, and swift and appropriate responses. “Ascott has levelled up our ‘On Job Training’ module to empower young talent who are joining the hospitality in-dustry,” says Vincent Miccolis, Regional General Manager – Middle East, Africa, Turkey & India, The Ascott Limited.

Strategies to boost morale
Coping with unprecedented challenges have impacted employees, physically and mentally. Many hospitality groups have implemented policies that help them navigate through the stress and uncertainty.
Radisson Hotel Group has curated thoughtful and detailed human resource plans with an objective to upskill and engage. The upskilling initiative includes online ‘Business Recovery & Re-Opening Training’ sessions, which focus on empowering employees to adapt to the times, while the Informal LIVE learning sessions with experts addresses operational queries.

The engagement initiative by Radisson Hotel Group includes: circulation of regular newsletters around relatable topics—ranging from inspirational pieces, personal development and lifestyle tips. Under the engagement initiative, Virtual Coffee’ sessions, where employees catch up with Human Resource team and share how they are coping with the complexities of the environment, have been launched. The third initiative involves weekly learning vitamins, which focus on enhancing leadership and functional capabilities relevant in the current scenario.

Accor has launched well-being initiatives for employees working from home and for staff that are stationed in the hotels, which are currently operational. “Accor Academy has partnered with multiple learning partners such as eCornell, LinkedIn Learning and getAbstract to offer select courses for access to all its Heartists.The courses will help in improving the skill set and leadership qualities of our employees,” states Shirali.

The Accor Academy’s in-house training team has designed short-learning podcast series called ‘Antidote’ and conduct daily virtual sessions on soft skills and behavioural topics. Additionally, activities such live virtual guided yoga sessions are organised to help employees stay focused and feel connected.

They are encouraged to reach out and ask for professional help if they need it through Accor EWAP, which provides a number of services that are confidential and free for employees and their family members. These include confidential counselling with stress, grief, anxiety, or any concern they might have.

Apart from weekly online webinars that include training teams on time management and maintaining a healthy body and mind, Conrad Bengaluru is establishing seamless communication with the staff. “Weekly virtual calls and physical interaction with the heroes staying at the hotel has been pivotal to strengthening our team. We have prepared team members to be multi-skilled, where each team member enhances his/her skills by cross departmental trainings,”says Vadhera. Through Hilton University, an internal training platform for 6,100 Hilton hotels, staff members have been able to optimise the utility of time and focus on self-development.

Ascott has conscientiously developed an environment of transparency and open flow of communication, in addition to regular activities organised to boost staff morale. “We organise periodic virtual staff communication sessions (Townhall), sharing steps taken by the company to tackle challenges at hand. The HR team and other senior managers offer emotional support to the staff on the frontline and those working from home, at all times, says Miccolis.

Navigating in troubled waters 

Given the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, hospitality chains are rolling out a number of initiatives for their staff— on-ground as well as those working from home, to ensure that they are safe. They are also helping them build up on their skill sets during.

Radisson Hotel Group has implemented a number of initiatives by developing a payroll optimisation plan that focuses on prioritising and protecting the interests of its talent, while managing the impact of business disruptions.

“We are leveraging our India Unification Strategy, which builds on the strength of our network and delivers efficiency across five focus areas. Manpower is one of these key areas, apart from procurement,
food & beverage (F&B), operations and commercial,” informs Zubin Saxena, Managing Director and Vice President Operations, South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group.

Under its manpower strategy, the hotel has rolled out a number of crucial initiatives such as Cluster General Manager Program (optimisation of human resources, managing their career aspirations and providing them enriched job content), General Manager Lead Referral Program (a result-oriented incentive program and) Manning Blueprint (aims at preparing a future-ready organisation to deliver greater efficiencies led by a quality- driven mindset).

The group is also looking into digitally enabled processes supported by task management, engineering software and internal communication platforms. Much before the crisis, “we had developed internal processes to enable employee feedback to flow freely to the management. These listening exercises have
become even more critical in the current situation,” adds Saxena.

Ashwin Shirali, Vice President -Talent and Culture, India & South Asia, Accor

For Accor, prioritising the safety and well-being of their employees and guests is of paramount importance. “We want our employees to look after themselves and their family. We are communicating daily with our staff to ensure they are safe. We believe in being transparent and empathetic, ensuring that everyone is aligned to global developments at the group level and across our network of hotels. This means communicating with our teams on the ground and empowering them to find solutions to help us all wade through this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side of it,” says Shirali.

The global hospitality group has rolled out several initiatives such as housing staff members in hotels where necessary, providing them with nutritious packed meals and supplying groceries and vegetables to their homes to enable them to cook their own meals. Accor has also launched a 24x7 Employee Wellness Assistance Plan [EWAP] which offers the team members access to trained counselors. Besides, they are also hosting virtual town halls every week to keep the teams engaged and informed about every step taken by the organisation as they navigate through crisis.

With the resumption of the business nearly after two-and-a-half months of lockdown, the team at Conrad Bengaluru is focusing on carving out opportunities from the challenges. “We have been relentless and have taken the current situation in a stride, for we believe ‘tough times do not last, but tough people do’.
Through the various simulations and rigorous training sessions, we have stayed in close contact with our team members and have discussed mental health well-being practices,” states Srijan Vadhera, General Manager, Conrad Bengaluru.

Given that social distancing will be a reality for a long time to come, The Ascott Limited has allowed only one-third of operational staff at each of their property, including serviced residences in India (Somerset Greenways Chennai and Citadines OMR Chennai). The Ascott Group’s initiatives include hosting regular yoga sessions to help the team stay fit and energized, and hosting a movie night for people staying at the property while following  stringent social distancing and safety practices. A special Iftar dinner was hosted for the staff to commemorate Ramadan. On International Labour Day, the teams on duty at both the properties were treated to a special lunch sponsored by those who were working from home, as part of cross-departmental appreciation.

Besides, the department heads took turns to cook healthy evening snacks for the staff working through this time. A social media campaign celebrating the frontline staff through #Ascott-COVID19heroes was featured.

Housekeeping emerging as crucial department
As we tread into the ‘new normal’, quality housekeeping will be crucial to regain consumer trust. “At Radisson Hotel Group, we have carefully re-crafted our housekeeping plan to create and reward housekeeping champions at various hotels, who will drive the concept across all employees. We will follow this up with rigorous reviews and audits of each hotel by the champions to ensure 100% adherence to new SOPs,” informs Saxena.

At Ascott, a health and hygiene champion has been appointed in each property to ensure compliance with the regulatory health measures.

Miccolis claims that housekeeping is a critical pillar for Ascott and they have drafted new protocol for the department to provide safe and seamless service. “We have formed a centralised ‘taskforce’ of key staff from various departments across different countries, who worked on ‘Ascott Cares’, our commitment to deliver stringent hygiene and enhance existing cleanliness protocols for our properties. A health and hygiene champion will also be appointed in each property to uphold these standards and ensure compliance with the latest regulatory health measures.”

Conrad Bengaluru is among the few Indian hotels to already have a hygiene manager on their team and has been conducting audits across various areas in the hotel—from procurement to washing procedures, team hygiene, and even water testing from their in-house water bottling plant. Vadhera says, “The number of vigilant rounds has been increased with a more detailed checklist. Additionally, each room undergoes deep cleaning post the departure of a guest. The team is equipped with PPE kits and an ultra-low-volume misting (ULV) Oxivir solution for decontamination.”

The human resource strategies are varied, ranging from staff morale to hotel team-guests interaction and the policies will evolve as hotels open up gradually.

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