Hospitality leadership looks to build back better

New initiatives are looking to build back hospitality’s human resources better, after the pandemic shutdown of the industry.  

In the UK, the Hoteliers’ Charter is gaining momentum, with the mission of changing the perception of the sector in the eyes of potential recruits. While in the USA, the legacy of the untimely death of Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson has shone a light on the value of strong leadership.  

Both initiatives look set to raise the profile of a sector that employs millions globally, but often suffers from the belief that many of its jobs are “meanwhile” roles – with the cliche of the out of work actor being a waiter.  

In the UK, the Hoteliers’ Charter was created by Sally Beck, general manager of the Royal Lancaster hotel in London. A movement based around raising standards, and the profile of the sector, it has a growing momentum with more than 300 hotel general managers signed up to the ten-point charter – and more than 35 joining per week currently.  

Beck says the idea “started as a rant, in all honesty.” Having arranged a week’s work experience at the hotel for her daughter and one of her schoolfriends, she was stunned when the other girl’s mother stopped her from going, because she considered work in a hotel as being beneath the girl. Stunned, she set out to change the “upstairs, downstairs” image still in many minds.  

Beck points out that the industry in the UK struggles to set out its stall. TV chef Gordon Ramsay perpetuates an image that work in a kitchen will be reporting to a shouty, swearing boss; while one restaurateur recently declared it was acceptable to use service charges and tips to make up the minimum wage.  

In contrast, European countries have proud career waiters, and a culture of hotel schools to train professionals for the sector.  

“I just felt the public persona of our industry doesn’t help us. We are best in class, and we should shout about it. We have to change the hearts and minds of parents and careers advisors.”  

Having been named 2019 Hotelier of the Year, she used her acceptance speech as a call to action. “You have a year to be noisy – luckily for me, due to lockdown and the cancellation of the 2020 event, I have two years.” 

The charter asks hotel managers to commit to standards across people development and responsible management, workplace culture, community and charity involvement, and sustainability.  

In addition, Beck is building connections and collaboration to enhance connections with education, better-connected training; and plans to create further groups to share best practice across the charter’s key commitments. “I see the charter becoming the glue between a lot of stuff that’s already happening.” To date, charter activities have been based around donated time and effort, and she is seeking support to establish the charter as a not-for-profit entity.  

Meanwhile in Washington, US, steps are being taken to remember Arne Sorenson, former CEO of Marriott who died in February 2021, with the creation of a centre for hospitality leadership at the Howard University School of Business.  

The fund was created by a USD20m gift from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, with an encouragement that others in the industry would also lend their support. “Arne’s passion for creating a culture of opportunity brought real change in the executive ranks of our company,” said Marriott chairman, Bill Marriott jr. “Our industry needs a pipeline of diverse leadership talent and that’s exactly what this centre will achieve.”  

“This innovative program will foster leadership excellence and help drive greater inclusion at the most senior levels of the hospitality industry. We hope that other hospitality companies will join us in designing the programme and providing experiential opportunities to generate talent that will meet the needs of the industry well into the future.” 

Marriott immediately added USD1m, while Ian Schrager was one of the first to respond with an equivalent pledge, commenting: “I’m very happy the work Arne did while he was alive will still continue and I am committed to helping to raise awareness and funds to support this effort.”  

The aim is for the centre to deliver “a best-in-class program that expands educational and professional opportunities for Howard students and aims to develop future executives in the hospitality industry”. Advisory council members will be guest lecturers and mentors, and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students.  

HA Perspective [by Chris Bown]: One of the strange changes the pandemic has forced on us, is a reassessment of what’s important about what we do. Not everyone got government furlough support, so laid off airline pilots became grocery home delivery drivers, as restaurant owners worked out how to create takeaways. An out of work musician recently delivered Amazon parcels to my home.  

Along the way, many roles and career paths have been quietly examined, and reassessed. 

Plenty of people have had to be laid off from the hospitality sector around the world. It would be great if, when they return, or their replacements are hired, they come into a sector which they can see delivering their future career, not just a job for now.  

While on different continents, these two initiatives are united by seeking higher standards, and a higher level of appreciation, for those in the business of hospitality, and who choose to make their career within it.  

Now all we need is a government minister for hospitality and tourism. That would be progress. 

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