Hospitality risk management for the holidays and beyond

The holiday season is always a busy time for the hospitality industry, but this year in particular, as consumer confidence rises faster than organizations can hire, properties can expect to be short-staffed and overwhelmingly crowded. How can hotel management maintain a safety culture, mitigate loss exposures and reduce risk during such a hectic time? 

Here’s what your team should be thinking about—during the holidays and throughout the year that follows.

A Return to Normal-ish Operations

The hospitality industry is surely in a much better place than it was a year ago. Business travelers are now getting back on the road, incrementally increasing occupancy rates. In most locations, swimming pools, fitness centers and other amenities that were closed for a long time are beginning to reopen. COVID protocols remain, but by and large, staying in a hotel is starting to feel somewhat normal again.

Staffing Challenges 

As much as other operational issues are improving, staffing issues remain a key concern for hotel management. Behind the scenes, hotels are still struggling to bring in and retain employees. In some cases, many hotels have been in a position of operating at reduced occupancy rates due to staffing issues as they could not support higher levels. 

Unfortunately, with the reduced workforce and overworked staff come safety concerns including whether existing and new staff have received adequate or any safety training relevant to their positions.

Risk-Management Priorities

Hotel operators are so busy they can’t get it all done right now. Due to staff shortages, many in hotel management have taken on additional responsibilities, leaving little time to provide adequate training and operate the hotel at the same time. With safety a key priority, yet time at a premium, here are the top three risk-management areas that your team should be focused on right now:

  • Prioritize safety training. Existing staff may be so busy that many times they aren’t getting the appropriate safety reinforcement. Workers returning after furlough may not have enough time to reacclimate to the role and strenuous activity. It may be difficult to allocate enough time for proper training for new hires. When you’re talking about higher risk occupations such as room attendants, this is particularly concerning. Observation-based safety incentive programs can help acknowledge and reward staff for working in a safe way—and these programs don’t have to be particularly time- or labor-intensive to successfully implement.
  • Focus on staff retention. With a team that’s going to be working longer and harder until the property is fully staffed, employee safety and satisfaction are probably more important than ever. Dissatisfied employees are more difficult to retain, so make sure you treat your team right. From flexible schedules and appropriate pay increases to safety incentive programs, acknowledge and reward staff for working in a safe way. There are many ways to show your staff how much you value them—and employees who feel valued are going to stay and work harder for you.
  • Don’t forget de-escalation training. The trigger could be COVID-driven; a difference of opinion between guests about appropriate masking or social distancing behavior. It could be the presence of non-guests in public areas of your property or the potential for crime that this kind of open access can portend. Or it may simply be guest frustration driven by reductions in service due to being short-handed. Regardless of the issue, does your staff know how to respond? Give your employees the skills they need to handle unexpected circumstances with grace and professionalism and your entire organization will reap the benefits.

The Bottom Line

As a risk-management professional, I speak with GMs and their teams every day, and the consensus is that as much as things are improving, staffing issues are more concerning than ever. They also tell me that they are seeing a considerable number of people going out due to injury, an unnecessary and costly concern, especially during the busy holiday season.

In the midst of these challenges, the importance of safety recognition programs and training incentives that keep employees safe and boost retention simply can’t be overstated. Risk mitigation always makes a difference, and a culture of safety that’s supported at the executive and management levels provides great overall benefit for the hospitality industry. A good risk-management partner will be eager to assist with safety incentive programs and materials designed to support the unique needs of the hospitality industry. 

Glen O’Connor is SVP, risk control technical director, Sompo Global Risk Solutions.