The Secret Hotelier: The rise of fewer staff, more work

Published: 22 July 2020 - 8:45 a.m.
By: Hotelier Middle East Staff
The impact of the ongoing pandemic can be felt in every single industry, however hospitality is the one that’s hit the hardest, which, honesty speaking one wouldn’t say, when looking at some of the beachfront properties on The Palm Jumeirah or well-known evening hangout spots in DIFC. In these venues, it’s ‘business as usual’ with probably a single visible change compared to earlier this year – the staff members wearing masks.

As Dubai has been so dependent on its inbound tourism, which all of a sudden isn’t there, a number of harsh decisions — from permanently shutting down hotels, to laying off people, have been taken along the way. And make no mistake, they will continue to be taken, while hotel leadership teams are reinventing hotel operations in order to sustain cash reserves.

From now on it will be all about doing more with fewer resources: staff, money, time, you name it. In our hotel operations, those team members who were initially hired as front office agents and thought they’d solely be conducting check-ins during peak hours are now doing split shifts – serving a five-hour shift as a receptionist, then going home for a four-hour break in the afternoon, and returning for an evening shift to cover the duties of a restaurant hostess for another four hours.

Our management team says that people need to learn to adapt and, if needed, start broadening their skillsets. Being inflexible to change is no longer an option. We need to adapt to the new requirements, or they’ll find someone who will.

The very same approach has been taken across a number of back-of-house roles, as the fine line between digital marketing, public relations and social media has become more blurred than ever before. It now all falls under the general marketing label. Gone are the days when a marketing team could outsource all the projects to highly paid agencies – now it’s all in the hands of a single person (formerly an in-house team of four). Or in smaller hotel operations – marketing falls under sales or business development. At the end of the day, all that the management team cares about is bringing cash to the bank. Whether your post meets the brand guidelines; whether guest comments on social media are replied in a timely manner, and whether the overwhelmed soul who’s doing three peoples’ tasks is on a 90% salary cut – is all secondary.

Regional office teams of some of the world’s largest hotel chains are trying to work out the optimal number of employees required to sustain operations. And some of the exercises include how many waiters do we need when the restaurant is at full capacity and how many guests can one chef cook for? The hotel’s current manning is determined by the quota given by the head office - the highly paid, white-collar executives, who have never worked in hotel operations and therefore couldn’t know the number of staff we actually need. That is, of course, assuming that the five-star hotel in question still wants to continue offering what the brand name above the door promises – luxury hospitality).

The good old days where staff could step up and say “That’s not in my job description, I’m not going to do it” are over. Only the ones willing to adapt and change will survive what’s yet to come in the post-pandemic world.

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