The mere availability of Eastern European workers won't necessarily solve our labour shortage, warns hospitality consultant Max Lawrence
Many column inches have been dedicated to the current influx of labour from Eastern Europe. This has been almost unanimously applauded by hospitality chiefs and associations, who view this as a solution to the current problem of recruitment in our industry.
But we need to step back and focus on this from a service delivery viewpoint. We are a services-based industry, and any decisions need to be examined to establish what implications they will have on the overall guest experience. After all, financial results are consumer-driven, and customer loyalty is much sought-after.
Let me recount two recent personal experiences. The first was a small country house hotel in rural England, staffed entirely by labour from the new EU countries. Throughout my visit, there were serious communication problems when dealing with any request out of the ordinary. This resulted in a disappointing and unacceptable experience.
My second visit was to a large hotel in a major UK city. During a two-night visit I came into contact with about 25 hospitality workers, nearly all of whom were of Eastern European origin. Yet again language became an issue in service delivery.
It also became apparent that these valuable workers didn't generally find it easy to deliver bright and cheery customer service. We are all acutely aware of the importance of this to today's guests, who view it as an integral part of their overall experience.
The industry must ensure that there's a sensible balance of labour. This means a long-term commitment from top management to ensure that extra funding is allocated and invested in properly training these new recruits.
Britain is an expensive visitor destination, and we must deliver a knowledgeable and professional product.
We must also recognise that a little local colour and knowledge is valuable and much sought-after by today's well-travelled guests.
As an industry we need to listen, invest and get the balance of labour right, then we can all benefit. If not, the bottom line will suffer as guests look to competition that can deliver this critical service element.