By: Taylor Beard Stanley, Visit Lake Charles
Let’s be honest. The hospitality and tourism industry may not sound very appealing to potential workers right now. Although there are some amazing benefits to working in travel, we experienced the largest layoffs during the pandemic. It shook people. Some employees who had been loyal to their companies for years were the first to be furloughed. It is hard to come back from. We also must keep in mind that we are not only competing for employees from within the hospitality community but every other industry as well.
Historically, the travel and tourism industry has not been the best at promoting itself. Organizations were scared to “toot their own horns” for fear of threats to their funding. We have done an excellent job of working on this in the last five years or so, but we still have a long way to go. We do a great job now of connecting with our government representatives to talk about the economic driver that tourism is. However, if you are not in this industry, you do not know this industry. To be frank, before I showed up for my interview, I had no idea what a convention & visitors bureau was nor that there was one located in my city. A lot of peers I speak to have similar stories. They fell into or stumbled upon tourism by happenstance. We cannot keep crossing our fingers and hoping the right people stumble into this field.
Our industry also has not always been the most embracing of new ideas, innovative technologies, and changes in mindset. It can be difficult when you have a pattern that has worked for decades to move past that and say, “Is there a better way?” The DMOs that are thriving are the ones who push past their comfort zones and try something new and different and are willing to take that risk to explore new boundaries.
As we compete for potential candidates to fill our workforce, I believe what employees want boils down to a three-part value chain. Some of these we are great at, others we could work on.
Personal Value: What they get out of it
Our jobs are quite demanding. We all know the saying, “this industry never sleeps.” But, at the same time, we have inherent benefits to this industry that people are interested in. It should be obvious that travel is top of the list. What other industry gets to explore the world the way we do? Another benefit of getting to travel is being able to save rewards points. I love that when I travel for work, I get to keep the rewards points to be able to use when I travel with my family.
The other personal value employees get from working in this industry is how soul rewarding it is. I know what I do every day is changing the landscape of my destination for the future. We are contributing to the development of our destinations every single day. We also have the unique ability to amplify the voices of our local businesses to make a direct impact on their bottom line. We are not in it for ourselves, we do it for our communities. My generation grew up with our parents telling us “Love what you do, and you won’t work a day in your life.” To love what you do, you must find it rewarding. This is a selling point we should be making to newcomers.
Valuing Employees: The way you make them feel
Millennials and Generation Zs get a bad rap for wanting money. Sure, we want to be paid fairly for the contributions we are making. That is not unique to our two generations, though. Everyone wants to be paid for the work they do; younger generations are just more honest and upfront about what they want. However, when looking at a long-term career it is more than money.
There is one undeniable truth that I have learned that surpasses generational boundaries, industry lines, educational backgrounds, and everything in between. At the end of the day, every person wants to feel valued and appreciated. The hard part is figuring out what it is that makes each person on your team feel valued because that is different for everyone. For some that will be compensation. However, there is a lot of research on what the current workforce is looking for and it boils down to the following: flexibility, empowerment, and professional development.
Whenever anyone mentions flexibility, the first thing that comes to mind is remote work. Yes, we learned that we do not have to be in the office to get the job done, and I do think that remote work options are here to stay. But flexibility encompasses so much more than that. It is recognizing that people have different pressures and responsibilities influencing their lives. For some, maybe they are the caregivers of their aging parents. It could be personal health issues. For me, it has been adjusting to being a new mother. Why does every person’s schedule have to look the same? If your answer is “because our policy and procedures say so,” it is time to look at changes you can implement to your policies. At our office, we have four different flex schedules we can choose from and we are testing more. It starts with having a conversation with your employees. What would an ideal schedule look like for them? You are not going to be able to accommodate everyone from the start, and there are some roles that, by the nature of the job, cannot have those options. But, it would be a step in the right direction.
We have gone through the interview process, and you have selected us based on our qualifications, personality, and other factors you were looking for. We have gone through the training you constructed for us. Do you trust us to do the job you hired us to do? We want to be empowered to make decisions. We want creative control over projects assigned to us. We want a seat at the table where our input and voices are valued, not just a seat to say you gave us a seat. If you, as the supervisor or leader of an organization, set clear expectations and communicated those to us, let us choose the path on how we get there. Nothing is more powerful than showing your employees that you trust them, and nothing is more destructive than micromanagement. As one of my favorite authors, Simon Sinek, states, “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”
The loud, resounding request is for professional development. We are constantly striving to better ourselves. The Randstad Workmonitor 2022 Report found that 88% of employees (across ALL generations) say they would engage in learning and development programs if given the opportunity. People want to work for organizations that will invest in their growth. Professional development includes attending industry conferences, mentorship, and cross-training. Most of which come naturally in our industry. However, leaders sometimes fear investing time and money to expand their employee’s knowledgebase, because they think they will invest in them, and they will leave. My colleague Anna and I had this conversation recently while attending a conference together. Her argument, which I whole-heartedly agree with, is what if you do not invest in them and they stay? For me, the latter is much scarier.
I do not feel like value alignment is something we talk about enough. We have gotten to a place in society where most organizations have identified their core values. Does your leadership, your BOD, and your staff live those values? What you proclaim as important to the organization must align with the actions you are taking. In other words, you must walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. If your organization says that it has a focus on sustainability, but you do not know the environmental impact travel has on your destination, is sustainability important to you? If you declare to be focused on DEI and the only place that you can see diversity is in your marketing brochures, are you really?
Your emerging workforce wants to work for and with organizations that operate with integrity, accountability, and transparency. It would be better for your organization to not have core values than to have them, but not hold yourselves accountable for living up to those values.
If we can keep this value chain in mind, we can do a better job of addressing what needs to be changed to retain & engage current employees and how to better leverage the benefits of working in this industry to potential employees. The “Future of Travel” starts with a stabilized, strong workforce. A shift was already happening before the pandemic, but there is no denying that COVID-19 has changed the social contract between employers and employees. The era of living to work is long gone. There is a disconnect between the way we sell this industry to potential employees and what employees value. We know our value propositions when we talk to clients to sell our destination. We certainly know our value proposition as an industry when we talk to government officials about the importance of travel & tourism. Do we know our value proposition when we talk to potential employees? I believe the answer to that question is no, but I think we can get there.