Employee engagement: the only game in town

Tourism customer experience specialist Stephen Spencer emphasises the importance of attracting, engaging and retaining first class employees.
At a time when there has never been more uncertainty around the climate for British business, the government’s policies on immigration, skills, quality of welcome and productivity need to be both bold and joined-up.
Whether or not tourism and hospitality workers are drawn from home or abroad, however, is less important than whether businesses are genuinely focused on the key resource with which to win the productivity war and develop Brexit resilience: employee engagement.

Urgent response

Ever since hospitality skills and workforce development charity People 1st revealed that a 1% increase in productivity would generate an additional £1.43 billion to the sector, it’s seemed obvious both that here is a massive opportunity, and that there needs to be a coherent, pragmatic, and urgent response by the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.
In uncertain times the only sensible response is to focus on the customer, and the people who serve the customer: for an industry that lives or dies by the quality of its customer experience there is genuinely no alternative.
It may seem inevitable that businesses will respond with extreme caution in the face of rising costs, the potential risks posed by Brexit, mounting global uncertainty, and a ‘soft skills drain’ as migrant workers, for a variety of reasons, desert our shores. This, however, is the worst thing that the hospitality sector could do.
It is time to focus on the fact that in the age of disruption, faced by consumers who have never had more choice, employee engagement is the only game in town. As Herb Kelleher, the co-founder, chairman emeritus and former chief executive of the much-admired Southwest Airlines has said: “Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”

Soft skills gap

So, it’s time to invest – in attracting, engaging and retaining the employees who will attract, retain and engage loyal customers, who will of course share their experiences as never before. It’s time to address that soft skills gap – to support the 122,000 workers People 1st estimates will be held back by a lack of those skills.
It’s time to recognise that the 870,000 new employees needed by 2022 are out there – they just don’t necessarily see tourism and hospitality as the sectors of choice to build a great and rewarding career.
Above all, then, it’s time for hospitality, tourism and retail leaders to work together: to build a powerful campaign capable of selling the industry to the employees of the future. To do that, we must become students of employee engagement. We must invest more, not less, in training and development. That is the way we will unlock all that latent productivity – there is no other way.

‘Pride & Passion for Tourism’

Ten years ago, the Scottish hospitality and tourism sectors created an umbrella campaign to sell the benefits of employee engagement and enhanced customer experience to business owners and leaders across the country.
For three years, ‘Pride & Passion for Scotland’ identified and shared best practice, motivation, tools and techniques, signposting existing business support and bringing together disparate initiatives, helping to unite the industry behind the marketing promise delivered by VisitScotland.
If we want to build a united, high-skill, high-productivity, and resilient industry, it’s time for ‘Pride & Passion for Tourism’. I hope the tourism sector’s contribution to the government’s much-heralded, new Industrial Strategy can lay the foundations for that.