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Training, Safety, Communication, and Flexibility Are Major EX Issues Facing the Travel & Hospitality Industry

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The current environment for employees in the travel & hospitality industry is extremely difficult and will not improve anytime soon, given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travelers are facing an ever-changing set of rules, regulations, and safety concerns, and staff members at airports, hotels, and other travel venues are bearing the brunt of it. I flew domestically the weekend before Thanksgiving. While checking in (face-to-face, as the kiosk was not able to accommodate a baggage issue, so no contactless self-service for us), there was a multi-generation family excitedly checking in for an international trip. Unfortunately, they did not have their COVID-19 testing requirements done correctly and the ticketing agent was explaining she could not check them in. A multi-generational meltdown ensued, aimed squarely at the agent who was simply following protocol. It grew to be a heated exchange and a supervisor needed to be called. The agent was looking increasingly frustrated herself, and she glanced at the agent next to her and they exchanged a “here we go again” look. Employee experience (EX) is suffering in the travel & hospitality market, not just from the constant barrage of frustrated customers, but from a laundry list of issues, some which have been longstanding (low pay) and some of which are a result of the pandemic. EX will need to be a focus area as the travel & hospitality industry attempts to move toward stabilization.

Recent surveys to gauge the state of mind of these workers show a deteriorating situation. According to a November 2021 Medallia Zingle survey, 38% of hospitality workers are contemplating leaving the travel industry within the next two months, while 59% report their companies have been working with fewer staff now than they did before the pandemic. Not surprisingly, 24% of employees say their EX has become worse and that they feel less engaged. During interviews for Dash Research’s upcoming CX in the Travel & Hospitality Industry report, the CX-focused conversations almost always ended up circling around EX and how CX in this segment will languish if more focus is not put on this issue. Training, safety, communication, and flexibility are four areas companies need to address.

Training: In research from Harri, hospitality workers listed career growth opportunities and direct access to tools and training resources as a contributing factor to their EX. Due to the pandemic, offerings, services, technologies, and processes have been in a state of flux across the entire travel segment, requiring workers to constantly be learning either new or revised ways of doing things. Additionally, a lot of people are new to roles in the travel & hospitality industry due to the great churn, and employees are taking on a broader set of responsibilities. It is not just the face-to-face workers who will need training, but also contact center agents who are encountering increased volumes in interactions, often with stressed out and frustrated customers. Training will be a requisite not only to enhance operations, but to enhance workers’ EX and sense of confidence.

Safety: The Medallia Zingle research listed health & safety concerns as the number one reason hospitality organizations are currently understaffed. This issue was more prevalent in the US than in other parts of the world. Workers want to avoid potential COVID-19 exposure as much as possible. The increased use of contact free interactions in the industry is beneficial not only to guests, but to employees as well. Employees also need to worry about potential safety issues with the rising tide of negative and even physical interactions between airline passengers and airline staff.

Communication (and Feedback): One of the frustrations voiced by travelers in this confusing travel time period is mirrored by employees:the lack of clear and ongoing communications. The scheduling of employees has been a particular challenge for employers, and employees need to be well informed on schedule and procedure changes. Similarly, incoming communication and feedback channels need to be offered. Employees need to be heard during their journey, just as customers do. This is an area to leverage investments in CX technology (feedback and insights software) to improve EX.

Flexibility: The “great resignation” is causing deep waves in the travel & hospitality industry. Those staying in the industry or considering a job in this segment are demanding a better work/life balance, as well as flexibility with hours and pay. There has been a big pivot from full-time to part-time work. A recent Hotels Magazine article spotlighted Ambridge Hospitality, which has implemented a scheduling policy based around when workers can work, allowing staff the ability to pick up hours at nearby properties if there is a need and offering a daily pay option.

The operational issues that so desperately need addressing in the travel & hospitality market will persist until EX improves. While the list of pain points is long, training, safety, communication, and flexibility are the four biggest issues that need to take precedent. Happy, empowered, and well-informed workers will directly link to positive CX.

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