HSMAI Europe People & Culture Advisory Board debates the challenges of uncertainty



Author: Gil Mulders, Chair of the HSMAI Region Europe People & Culture Advisory Board and Founder of the Talent Network

Little did we know when we created the HSMAI Europe People & Culture advisory board just two years ago that our world would experience so much change. Our conversations have always been focused on Attraction – Selection – Development and Retention of the best talents in the business. 

The “WHAT” hasn’t change, we still need to attract the best, select for passion and attitude , develop and retain. However the “HOW” and the “WHY” have evolved dramatically with the health and economic crisis that follows.  

Gil Mulders

The diversity of background within our board, ranging from Operation, HR, Learning and Academia in large and smaller organizations allowed us to re-think and challenge the traditional pre-COVID approaches and also to temper the post-COVID knee-jerk reactions we have seen in the business. 

We covered each of the above aspects of People & Culture in hospitality and asked ourselves the following questions: 

  • How do you attract people to an industry that has been hit the hardest by the economic downturn ? Are hotel schools making the appropriate adaptations to help their students secure the best jobs in what remains the industry that employees the largest number of people in the world? How do you keep your best talents from jumping ship?  
  • Which are the skills and competencies that you need to run a successful business during a storm ? Which of those need to be developed or acquired? 
  • How can we keep employee engagement up when we need to downsize? What is the role of mentoring? 

More questions then there are answers, however we have kept supporting HSMAI members and the industry at large with tools to guide attraction, selection and on-the job leadership development. We supported the creation of the Excelling at Customer Centricity Virtual Class, supported the  Mike Leven Mentoring Programme and together with the HSMAI Europe team and HSMAI Foundation, are bringing together CHRO from the industry in a virtual round table to expand the conversation  

If you’d like to know more about the HSMAI Europe People & Culture Advisory Board, please get in touch with HSMAI Region Europe at postbox@hsmai.eu


Post-Corona Era: Challenging Times Ahead

By Emile Schelfhout, HSMAI, Tuesday 26th May 2020

About the Author – Emile Schelfhout

He is a 22 year-old ambitious hotel & hospitality professional. Having worked in five hotels and a cluster management company, he got exposed to all departments and gained a profound understanding of a hotel’s daily and longer-term challenges. Additionally, he established valuable insights into ways of thinking applied by hotel managers, which is of the highest importance when engaging in cooperation with hotels. This understanding, combined with an MBA education, makes him someone who comprehends and can implement operational excellence, strategic performance, and people leadership. In the near future, he hopes to continue to grow the HSMAI network by looking for those who want to contribute to this wonderful industry. Because when you bring people together across companies and brands, you will make a difference for the future hotel & hospitality industry.

Emile will work as a volunteer for HSMAI Region Europe for a few hours per week, during this time he will also complete his MBA. 


Here is his first blog post for HSMAI Region Europe:

Over the last decades, the hotel and travel industry has proven to be a robust and flexible industry. They survived terroristic attacks, a financial crisis and tremendous changes in customer behaviour due to digitisation of the society. However, the last few months have challenged hotel and restaurant owners as never before.

Simultaneously, admirable initiatives such as volunteering actions, events like Hospitality Tomorrow and other webinars emerged. All stakeholders of this industry are impacted: travellers are not able to continue business or go on holidays, hotel staff had to find a different way of supporting their precious hotel guests, and hotel managers were confronted with strategic challenges they never encountered before. Meanwhile, scientists keep on looking for an antidote so we can get back into a new normal. This article aims at providing hospitality professionals with an overview of what actions they should have completed during these challenging times and what to look out for in the near future.

What you should have done

COVID-19 has once again confirmed the value of the renowned Maslow pyramid. Despite the lack of previous experience of dealing with a global pandemic of this size, employees, guests and management first required to be acknowledged of their primary needs: safety, security and health. This prerequisite did not only include a need for a guarantee of safe and healthy work conditions but as well as protection on a psychological and monetary level. Only appropriate proactive measures can provide such comfort through the implementation of cleaning protocols, distance measures, and hygiene regulations combined with a candid and proactive communication to all previously mentioned stakeholders. This communication should breathe an interest in the well-being of those stakeholders to be perceived as authentic.

What starts as a social service can potentially turn into a financial benefit. Engagement with your community, also when you are under financial stress, has never been more critical. Many initiatives emerged: hotels offering their rooms to health care workers or homeless people, restaurants providing meal packages for hospitals… you name it! If you haven’t done so before, now is the time to start these practices to survive and build a community of trust, safety and belonging.

Use the experience you’ve had before the corona era and dare to move on! Dare to break with the paradigms, and to develop your strategy based on data and market knowledge. You definitely should consider showing flexibility in your rate policy.

What you should keep doing

If you haven’t started doing any of the topics mentioned above, now is the time to follow-up. If you have, maintain this open, candid communication internally and externally. Remain true to your commitment. It’s no secret customer expectations and customer demands have changed drastically compared to 2019, and will continue to do so in the next couple of months. These changes include a demand for providing guarantees for a risk-free stay, an increase in the pace of the digital evolution, and a new standard for luxury on the short-term. Stay ahead of these evolutions and develop new forms of customer empathy to anticipate new customer behaviour and demands. A change in your behaviour as an enterprise will lead to providing an answer to these new customer needs.

For international travel, one of the most influential factors are regulations concerning the restrictions upheld by the country of origin and the destination. Therefore, keep track of international rules, as they will highly influence your short- and mid-term segmentation. The COVID-19 global pandemic revealed the hotel industry’s dependence on very few substantial revenue streams and a shortage of investment in new profit models. Predications by STR expose that a RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) similar to 2019, will only be achieved within seven years from now. Hence, on a longer-term, hospitality leaders will highly benefit from looking beyond traditional revenue creation (mainly from room revenue) and from moving beyond the paradigm of limiting hotel services to the four walls that define its infrastructure.

Be Positive, Be Hospitality

There are some green shoots in China and the US. Organisations such as STR and Skift strongly believe in an increase in demand as from the months June and July. Unfortunately, Europe is lagging behind. However, despite the many steps to be taken, the hotel and accommodation industry will always be about providing a hospitable welcome to its guests. Until we defined this new normal together as an industry, we have to keep looking to establish these new standards. Within this process, the value of organisations such as HSMAI become clear. They bring industry professionals together and propose answers to critical issues that dominate the industry. The hotel industry will continue its battle against this pandemic and challenging times ahead. That’s what we not only owe to ourselves, our employees and our guests but as well to the many communities we maintain.

New HSMAI Region Europe blog

This is the first of a series of blog posts, in which thought leaders in the hospitality industry will share their thoughts, ideas or a personal story that is strongly linked to the industry. Sometimes personal experiences can give you the best (new) insights into industry-related topics, and prove to be excellent examples of how you would like things to happen within your work environment as well. Together with these blog posts we will also start developing interviews with industry experts, in the shape of blog posts, vlogs and podcasts.  

We start off with a personal experience of HSMAI Region Europe’s President & CEO Ingunn Hofseth

British Airways’ ground crew’s excellent Customer Service

HSMAI Region Europe’s President & CEO Ingunn Hofseth

You can probably all imagine how annoying it can be when you reach the airport gate and find out that your flight is overbooked. This is exactly what happened to me, en route to Budapest from London Heathrow Airport. But, it had a very happy ending thanks to British Airways’ excellent customer service.

I always try to travel economy class but as a holder of a Star Alliance’s Diamond card they always take very good care of me. I hadn’t travelled with BA for a while, but this time I had booked an economy class ticket to Budapest from Heathrow London, with no BA loyalty or mileage card. I got up at five o’clock in the morning, to reach my nine o’clock flight. Upon arrival at the gate I learned that my flight was overbooked and I was now rebooked on a flight set to leave London Heathrow at 2:30 PM. It was unfortunate, but I did not make a big deal of it and remained calm.

What happened next however impressed me deeply. I was taken to a back office where I received, in an exemplary way, a detailed explanation for the delay. “We are truly sorry but will try to compensate you the best way we know how to ” said the BA representative. They offered me:

– An upgrade including full access to the BA lounge with all facilities at my disposal.

– A substantial refund in the shape of a card for use in the airport’s shops, which could be converted into a prepaid VISA card that lasts for a few months.

Photo: Donald Porter, Former V.P. British Airways

What impressed me the most, though, was the genuine personal service. With service like that you’re almost happy you lost the flight and it only goes to show that British Airways really values the importance of good customer service. Whereas some of us become a little defensive in the face of criticism, at BA they see it as a competitive edge and a means of improvement and it says a lot about the company culture.

We could all learn a lesson from that, I think, in realising how important customer service is. With all of this in mind you may be happy to learn that HSMAI Region Europe have developed a new programme; the ECC Programme. 

Our programme, Excelling at Customer Centricity, is an Executive Coach Certification with the aim for participants to become enablers of a culture of customer centric excellence.

Photo: From the ECC Programme in London

The first certification workshop took place in London in September this year (2019). The programme got great feedback and St James Court was a perfect kick-off venue for the programme. See here

The next certification workshop will take place on December 4th – 6th, at the wonderful hotel The Thief Hotel in Oslo

To British Airway’s Jacqueline Jolly and Sharon Fernandez – and all of your colleagues at Heathrow:  Thank you so much for an inspiring experience!

Photo: British Airways Customer Service Representative Jacqueline Jolly HSMAI Europe President and CEO Ingunn Hofseth and Sharon Fernandez British

I wish you all a lovely day!

Warm Regards

Ingunn Hofseth
President & CEO
HSMAI Region Europe