Discuss the factors that affect the development of good practice in human resource management in Tourism, Hospitality and Events (THE) organisations.
It is a widely held view “that human resource management is a central strategic and operational concern within the tourism and hospitality industries, with implications for quality and market positioning of tourism at local, regional and national levels. All stakeholders, be they public or private sector, visitor or host community, would benefit from a close integration of human resource, labour market and education policies.” (Baum, Amoah and Spivack, 1997) This work also presents two studies which substantiate this view: one which generally examines policies for human resource development, and another which addresses the policy issues involved.
The delivery of quality products and services, within international tourism, hospitality and events, reflects an increasing focus on intangibles and the role of what can be styled the ‘human factor’. Companies often struggle to create clear distinction and consumer recognition of added value on the basis of physical product differentiation alone (Balmer and Baum, 1993) except within a relatively limited band of the market. For example, airline brand re-launches, including new first and business-class products, and the executive floor products, within the hotel sector, represent only a small proportion of the global market. Equally, trends in this direction are counter-balanced by the growing strength of budget or economy products, such as cheap hotels and ‘no frills’ airlines in Europe and North America, catering for both the leisure and business customer, and with prices which fluctuate so widely from day to day, that customer service is often the only true differentiator of many of the brands.
The tourism and hospitality sector, in all locations, often has a close relationship with the labour market environment from which it draws its skills and consequently depends on its workforce for the delivery of service and product standards to meet existing and anticipated demand from its visitor marketplace. This relationship is, on the one hand, one of dependency in that the make-up of the local workforce, or that which can be introduced into the local environment, has a direct influence on the standards and character of the tourist offering which can be prepared and presented to visitors – if local art and craft skills are not developed within the education system or at community level, it will not be possible to offer this dimension to visitors.
Baum (1993) identified a number of what were described as “universal themes”: issues which literature and practical experience identified as the major human resource concerns faced by tourism, hospitality and events at both a practical, operational level and in the context of wider strategic and policy-oriented discussion. The main one of these was that employee profiles, and the shrinking employment pool, have resulted in labour and specific skills shortages. This has been identified as being primarily a developed country phenomenon, found in Western Europe, North America and the “tiger economy” countries of the Far East. (Baum, 1993) However, labour shortage is also a concern elsewhere when it is recognized that the specific skills which tourism demands, be it technical, cultural, communications or other, may be in short supply within many, less developed destination areas. Demographic, and other forms of structural change within the labour market, demand responses which take tourism and hospitality recruitment beyond its traditional youth pool into consideration of mature worker alternatives and this, in turn, has major implications for relative remuneration, working conditions, employment security and related issues.
On the other hand, tourism and hospitality, for many communities, provides a major and growing sector of the economy and, with it, employment opportunities which other traditional and declining sectors of the economy may not provide. This is true in an industrial, urban context where cities such as Glasgow, which is now the second most visited urban centre in the UK, (Baum, Amoah and Spivack, 1997) have developed tourism in the wake of the decline of its traditional heavy industrial sector. It is an equally valid scenario in locations where the exploitation of natural resources no longer provides the same level of employment opportunity as it did in the past: the decline of the North Atlantic fishery has seen island locations, such as the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, focus on tourism, hospitality and events as part of wider economic diversification strategies.
However, for many sub-sectors in tourism and hospitality, and in most developed countries, the negative employment image of the sector, especially amongst the more important, mature workers, is a major issue and barrier to the recruitment and retention of quality and well educated employees. Wood (1995) argues that “both industry employees and wider society view hotel and catering labour as relatively low status, mainly because of the personal service nature of the work involved”. This poor image is the result of a several factors, both historic and contemporary, such as the origin of hospitality work within domestic service, links, in some countries, between hospitality employment and a colonial legacy, and the widespread use of expatriate labour in many developing countries. This can create the perception that the sector is one offering only limited opportunity for promotion and progression, widespread exposure to work in the sector merely as a first working experience for students or similar workers, and the reality of anti-social working conditions and remuneration on a casual basis. In some respects, the negatively-held perceptions are not wholly justified by the reality of work for major airlines, international hotel groups, theme parks or within heritage organizations. In other regards, the perceptions are a mirror of the reality of work within an industrial sector dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises and the impact of irregular demand.
Best practice, particularly in the THE area, appears to recognize that quality service delivery is not the outcome of an isolated service enhancement training programme, but has to do with change in organizational culture from top down and is a complex process which impacts on all areas of the organization and its systems (Mahesh, 1994). It is also a process which is rather more commonly taken aboard within the context of larger organizations. Small to medium-sized enterprises, which have the advantage of simple internal communication systems, face other challenges reflective of their resource structures, expertise and nature of their workforce. There is little doubt that consumer experience of ‘human value added’ through service is varied within and between the hospitality sectors of most countries, and in part this is a reflection of the eclectic nature of customer expectations, which may demand very different considerations from staff.
Finally, many authors have argued that one of the defining characteristics of HRM is that of managing organisational culture to achieve employee commitment. (McGunnigle and Jameson, 2000) While it is appreciated that organisational culture itself is a large, complex area of study, beyond the scope of this research, it is not possible to consider HRM and employee commitment without some reference to it. Training and development are also closely associated with culture change and employee commitment in much of the HRM literature. Guest (1987) cites this as one of the key policy areas necessary to achieve a new culture, suggesting that the development of training programmes is necessary, both for human resource management development, and also for the achievement of culture change.
In conclusion, the main factors affecting the development for human resource management in the THE sector can be identified as the existing labour force demographics, and the extent to which they can be altered, the state of the local economy, and thus the need for THE development, the attitude of the local workforce to working in the THE sector, and the willingness of an organisation to undergo cultural change, and extensive training programmes, in order to improve its HRM. In my view, the most critical of these is the willingness of the organisation to change its culture, and make the necessary investment in training programmes. This is because existing labour force demographics will act reasonably equally on all companies within their chosen niches in the sector, and thus they cannot be held to be critical factors for companies looking to distinguish themselves.
Although the state of the local economy, and local attitudes to the THE industry, can both have a major impact: a major new tourist enterprise would likely receive a much warmer welcome in a city needing regeneration, such as Glasgow, compared to a suburban commuter town, the image of the company can also greatly affect this. Given that the image of a company, especially one in the tourism, hospitality and events sector, is most influenced by the performance of its staff; possible repercussions from local attitudes can be greatly minimised by investing in training and cultural change programs in order to ensure that existing workers project the right image. Once this has been successfully achieved, it will be much easier to attract, train and retain further workers, and thus improve the company’s image and performance even further. It may be expensive and difficult to implement in the short run, but in the long run it can offer huge benefits both in revenue and in the further development of good HRM practices.
- Balmer, S. and Baum, T. (1993) Applying Herzberg’s hygiene factors to the changing accommodation environment: the application of motivational theory to the field of guest satisfaction. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 5, Issue 2, p. 27.
- Baum, T. (1993) Human resources in tourism: an introduction. in Baum, T. (Ed.), Human Resource Issues in International Tourism. Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford; p. 3.
- Baum, T. Amoah, V. and Spivack, S. (1997) Policy dimensions of human resource management in the tourism and hospitality industries. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management; Vol. 9, Issue 5/6, p. 221.
- Mahesh, V. S. (1994) Thresholds of Motivation. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
- McGunnigle, P. J. and Jameson, S. M. (2000) HRM in UK hotels: a focus on commitment. Employee Relations; Vol. 22, Issue 4/5, p. 403.
- Wood, R. C. (1995) Status and hotel and catering work: theoretical dimensions and practical implications. Hospitality Research Journal, Vol. 16, Issue 3, p. 3.
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