Elie Khoury, executive vice president of operations at Aimbridge Hospitality, has faced many operational challenges during his 25 years in the industry. With each downturn, Khoury believes, hotel operators grow smarter and wiser. The coronavirus crisis has forced hospitality owners and leaders to rethink ways of doing business, including figuring out how to staff an operation amid a shallow labor pool. In Episode 9 of the Lodging Luminaries podcast (Audible, Amazon), host Jason Freed and Khoury dig into how Aimbridge Hospitality is taking an unconventional route by embracing the “gig economy” and preparing for the inevitable cultural shift it will create in the hospitality workplace.
Listen to the entire conversation with Elie Khoury here or read highlights of the conversation below.
Q: Like many hoteliers, you started at the ground level as a room-service attendant. How important is it for us, as an industry, to let people know that, once you get your foot in the door, hospitality can be a long, fulfilling and rewarding career?
Khoury: It’s a recruiting tool. It’s great to have somebody like me to use as an example and hit those points right out of the gate to the new folks coming in or signing up with us or putting in an application. That if you start in housekeeping or you work in food and beverage – that’s not it. That’s not the rest of your life. There’s many more career opportunities.
For those reasons, when we’re recruiting today, we’re no longer looking for an experienced individual because we’re pulling together programs and other tools to hire people and then to train them. So, we’re taking the folks that never cleaned a room before, never worked in a restaurant before, and putting in programs to help those people grow. Instead, we’re looking for somebody willing to work, who wants to work hard and get into the hotel business.
Q: One of the ways Aimbridge is evolving the recruiting process is by turning to the “gig economy” – competing with the Amazons and Ubers of the world and doing things like structuring payroll differently. Can you talk about how that is working for you so far?
Khoury: So, we’re doing it in multiple ways. The gig platform is not going anywhere; it’s going to continue and become part of our culture. Frankly, it’s not as successful today as we all had hoped, but once we have stronger folks and a larger workforce, it’s going to be a success. We’ve developed our own platform using some of our resources and partnered with others who have scale in this area to really focus on hotels.
So, with the gig industry, it’s not five days a week. For example, if they’re at school, they can sign up and get additional hours when they have spare time to work. And on our side, it’s really about rewarding those people who sign up and keeping them from signing up with other industries. We’re offering benefits, and we’re offering incentives for length of time worked. So, when you sign up you get an incentive, at 30 days you get an incentive, and another at 60 days.
If you get hired and you show up for work on the first day, you get an incentive. We’re really laying out some additional benefits that we hope will eventually go away, but for now our approach is to establish a culture and introduce the industry to folks who have never worked in our industry. I think once we introduce folks to our industry, they’ll end up staying longer.
Q: Tell me a little more about this gig platform and some best practices you’ve discovered in your early experimentation with the strategy and the technology behind it.
Khoury: For us, we use it through our scheduling system. We’ve developed the open shift platform where folks within our markets can choose to work at any of the hotels in those markets. It’s opening up all kinds of new opportunities for people. If they don’t have enough hours, they can pick up additional hours with the flexibility of picking up jobs when they want. They can create their own schedule. And when you mix those different individuals, you really can create a schedule that covers all your days. I might only want to work Sundays, but some folks don’t want to work Sunday, for example.
So, the difference is, in the past we’d write a schedule using our 10 employees and you just move schedules around to cover vacations or time off. With the gig shift, it’s really widening the opportunities for more people to find work and additional workforce resources for our hotels.
You bid on the shift. So, we call our partners and say, “Hey, I have these shifts that I need to fill.” They go out and do a massive blast, and then we’ll see people picking up those shifts.
Q: Sounds like there is a massive training component to bringing in housekeepers that have never cleaned a hotel room before. How is Aimbridge tackling this?
Khoury: You’re 100% right. It’s getting people that really never worked in the different brands, the different hotels and the different departments. So, we have created a pairing process for new hires where we pair an experienced and non-experienced person. If you’re cleaning a room, the only thing we’re going to ask somebody with no experience to do is do the bathroom and vacuum. Clean, take out the garbage –all the stuff you do at home. Then we bring an experienced person to come in and do the brand touch points, making sure the amenities are there and the bed is folded properly, for example.