Hospitality after COVID: How the pandemic affected guest expectations and talent retention


It was a once-in-a-generation occurrence that changed everything.

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way most of us live in ways both large and small, from our food to where we work to how we shop. It brought profound changes to every sector, and the hospitality and tourism industry is no exception.

When governments around the world imposed travel restrictions and bans to curb the spread of the virus, it resulted in a significant decline in both domestic and international travel.

Facing a massive loss of revenue, many businesses in the hospitality and tourism sectors experienced financial distress, leading to layoffs, furloughs and closures. The pandemic led to widespread job losses and reduced working hours for millions of people working in these sectors, and many who lost their jobs decided they would seek opportunities elsewhere.

In 2021, half of US hospitality workers surveyed (a total of 13,000) said they wouldn’t return to their old jobs. A third of them said they weren’t even planning on returning to the sector, preferring to seek what they perceived to be better opportunities in other industries. 

Fast-forward to 2024, and although the surge in demand for leisure travel and business travel alike has helped the global hospitality sector to bounce back significantly, it has not been a full recovery, and many hotels still find themselves struggling to hire and retain staff.

According to a new report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), 67% of US hotels surveyed said they are experiencing a staffing shortage, and 12% said they are “severely understaffed”, indicating that the shortage has affected their ability to operate.

For hoteliers, the critical dilemma is how to meet rising guest expectations and provide a high-level customer experience at a time when staffing shortages are still having a significant impact on the industry.

See also:

Cleanliness is a top priority


A few weeks ago, we took a look at what travelers are looking for (and more specifically the hotel amenities guests expect) in 2024.

We were somewhat surprised to learn that, according to a recent AHLA publication — the 2024 State of the Industry Report — hotel guests are looking for good housekeeping.

Citing data from a November 2023 Ecolab survey of 549 consumers, the AHLA noted that travelers ranked cleanliness as the "number-one step hotels can take to ensure a positive guest experience".

Of those surveyed, 59% said guestroom cleanliness is most important, followed by overall property cleanliness (48%).

These are not unreasonable expectations. The World Health Organization announced in May of last year that it no longer considered COVID-19 a "public health emergency of international concern", but it's too soon to declare that we are living in a post-pandemic or post-COVID world. It makes sense that hotel guests now expect rigorous health and safety measures to be in place, including enhanced cleaning procedures, hand sanitizing stations and social distancing protocols. They may also expect staff to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.

Customers in many industries demand personalization

Of course, there's far more to success in the hospitality industry than just running a clean operation. We have noted before that customization and personalization enhance the guest experience, but hospitality businesses sometimes promise more than they can deliver.

A recent report from Medallia, Inc. — which looks at customer experiences in both the hospitality and retail industries — makes this clear. According to a press release from the company:

In a research study of 1,749 hotel guests and 1,905 retail consumers, Medallia found a strong link between personalization and overall satisfaction, validating earlier research that showed 61% of consumers are willing to spend more with companies if they offer a customized experience. But the new study revealed hotel and retail brands have significant opportunities to improve and capture more revenue: Just 23% of consumers report experiencing high levels of personalization after recent hotel stays and only 26% say the same after recent retail interactions.

The hospitality industry workforce has not fully recovered

Most hospitality organizations are in agreement that in the hospitality and tourism sector, one of the toughest challenges is meeting the rising demand for those "high levels of personalization" in an industry that has not fully recovered from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the hospitality sector is down about 195,500 jobs — or roughly 9.3% — from pre-pandemic levels in February 2020. It's a similar situation in many other countries, where the hospitality workforce has not yet returned to where it was in the pre-pandemic period.

Delight your guests with The New York Times on PressReader


Hospitality businesses woo workers back

To woo former workers back to the hospitality and tourism industry — to say nothing of attracting new talent and retaining current staff – employers are offering more competitive wages and benefits packages, as well as bonuses and perks.

In the US, the national average hotel wage reached an all-time high of more than $23 per hour in 2023, according the the AHLA's latest State of the Industry report. According to that report, hotels paid 2.1 million employees some US$118.01 billion in wages, salaries and other compensation, equal to an average of US$56,195 per employee. 

The AHLA projects that hotels will pay employees a record $123 billion in 2024, up 4% from 2023 and 20% from the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

The report also forecasts that in 2024, hotels will continue to gain workers, but not enough for the hospitality industry to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Embracing high-tech solutions

Could technology be the answer — or at least part of the answer — for hoteliers around the world who are still grappling with staffing shortages?

In a column for Hotel News Resource, Ryan Haynes of Haynes MarComs accurately summed up the prevailing mood in the global hospitality and tourism industry when he wrote:

Hoteliers have woken to the essential need to develop their tech stack, not only to compete and provide guest experiences but to alleviate huge staffing challenges.

How, though, can technology help hoteliers create a better employee experience?

The fact is, front-line hotel staff members are often responsible for fulfilling a number of repetitive and time-consuming duties, such as checking in guests, answering common questions and managing reservations. Having these services automated can allow these team members to focus more of their time and energy on higher-level responsibilities, such as providing guests with a more personalized experience.

We might be biased, but we believe that adding PressReader to your hotel’s offerings can be one small step towards reducing the burden on staff and enhancing the guest experience.  

Through PressReader’s all-you-can-read digital news platform, guests can access more than 7,000 publications from over 120 countries in dozens of different languages. Going digital means that hotel staff members are freed up from having to manage all the delivery and recycling logistics that distributing print editions entails.

Here are a few more examples of how technology can help hotels operate more efficiently with a reduced workforce:


Implementing automation systems for routine tasks such as check-in and check-out processes can reduce the need for human intervention. Self-service kiosks and mobile apps allow guests to handle these tasks independently, minimizing the workload on front desk staff.

Online booking platforms


Utilizing online booking platforms and reservation management systems can streamline the booking process, reducing the need for dedicated staff to handle phone calls and reservations manually. These platforms can also integrate with the hotel's property management system to update availability in real time.

Chatbots and virtual assistants

Integrating chatbots or virtual assistants on the hotel's website or mobile app can provide guests with instant responses to common queries, such as room availability, amenities and policies. This reduces the burden on front desk staff and ensures that guests receive prompt assistance even during periods of low staffing.

Housekeeping management systems

By implementing housekeeping management systems, hotel managers can optimize cleaning schedules, assign tasks efficiently and track the progress of housekeeping staff. These systems can improve productivity and ensure that rooms are cleaned promptly, even with limited staffing.

Staff scheduling software

Utilizing staff scheduling software can help hotel managers create efficient schedules that maximize coverage during peak hours while minimizing labor costs. These tools consider factors such as employee availability, skills, and labor regulations to create balanced schedules.

Remote monitoring and control

Implementing remote monitoring and control for building systems such as HVAC, lighting and security can reduce the need for onsite staff to manage these systems manually. Remote access allows managers to monitor and adjust settings from anywhere, improving operational efficiency.

Cross-training employees

Cross-training employees in multiple roles can help hotels adapt to staffing shortages by allowing team members to fill in for each other when needed. Technology can facilitate cross-training by providing online training modules and resources that employees can access at their convenience.

Employee engagement platforms

Implementing employee engagement platforms can improve communication and morale among staff, reducing turnover rates and ensuring that existing employees remain motivated and productive.

By leveraging technology in these ways, hotels can mitigate the impact of staffing shortages, improve operational efficiency, and maintain a high level of service for guests.


Change the way you offer newspapers and magazines! PressReader is here to help  hotels elevate the customer experience.Click here to find out how we can help.

Let’s work together

Featured Hotels Hotel trends Guest experience contactless Sustainability technology Hospitality

Related Articles