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  • Ryan Haynes

The human in hospitality: empathy & authenticity

Saar Sharon, Head of Hotel Capital Markets for Colliers International shares his insight and experience working internationally across real estate and hospitality to address the challenges the industry is experiencing.


We explore why hotels need real empathy today especially for recruitment, retention and delivering authentic experiences, what those experiences are and how to be considerate of inclusion and what constitutes equality. We cover:

  • Market trends and why this is a unique time

  • Factors that may make or break hotels

  • Why the hotel's identity is so important

  • How hotels can take the right approach to authenticity



Colliers (NASDAQ, TSX: CIGI) is a leading diversified professional services and investment management company. With operations in 63 countries, our 17,000 enterprising professionals work collaboratively to provide expert real estate and investment advice to clients. http://colliers.com/


Programme Notes


Ryan Haynes:

Welcome to Travel, Market Life. In today's episode, we are going to be exploring the humid element in hospitality, why hotels need real empathy today, recruitment, retention and hospitality. I'm going to be talking about the trends we're seeing in the market, factors that are going to make or break hotels, why a hotel’s identity is so important, and how you can deliver authenticity. Speaking to Saar Sharon, the head of Hotel Capital Markets from Collier's International,


Ryan Haynes:

Hello there Shar. Thank you very much for joining us today. I mean, we've had a few conversations, met you at the annual hotel conference earlier this year, and we, it was really interesting to look at how things are changing, particularly the impacts that the way we think about retention and recruitment and deliver hospitality today. Love to hear from you about some of the trends that you are particularly seeing in the market and why it's a unique time.


Saar Sharon:

Morning Ryan and thank you for having me. Yeah we’re not short on excitement in the last few years, right? From, from the last great recession through, through a cycle of hospitality that seems to be going and, you know, to no end and upwards and onwards through Brexit, COVID obviously the issues with, with Russia and Ukraine and we keep facing ever-changing landscape of people, which is hospitality is all about, and clearly with covid and international travel restrictions and domestic travel restrictions in some cases, that affects things. The ability to work open businesses and staff them obviously has issues with that. The changes in the way consumption have gone. So, the whole culture of eating out has changed to an extent for two and a half years and delivery of food to people’s homes and, and the convenience that comes with it, with minimal to no service involved also changes that. And, you know, before you'd go to a place and you'd have various degrees of service, and then you could speak to a waiter or a waitress.


Saar Sharon:

You could have a metro, you could go to a cinema, you could go and do all sorts of things. And then for two and a half years, you know, your waiter is a person. You don't see their face because it's in a helmet and they come on a scooter and if you do, we always say if you do things over a certain amount of time, they become habits. And we need to, we need to consider that when we look at things. And by the way, part of the trends that no doubt, you'll ask me about where are employees, are employees, you know, that got made redundant during COVID, and it doesn't matter if they come from, you know, airports, luggage sections or porters in kitchens.


Saar Sharon:

Many of them will be driving Ubers and they do Deliveroo. Apologies to all the other brands that provide that service, not to name a few. I think they're there and their joy, a certain semblance of the normalcy of control over their lives. They're not necessarily being shouted at by supervisors at weird hours of the morning or, or the evening. They're not tired on their feet necessarily as much as they would before arguably making more money. So, certain things we need to, need to keep in mind.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, it has been fascinating as you say, you know, it takes a while to implement a habit and we've certainly had that, while people's perspectives on their own lives have changed, the remote working, the ability to be closer to your family, have more time with your, with your family as well. That's certainly as well. It changed people's perceptions of office space and, and community space and, and how they integrate with society. And I guess that you know, having those 17,000 professionals that you're working with alongside at Colliers every day, you're seeing huge shifts internationally as well and how you need to, we are working both a local level and a global level that is a that's a real big shift in, in perception, right? For you guys as well.


Saar Sharon:

Not necessarily. I mean we always evolve with the way we think and act. But if you're asking specifically about Colliers, we are a global company. We are the third largest of our kind globally. We do operate in over 60 countries. We are all about relationships with clients and relationships could be at a national and local level. And it is critical because, at the end of the day, we are in, you know, embedded deep into the real estate industry and real estate is by the nature of, things immovable. and we need to know the buildings locally. and we can't do that from a global perspective without having boots on the ground and a lot of knowledge and so on.


Saar Sharon:

And, and I, and you know, the key to the conversations we are having, you have to know the local culture. You have to know the local language, and you have to know the local legislation. You have to get, get granular. you know, it's one, one of my favourite quotes of Edison is that you know, opportunity, and I'm probably paraphrasing, but that opportunity is often missed because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work. you know, we, we have to, we have to do the work, we have to do the work locally with clients. We have to do that. I think the beauty with, with, with, with Colliers is that we work collegially with, you know, colleagues all over the world and we do have Pan European and global teams that support clients and help clients move from one continent to the other hand, and provide those services.


Saar Sharon:

And, you know, what, what constitutes service? What constitutes, constitutes support changes or, or adapt over time, but the principles are the same and that is working for the clients. It's about the client's needs, not about us. It's about adding value to them and value is what they perceive value to be. And, we have to be able to recognize that value and adapt to it and be able to deliver it where wherever we go. So that's how we look at it from a, from a global, global perspective. It's, it's a very much a balance balanced act between lo local knowledge local teams, local senior teams and, and, and junior staff equally and, and extrapolating that globally. So, that's how we look at it.


Ryan Haynes:

And hospitality has really had to look at that value now a lot more closely, really understand the consumer trends, what consumers are particularly looking for, but most importantly, how they can actually deliver that sustainably in a way that's going to drive that profitability in a world where we've just digitalized so many aspects of our lives. What factors are you seeing right now that are going to make all break hotels over the coming years?


Saar Sharon:

Yeah, so before we, we dive into a, a long list of, you know, trends and what and try to, to dream up some sort of a crystal ball, which I for one, I haven't got one, one of the nicest interfaces in my mind, and some people may not, may not like it. I hope the audience will appreciate the concept anyways. If you remember the movie Minority Report, you have Tom Cruise walking into a shopping mall, they're trying to escape from, from the future police, if you like, and wherever he goes is recognized by holograms and they offer him services and, and do this and do that.


Saar Sharon:

Also, work for the nanny state for sure. But they are able to provide him with instantly tailored offerings in a language he understands by people that supposedly offer the right timing, the right intonation, and the right empathy if you like. And, you kind of think, is this the future of, oh, at least a partial future of entertainment and hospitality? Is this the kind of interface we will see? You walk into a hotel room, into a hotel building and, and, and you're being greeted in your own language by somebody that the system perceives will provide you with the greatest sense of comfort and offer you the services, that you need at the right time, at the right price?


Saar Sharon:

I don't know. I, I think, I think, I think at some point it would, I think that's the extrapolation of a remote check-in. I, I can tell you what hospitality in that sense is not, it's not spending 14 hours on a plane coming from one side of the world to the other, arriving at a weird hour only to find out that you are queuing behind 20 people to interface with a person that doesn't speak your language, that doesn't have your room ready, and you're tired and you're dehydrated and you're exhausted. And so that is an of hospitality as well. And we need to remember that is not always so great.


Ryan Haynes:

I was going to say it, it sounds like you've been there many times, I mean, you had really painted a picture of my experiences of, you know, travelling, getting to a hotel as you say, dehydrated, you're tired, you're frustrated, you're irritable, all you want to do is get you to the room and then you have to fill in 1,000,001 forms and then perhaps your room might even not even be ready. And, and these are some of the aspects that I guess hospitality is trying to address through Digitalisation, but it's not just about digital, it's how the hotel sees its identity and, and how it can then deliver those services on site with the team that it's got and, and being able to have the team at a capacity that's going to make sure that experience for the guests is consistent with the hotels brand.


Ryan Haynes:

What, why are hotels’ identities so important to recruitment and retention today and really sort of looking after those staff?


Saar Sharon:

It's a great question and you can look at brands, at employers, brands in general, not just hotels and, and sort of say, you know, our job seeker is more likely to apply for a job if an employer is managing its employer brand. Certainly, see mega companies in the tech space and banking and so on are doing that clearly, you know, companies like Four Season, rich Carlton and so on, brands like those have been very vocal over the years of how they value their staff and, and you know, ladies and gentlemen of the world serving the ladies and gentlemen of the world and so on.


Saar Sharon:

And, and there's certainly a very significant part, part of that read some surveys that, you know, circa 70% of active job seekers are likely to apply to a job if, if the employer does, does actively manage the employment brand if you like, which is a deciding factor if you like, for candidates in some ways. And, and also it does help people understand whether they belong or don't belong to an organization if they see that the value is, so d the values on presented are so material different today may maybe, maybe they don't apply and so you create a certain degree of fit, but I think it's not just for hotels.


Saar Sharon:

I think it's true for other jobs and, and other industries. And we, when you look at what are the important factors that employees consider when, when they choose a job? Invariably it'll be paying benefits. I know we don't like to talk about it, but I always say that the first principle of recruitment is the, is promise to pay and the, and the, and the second principle of, of retention, if you like, is the delivery on the first promise. And, and we, we have to, we have to look at that. I think things that evolve over time and we need to look at is, you know, work life balance, the opportunity to use skills and abilities, job security, if there was one, what it means in today's world, you know, office safety policies, diversity within the workspace become a very critical point.


Saar Sharon:

And it's not just ethnicity, cultures, and religions, it's also dealing with mental health. It's also dealing with physical and, and mental disabilities in that sense and, and harnessing and age as well be that, you know, younger people on apprenticeship or people that are past retirement age and how you bridge that generational gap and, and so on. All, of those things, are important. you know, when you look at people historically, when you look at it from an academic perspective, you look at internal motivators and external motivators. External motivators would be like, you know, compensation, you know, benefits. The work environment is, you know, where the office is located or you know, how many hours you work and so on.


Saar Sharon:

The relationship you have with co-workers and then you look at internal motivations would be, you know, perception of independence. Are you working on your own? You're working in a team, how much supervision is imposed on you or required? Do you supervise others? you know, do you get a sense of achievement? Can you accomplish, do you have a diversity of tasks and so on? Do you provide some sort of service to the community that all, all sorts of range, you know, how creative you can be, how challenging the job is? All of those things are reasons for people to be in a job in a career. It's not just a brand, but a brand that can, you know, link all those dots and explain, explain to a customer and explain to an employee how those things are linked will do, will do a lot better than, than brands that don't.


Ryan Haynes:

And this does require the thinking process. This isn't something that you can just jot down on a piece of paper. It does require having a good look at, you know what value you're trying to deliver as a business and what sort of people will, will enable you to be able to get there at the same time and, and make sure that you fit in with their expectations as you say, both the intrinsic and the extrinsic motivations.


Saar Sharon:

I I, I think, I think that's right. By the way, none of the things I've said now is, is new and, and it's not, you know, my invention by any stretch, it's been taught, it's been taught to me, you know, decades ago in organizational behaviour and change management classes and so on. And I'm sure ma many, many of the people in various industries, not just hospitality, have studied that certainly an intrinsic part of the curriculum of, of Luanne and, and other, you know, hotel schools around, around the world So it, it is a known quantum and, and yet, you know, we don't necessarily do that. you know, we have to, we have to put hospitality in, in sense of recruitment, retention and so on in the context of the, of the macro economics around the world.


Saar Sharon:

So we, you know, just to throw out some, some stuff out there, we are in an environment where yes, we are heading to some, some underperforming economy in the UK and, but that's, you know, every, every developed country in Europe, in in the world in that sense experience slowed down compared to where they were meant to be in 2023, pretty much we, we are seeing only three and a half per cent unemployment in this country, which is I think the highest employments we had in 50 years. We had the most people in employment in the UK in absolute terms than we ever had. And if you ever want to walk to a slowdown of the economy or, or, or some sort of, some, some degree of recessionary pressures, this is how you want to get in.


Saar Sharon:

We certainly still see pressures on the public peers around countries and, and what it means in increasing corporate rates and so on. And that historically automatically put pressure on employment. But actually, if we're starting with such high employment and we still have over 1.2 million available positions in the, in the country, then, you know, that is less, less of an issue in, in many ways we talked about covid and working from home and what it means, but we certainly see indications now that people are going back to the office again and, and they travel again. Business travel is up, group travel is up.


Saar Sharon:

When you look at RevPAR around the UK it is significantly above 2019. I think this cut is out of the bag for sure. I know we had a debate a year ago about where we would be, I was sitting on the more positive side, not to say optimistic to say we will do a lot better than 2022 than ever before because hotels will recognize inflation and can adapt to inflation and the pent up demand and, and for travel will be there and people will pay.


Saar Sharon:

and we see that and we'll see that into 2023 as well. I think by all accounts unless we see some drastic changes in the global economy and talk about the global economy, we see some slowdowns on that front as well. But we do have some indications for easing of inflation coming in from March, and April next year. And a lot of it is to do with gas prices internationally and futures of oils, which I, I don't pretend to understand anything about economies and we've done a lot of that with, with our own chief economist and, and, and hosting other major economists recently.


Saar Sharon:

There are certain expectations and when you look at the prices of those we will have a significant reduction in prices and so on. So that, that, that will help as well, which implies, and again, I saw a paper the other day that estimates that around two-thirds of the interest rates hikes have been, have been applied already. I think we see the reactions to the new government reaction, the markets to the new government in the UK and although we, we will have political volatility, I think up until the next general election and possibly beyond that certainly was able to come markets, you can see the UK guilds coming down significantly.


Saar Sharon:

You can see the cost of borrowing coming down, you can see the whole in the public per reducing significantly just by changing that and sort of putting the downward spiral of, of market panic if you like, or markets panic on a, on a halt, on a pause and so on. So, we still have issues with global inflation, but you know, for hospitality, if you have the demand, you can, you can deal with that. You can, you can adjust rates and, and we see that you know, speak speaking with, so we hosted annual, annual barbecue yesterday and, and we speak to 200 clients and how they deal with, with inflation.


Saar Sharon:

They say, well we, we have to increase the prices, you know, we need to, we need to tell the host to staff, we need to pay more energy and we up the price on the gas pay. And that, that is as simple as that in this time. Now if we start seeing a decline in travel, decline in stays and so on, and I'm not convinced that will be the case by the way, then, then we'll have other issues to answer for. But, you know, these are some of the main global, global trends and, and local trends and political and economic trends that we have to live with as an industry and we can't detach ourselves from them. It, you know, the performance of hospitality is always closely linked to the national GDP


Ryan Haynes:

And certainly, you know, demand for hospitality is only going to continue if the experiences are there and particularly experiences that connect with the guests. What do you see as authentic hospitality and how can hotels take the right approach to ensure that they're authentic throughout that guest journey?


Saar Sharon:

That's an excellent question, you know in a world of standardization and how do you standardize individuality, right? What is authenticity? Yeah, I can tell you, I can tell you what it's not. And if we go back, back to the sort of arrival experience, you know, if you're staying in a European city, in an American branded hotel, you're served international food by employees from lower GDP per capita countries that speak to you in, in English, you know, in all likelihood, not, not necessarily their language, not necessarily your language, how much authenticity can be there. It's an intrinsic issue that we don't like to talk about in hospitality.


Saar Sharon:

But it is, it is, it is a fact and it's not, you know, no issues with American brands or Asian brands or European brands, but if you, if you try to brand things and you try to shift them across continents and cultures and so on, invariably you deal with issues of faith and religion and issues of, of languages and cultures and how, how you greet people and so on. And, it is incredibly difficult to keep that. But I, I think for me, you know, authenticity starts with the basics. It's the character of the building, you know, it's being sympathetic to the location, its sourcing local products, it's hiring locally, it's investing in the training of employees by people that understand communications and empowerment and individuality.


Saar Sharon:

You know, it's not about the brand manual that tells people, you know, to serve from, from the, from the right and clear from the left or whatever. It's not, it's not about that. You can, you can, you should train for, for quality and, and, and service and standards and, and brand identity, but we have to keep individual flare. We have to, we have to keep this, you know, basic fulfilment thing where people go and spend 12 hours in a workplace, eight hours, 15 hours, it doesn't matter pulling double shifts. They need to feel that they put themselves into the business, into the culture, into the experience. Otherwise, you know, it becomes a paycheck and it's not a great way to retain people.


Saar Sharon:

And equally, when we talk about authenticity and individuality, we have to remember that some cultures are more conforming than others. And so if you walk in and you say to, you know, if you go into a country that is a collective is important and, and being a part of a group is important and you say you have to be yourself, you have to be an individual. You might offend some people, you might not get buy-in and so on. And I think authenticity is about celebrating diversity. and we talked earlier about mutual recognition and, and it is about individuality. It's about being inclusive, it's about recognizing that some people offer a different perspective on guests’ operations and so on.


Saar Sharon:

I don't know if historically hospitality was, was best at that. We're certainly very good at employing people from all over the world, but I'm not sure we, we do the best job in operations to actually teach them many of the things that, that we, we, we reach on, on this goal as such and so on. and we, we have to, we have to retain people. you know, if we, if we lose experience stuff, we lose much of the customer identity, customer interface, if you like. And, and the brand and the business identity interface because you know, if you, if you study hospitality, they'll tell you, it's one of those things where you consume produced services and services at the same time.


Saar Sharon:

And, and if you, if, if you can't do that, well, if your experienced stuff is leaving you, then you lose a big chunk of that auth authenticity and that organizational knowledge.


Ryan Haynes:

Absolutely. And you know, the cost as well to go through recruiting someone else and making sure that you've got the right level of experience and, and approach to their work for the culture that you want to embed in the business is, is just an additional cost and, and resource that needs to be quantified as part of that. And as you say, is it better just to invest in the team that you've already got to ensure that they retain than it is to go out there and find a whole new set of staffed and hope that they're going to be able to fill the gap and, and, and maintain that identity for the hotel. Saar, thank you ever so much. There are some really thoughtful points there that you brought to our attention.


Ryan Haynes:

Everything from the economy to the trends that are affecting the hotels to really understand the importance of identity. So very thoughtful and thought pro croaking there. Thank you very much for joining me today.


Saar Sharon:

My pleasure. Thank you.


Ryan Haynes:

So that was Saharan the Head of Hotel Capital Markets at Colliers International. Looking at the human element in hospitality and why hotels need real empathy today in recruitment, retention, and delivering authentic experiences. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Thanks ever as much for listening, check out the rest of our episodes on Spotify, Deezer, Apple Podcast, Google or www.travelmarket.life


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