Skills, Perceptions and the Socio-economics of Hotel Front Desk Employees in Israel-preliminary findings

Skills, Perceptions and the Socio-economics of Hotel Front Desk Employees in Israel-preliminary findings

TEITLER REGEV SHARON

Department of Tourism and Hospitality Studies

Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee

Mobile Post Emek Hayarden

ISRAEL

sharonregevt@gmail.com

OKSANA GOZIKER

Department of Tourism and Hospitality Studies

Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee

Mobile Post Emek Hayarden

ISRAEL

Abstract:

Within the hospitality industry the front office serves as one of the most important contact points with the guests. The skills and requirements from the front office staff may be similar across different countries; however it is most likely that the qualifications and prior education differ. This study will look at the skills, background and attitudes of front office employees in Israel, and the results will be compared to a similar study that was conducted in other countries around the world. The preliminary results support the idea that perceptions are culture-dependent and differ from one country to another, while the skills required are the same across various countries. The results show that it is important for managers to let employees see the possibility of promotion in the hotel as it significantly helps reduce turnover rates.

Key words: skills, hotels, front office, Israel.

1. Introduction

The service industry is one of the oldest industries which developed as a result of people’s desire to travel. In the past, taverns offered tired guests something to eat and a place to sleep at the end of the day.

Many years have passed, and many things have changed; industrial and communication developments have brought to our lives the possibility to travel and to work in many remote counties with growing numbers of people roaming about and, as a result, developments in the service industry.

Today, the international tourist is more aware and experienced and has certain expectations regarding the services he receives while traveling, especially when he can compare the level of service across various countries. Nowadays, the service industry has become the largest industry, and its main resource is the human resource, while and the hospitality industry is one of the service industries where the human resource is curtailed.

Within the hospitality industry the front office serves as one of the most important contact points with the guest. In many cases this is the first place of contact between the guest and the hotel and, as it is often said, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”.

This study will look at the skills, background and attitudes of front office employees in Israel and the results will be compared to a similar study that was conducted in other countries around the world, such as China, Ireland, Brazil, Egypt, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Malaysia  [1]. In addition, this paper will look at the qualifications gained through education and will check whether there is a gap between the qualifications obtained at different schools and the ones required; this will enable us to draw some conclusions about the qualifications that should be taught in schools.

2. Current research

2.1 The Hotel Front Office

The service industry, in general, and the hospitality industry, in particular, are intangible; therefore, the customer evaluates the visit experience based on the tangible parts of an intangible product (the room, for example), and on the service he or she receives from the employees of the hotel. The “service experienced” is created at the meeting point of the employee and the customer. At that meeting point, the qualifications and attitudes of the employee may turn the service into a good or a bad experience which, in turn, will affect the perception of the hotel and may affect future visits. These attributes render the “word of mouth” the most common and reliable advertisement. In other words, the employees at the front office play a significant role in building and maintaining the hotel image and reputation and, as a result, the skills and qualifications of the front desk employees became very important.

Many studies have focused on the role of the front office. For example Vallen and Vallen [2] define front office in terms of its role as the main contact point with the guest inside the hotel, regardless the hotel type. Generally, front office can include the reception area and its related areas, where the focus is on “meeting and greeting the guests, providing information and processing the departure [3].

The hospitality industry is regarded as an industry that requires low-level skills and very little training. This view is sometimes debated in the literature. However, in many cases, following this perception may lead to poor human resources management. Boxall and Purcell [4] described it as a debate between “best practice” and “best fit”. Nickson et al [5], in a summary paper of the literature regarding the skills and performance in the hospitality industry concluded that indeed there are a number of jobs that can broadly be regarded as “low skill” jobs, but it is time to acknowledge that the hospitality industry  represents a more complex picture of the common “low” skills.

The skills and the requirements from the front office staff may be similar across different countries; however it is likely that the qualifications and prior education may differ. Baum et al compared different countries and cultures to address and identify the generic and job- specific skills that are required from hotel front office staff. They found differences between countries and respondents on topics such as education, gender, career ambitions; they found very few differences concerning the skills required and the perception of skills. In Northern Ireland [6], it was found that communication made an emotional and aesthetic contribution to work, and was influenced by the cultural and economic context. In China, Hai-Yan and Baum [3] found that the hospitality industry did not have enough high quality human resources and that the educated and trained employees did not want to stay in a demanding, low-pay job.  In addition, there is a need for professional development and further training, which may help reduce the high turnover rates.

2.1 Israel.

Israel is located between Asia and Europe. Due to its location and to the political situation between Israel and its neighboring countries, it can be reached by air, or by crossing the border from Jordan or Egypt. There is no easy access by train or car from Europe.

Tourism in Israel has existed since its very early days. Even the Crusades can be perceived as a form of tourism. Israel’s tourism potential is tremendous since it has 3000 years of history; it is holy to the three major religions (Muslims, Christians and Jews). In addition the climate in Israel is very mild. Israel is located between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean; it has a ski resort in the North and a desert in its south. In addition, the Dead Sea with its unique healing qualities is also located in Israel.

In other words, Israel combines a wide range of opportunities for visitors, including historic cities such as Jerusalem and Acre, modern cities such as Tel Aviv, sea resorts such as Eilat, and the Dead Sea health resort. The tourism industry accounts for 4% of the GDP, and has become the third largest export industry in added value.

However, tourism in Israel has suffered from many setbacks in the past due to terror and security problems, but has been growing significantly in the past few years. 2010 became a record year with 2.8 million tourists, an increase of 21% percent from 2009. The goal of the Israeli Ministry of tourism is to reach 5 million tourists in 2015.

The hotel industry in Israel is well developed and offers a variety of hotels (business, boutique, and family hotels); some are part of large international chains, some are part of local chains, while others are small independent hotels. The number of hotel nights was over 20 millions in 2007 and is still growing (except for a small setback in 2009, due to the world recession). Forty percent of this number were supplied by international tourist, and the rest by Israelis.

In Israel there are 337 hotels, which account for 77% of the hospitality beds in Israel. There are almost 48,000 accommodation rooms in Israel, with 113,000 beds; the average number of rooms in a hotel is 142. The average occupancy rate is 66%, however, a shortage in hotel rooms in the high season is being felt, especially in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas, and thus further employment in this sector is predicted.

The revenue from hotels stood at NIS 7.7 billion in 2009 (2 billion dollars), 40% of it from tourists. The profit was NIS 1.4 billion (368,000,000 dollars). In 2009 the hospitality industry in Israel employed 26,000 people, with 5,600 trough outsourcing. The average income was of NIS 6,100 a month (about 1,600 dollars), while the employees who worked through outsourcing companies received NIS 4,400 shekel a month (about 1,160 dollars). The cost of labor accounts for 35% of all hotel expenditures.

Hotel rooms in Israel were rated from 1 star (the least good) to five stars (the best) until 1992. Since then the central bureau of statistics rates hotels from 1 to 4 stars, 1 being the highest, based on the type on accommodation (city or recreational) and room size. Hotels still rate themselves along the stars system, but the rate is done subjectively and not by an outside source.

2.2 Current research.

The purpose of this study is to learn more about hotel front office employees in Israel. The study gathers information about the experience and education of hotel front office employees in Israel; it also gathers information about the skills required on the job and the qualifications that are obtained through formal education and those that are missing from such education.

This paper is a preliminary summery of the results obtained as part of on-going study that covers hotels in Israel.

The hotels in Israel are not rated by an outside source, but hotels that rate themselves as 3 stars and above were approached. The only condition for participating in this research was that at least 40 percent of the guests were international guests (as this is the percentage in Israel).

3. Results

The questionnaire was distributed in hotels in Tel Aviv and its surrounding areas, as well as Jerusalem, Tiberias, and around the Sea of Galilee.  The questionnaires were distributed in hotels in Israel beginning in February 2011 and will be distributed until August 2011. The data brought forth in this research are from the questionnaires that were filled in February. All of the hotels work with individuals and most of them deal with groups of international tourists. On average 68 percent of the hotel guests are international guests,, of which 58.45percent come in groups.

The preliminary research represents 11 out of the 337 hotels in Israel which represents over 3%. The survey included 34 out of the 60 potential employees in those hotels which represent a response rate of 57 percent.

3.1 Employee background and future plans

The demographic information of the hotel employees in Israel is summarized in the following table

Table 1: Demographic Data:

Frequency Valid Percent
Origin Native land 22 64.7
FSU immigrant 5 14.7
Comes from somewhere else 7 20.6
Other 34 100.0
Religion Jewish 29 85.3
Christian 1 2.9
Moslem 2 5.9
Other 2 5.9
Total 34 100.0
Gender Male 18 52.9
Female 16 47.1
Total 34 100.0
Status Single 16 50
Marriage 14 43.8
Divorced 2 6.3
Total 32 100.0

52.9 percent of the hotel employees are men, the average age being 35.94. The majority of the employees are Jews (85.3  percent, compared to 5.9  percent Muslims and 2.9 Christians) single (50 percent compare to 43.8 married and 6.3 divorced); 64.7 percent of the respondent were born in Israel, 14.7 percent came from the Former Soviet Union and 20.6 percent from other countries.

For the majority of the employees this is their only job (91.2 percent) . 67.6 percent work full time and 35.3 percent work part time; and 58.8 percent had no prior experience, while 35.3 percent had some previous experience.

14.7 percent of the respondent were front office managers, 8.8  percent were shift supervisors and the rest were reception desk clerks.

The information about the respondents’ education is summarized in table 2.

Table 2: Respondents’ education:

Frequency Valid Percent
Primary/elementary 2 5.9
Secondary/high school 9 26.5
Certificate /diploma 6 17.6
Vocational/technical 2 5.9
Bachelors 13 38.2
Master degree 1 2.9
Total 33 100.0

Approx. 27 percent of the respondents completed 12 years of schooling, and about 41 percent had a degree, mostly in hospitality.

Chi square tests were performed to check whether there was any correlation between the employee’s position, his/her time at work, and as well as his/her education.

The results are summarized in the following table:

Table 3: Correlation table:

Variable pair N of Valid Cases Cramer’s V P
Job experience* Position of the respondents 28 .27 .39
Position of the respondents*Educational level 34 .498 .15

 

The correlation between education and position was found to be insignificant (C = .498, p = 0.15). This may send the message to employees that the way to get promoted is not prior experience or education.

The following tables summarize how long the respondent plan to stay at their current position

Table 4: Respondents’ future plans:

Frequency Valid Percent
Remaining less than 6 months on the job 4 12.5
Remaining 6 months-1 year on the job 4 12.5
Remaining 1-5 years on the job 7 21.9
No plans at this stage 17 53.1
Total 32 100.0

21.9 percent planned to stay between one to five years in their current job; 12.5 percent planned to stay in their job less than 6 month or between 6 to 12 month; and the majority, 53.1 percent, had  no future plans at the time.

Table 5: Next career move:

Frequency Valid Percent
Promotion in my current job 8 29.5
Move elsewhere in this hotel 1 3.7
Move to another hotel 3 11.1
Move out of the hotel sector 7 25.9
Other 8 29.6
Total 27 100.0

29.5 percent plan to get a better position in their current work place, 11.1 percent plan to move to a different hotel, while 29.6 plan to leave the hospitality industry.

Table 6: Perception of chances for promotion:

Frequency Valid Percent
Excellent 3 9.1
Reasonable 7 21.2
Low 9 27.3
Unable to evaluate 14 42.4
Total 33 100.0

More than 27  percent have low expectations of getting a better job at their current hotel, and 42.4 percent are unable to evaluate their chances for promotion.

The results of the correlation between plans for the future and the perception about chances for promotion in the current job are summarized in the following table.

Table 7: Correlation between plans for the future and the perception of chances for promotion in the current job.

N Value P
Future plans and perception of  chances for promotion 33 .606 .003

There is a significant correlation between the perception of chances for promotion in the current job and plans to continue working in the same hotel.

3.2 Employee perceptions

The questions relating to the employees’ perceptions of the job included several statements. They were asked to rate their level of agreement with the statements on a five point Likert scale, from 1 “do not agree” to 5 “very much agree”. The individual results were then averaged in order to obtain the average perception.

The results as to the respondents’ perceptions about their job are summarized in the following table.

Table 8: Perceptions about the job

N Mean response on five-point scale
Front office work is a challenging and demanding area of work 34 4.09
I enjoy meeting and greeting customers, as part of my job 34 4.35
I enjoy the organizational parts of my job 34 4.0
I enjoy the use of technology, as part of my job 34 3.85
I would like the opportunity to work in other areas of the hotel industry 32 3.1
Most work in front office is common sense 34 4.03
Front office work is all about personality 34 4.64
My area of work is well respected by my family and friends 34 3.82
Front office is my preferred field for work and career progress 34 3.03
A specialist college course (in hospitality) is useful for front office work. 33 3.85
I was familiar with most of the tasks of the front office before I started work in this area 34 3.21

The respondents strongly agreed with the perception that front office work is all about the personality (4.64).

The respondents also agreed with the statements that they enjoy meeting people (4.35) and that the work at the front office had a lot of common sense (4.03).

The perceptions that the employees disagreed with were that they would like the opportunity to work in other areas of the hotel (3.1) and that the hotel business is their preferred field of work (3.03). Those statements may indicate that hospitality was not the employees’ first choice of employment or that it is part of their future plans.

They also disagreed with the statement that they were familiar with the tasks prior to starting working in this area (3.21) which may indicate that the employees had no previous experience in this kind of work.

3.3 Required skills

The questions relating to the importance of skills included several statements. The employees were asked to rate their agreement with the statements on a five point Likert scale, from 1 “do not agree” to 5 “very much agree”. The individual results were then averaged to reach the average perception.

The following table summarizes the results of the importance of the various skills as perceived by the employees.

Table 9: Importance of skills

N Mean response on five-point scale
Communication (oral) 33 4.67
Professional and ethical standards 34 4.65
Team work 34 4.52
Leadership qualities 34 3.88
Use of FO equipment 34 4.15
Customer care 34 4.88
Interpersonal 34 4.76
Accounting 34 3.24
Marketing 34 3.62
Use of technology 34 3.91
Health and safety 34 3.73
Communication (written) 34 3.91
Legal issues 34 2.71
Knowledge of foreign language(s) 34 4.53

The skill that was considered most important was “customer care” (4.88), followed by communication, interpersonal, and professional and ethical standards. The least important skill, as perceived by the employees, was legal issues (2.71). Other skills that were perceived as less important were accounting, marketing, health and safety, and the use of technology.

Discussion and Conclusions

Most hotel front office employees in Israel are young (average age of 36), single, and male. Fifty percent of the respondents work in their current job between 1 to five years – this is a lower percentage compared to other countries , except for Northern Ireland [1]. This may point to a problem that needs to be addressed by hotel managers.

The correlation between future plans and the chances of getting promoted in the current job indicates that if hotel managers want to reduce employee turnover rates, they need to develop possibilities of promotion within the hotel, or hotel chains. In addition the employees see no connection between prior experience and education to the job position, which may indicate that in order to get a better position, it is not necessary to accumulate experience and/or education – it may be good qualifications, but it may also be for other reasons.

Looking at the perception about work in the hotel front office that were rated highest – “Work is all about personality” and the fact that they “Enjoy meeting the guests” – may indicate that this kind of job is suitable for certain people – for those who like working with people. This is no surprising result, and the perception that those who go to work in the hospitality industry are “people’s persons” is a common perception.

The statements that were rated lowest – “The opportunity to work in other areas of the hotel” and “The front office is my preferred field of work” – may point to a serious problem for  hotel managers; it may indicate that hospitality and specifically front office was not the first choice of work for most employees. This is very surprising, especially since approx. one quarter of the respondents had a bachelor degree in hospitality. The answer may be that these educated employees, once they started working, found the job not rewarding, and that they did not see any options for promotion. Once again, this may point to a problem which hotel managers must deal with.

It is not surprising to see that front office employees rate communication skills and the ability to work with other people high. However, the relatively low rate that employees gave to marketing (3.6 on a scale of five) indicate that they do not see their importance as a marketing tool of the hotel, and hotel managers may have to work on this point.

The relatively high value that was attributed to the knowledge of foreign languages is not surprising, either, especially with the relatively high percentage of foreign guests in the selected hotels.

In addition to looking at the perception of hotel front office employees in Israel and the skills they believe are required, there is a lot of value in comparing the results from Israel to those  from other countries, in order to check whether there is a difference in these perceptions across different countries, and whether there are a differences in the skills required in different countries [1

The perceptions found among hotel employees in Israel were quiet different from those found in hotel workers in other countries. For example, in Israel, most employees agreed that working at the front office was “all about personality” (4.64); this statement was rated first in Malaysia and Kyrgyzstan, but all the other countries that were checked, it was rated fifth or lower.

The result concerning meeting the guests was similar to the one obtained in other countries, where it was rated first or second. However, the result about the job being mostly common sense was much higher than in most other countries, except in Brazil, where, it was also rated third.

The disagreement with the perceptions about previous experience was consistent with the findings in most other countries, where it was also rated last. The disagreement with the perception about working in other areas of the hotel, and with the fact that the front office is the preferred area of work, was inconsistent with the findings from most other countries. Only in Brazil and China, the front office was also rated low as a preferred place of work, and in Egypt and Northern Ireland, employees disagreed with the statement that they would like the opportunity to work in other areas of the hotel.

The above strengthens the claim that the perceptions are culture-dependent and vary from one country to another. The skills that were perceived as important and as unimportant in Israel and in other countries were very similar, which supports the perception that the skills required for the job are similar across different countries.

It is important to remember that this is only a preliminary study that covers only a small part of the hotels in Israel. One should see whether the same results are obtained when the full survey is completed. However, the two most important points for hotel managers that appear at this point are that they should strengthen marketing and that they should provide the employees with the possibility of being promoted in the hotel.

This will significantly help reduce turnover rate, as there is a significant correlation between the chances of obtaining a promotion and the employees’ future plans.

The results of the current study support the idea that perceptions are culture-dependent and differ from one country to another, while the skills required are the same across countries.

Reference

[1] Baum, T., Devine, F., Kattara, H., Hai-Yan, K., Osoro, W., Teixeira, R. M., et al. (2006). Reflections on The Social Construction of Skills in Hospitality: Preliminary Findings From Comparative International Studies. Proceedings of the city and beyond: 16th Annual CAUTHE conference. Melbourne.

[2] Vallen, G. k., & Vallen, J. j. (2004). check in check out managing hotle operation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice- Hall.

[3] Kong, H. Y., & Baum, T. (2006, 6). skills and work in the hospitality sector the case of hotel front office employees in China. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Managment (18), pp. 509-518.

[4] Boxall, P., & Purcell, J. (2000). Strategic human resources managment: where have we come from and where should we be going? International Journal of Managment Reviews , 2 (2), pp. 183-203.

[5] Nickson, D., Baum, T., Losekoot, E., Morrison, A., & Frochot, I. (2002). skiil, organizational performance and economic activity in the hospitality industry: A literature review. Economic and Social Science Research Council working papaer .

[6] Baum, T., & Devine, F. (2007). Skills and training in the hotel sector: The case of the front office emploement in Northern Ireland. Tourismand Hospitality Reserch , 7 , pp. 269-280.

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