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Journal number 4 ∘ Natia Barbakadze
The Impact of the Covid 19 Pandemic on Tourism and Hospitality Management (in the case of chain hotels of the Adjara region)

The article discusses the vital role of tourism in the economic development of Georgia and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Country’s economy, especially on the hotel industry. Challenges faced by the hotel sector due to pandemic-induced restrictions, resulting in lower revenues and job losses, are presented. The negative consequences for global and local economies are highlighted, citing a UN report on occupational hazards in the tourism industry. The main challenge in the post-pandemic period is highlighted - the outflow of professional staff, the restoration of trust and the re-hiring of experienced personnel. It focuses on staffing challenges in the tourism and hospitality sector in the Ajara region and tries to answer several key issues. These issues identify hotels that have been able to retain staff during the pandemic. The assessment of the impact of staff stability on the hotel’s economic situation shows how the hotel chain of the Adjara region contributes to the stability of employees. The study uses an interview-based approach to examine the pre-pandemic situation in hotels, management characteristics, current liquidity problems and predictions regarding the long-term consequences of the pandemic. The research outcomes have delineated recommendations focused on staff retention.
Keywords: Covid 19 pandemic, tourism industry, employment, chain hotels, qualified personnel.
JEL Codes: E24, L82, L83

Tourism is a priority segment in the development of the economy of Georgia and plays a vitally important role in the growth of the economy and the creation of jobs, that is why the special attention is given to it. According to the “Georgian Tourism Strategy 2025” presented by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, “by 2025, Georgia will be known as an advanced, all-season, high-quality tourism country, distinguished by its cultural and natural heritage, world-class services and an ancient tradition of hospitality.” (Georgia Tourism Strategy 2025) Before the pandemic, employment in chain hotels of international brands, such as “Sheraton Batumi”, “Radisson Blue Batumi”, “Hilton Batumi” and others, was especially in high demand, which led to internal migration and an increase in the share of the population of Batumi compared to the population of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. (Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara 2016)
The global pandemic had a negative impact on the world economy, including the economy of Georgia. The hotel industry faced a significant challenge - tightened state regulations, a significant decrease in international visitors, border closures, universal quarantines, conference restrictions, bans on parties and weddings - the restrictions imposed by the pandemic had a significant impact on the revenue of the hotel sector. This policy led to the collapse of the international supply and demand chain, which had a negative impact on the financial stability of the private sector. The tourism industry received a particularly heavy blow. Reduced revenue had a direct negative impact on wages and staff retention in the hotel industry. According to a report by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), between 100 and 120 million jobs are at risk, while the number of workers employed in tourism reached 330 million in 2019 (United Nations 2020).
As a result of the research conducted by PricewaterouseCoopers LLC together with the Georgian Investors Council, it was revealed that in the months of March and April 2020 (PwC Georgia 2020):

  • During the pandemic, the most affected sector is the hotel and restaurant business, with 78% of them reporting a decrease of more than 50% in revenue;
  • The highest rate of employee reduction is observed in hotels and restaurants (46%).
  • The hotel industry has lost its name and credibility as a stable employer. However, as the tourism sector has slowly recovered, hospitality and service sector employers are facing the challenge of how to “gain trust” and regain the skilled staff they lost during the pandemic. (Abuselidze 2020)
  • Based on the relevance of the issue, the study aims to research the causes and staffing policy of the staffing challenges in the field of tourism and hospitality in the Ajara region. The research issues are:
  • Despite the global nature of the pandemic, were there hotels (in the Adjara region) that better ensured staff stability?
  • Does the promotion of staff stability affect the hotel’s economic situation?
  • What is meant by the promotion of staff stability on the part of a chain hotel (on the example of the Adjara region)?

In order to answer the research questions, an interview method was conducted with the representatives of chain hotels in the Ajara region. In-depth information about opinions and attitudes obtained from high and low-level employees of a total of 6 chain hotels is the basis of the information used in this paper and aims to reflect the “primary” response of hotels to the pandemic. The research presents answers to questions related to personnel problems in the hotel industry before the crisis and in the post-crisis period, steps and actions already taken by the management, current liquidity problems and their predictions on the future consequences of the pandemic. Within the framework of the study, data analysis was carried out by categorizing and classifying responses, highlighting key themes and emphasizing the importance of ensuring staffing stability, identifying staffing difficulties and supporting circumstances.

The importance of the hotel and hospitality sector on the country’s economic situation
Although tourism has gradually recovered and the number of tourists is adequately increasing, the tourism industry has lost its name as a stable employer. International brand chain hotels faced a challenge, as qualified personnel who were employed in other fields due to the pandemic, no longer agree to return to the hotel sector due to the instability of the tourism sector or demand higher salaries than they had before the pandemic. (Putkaradze 2022)
In the Adjara region, the hotel sector was one of the most demanding in terms of employment. And after the pandemic - it became unstable, due to which qualified personnel refrain from employment in this field. This in turn has a significant negative impact on tourism and hospitality management. (Putkaradze 2022) Unqualified staff, staff outflow and reduced human resources worsen the quality of service. The mentioned problems affect the influx of tourists, the demand for hospitality services, and appear as important obstacles to the development of the economy. (Putkaradze 2022)

International practice of employment characteristics in chain hotels
Tourism and hospitality is one of the industries in the service sector that, compared to other service industries, has been characterized by constant growth over the past 70 years. (Hazra, 2013) According to the World Travel & Tourism Council 2019 data, tourism creates 1 in 10 jobs in the global economy. (Economic Impact Report. 2019).
As a labor-intensive industry, hospitality creates a great resource in the form of employment – while fulfilling business goals, offering high-quality services, and creating a competitive advantage. In an era characterized by constant changes in the economic, political and social environment, globalization, technological advances and easy mobility of resources, it is important for companies to remain competitive on the global stage. Hence, there is a need for differentiation that leads to sustainable competitive advantage. (Katou, 2008) In response to this need, the emphasis has shifted from traditional sources (capital, land, technology) to business systems and processes, especially human capital. Human resources as skills, knowledge, attitudes, competencies and their management are key factors in creating competitive advantage. (Armstrong, 2017).
The hotel industry around the world has several distinct characteristics such as: Heterogeneity (large, chain and small, national hotels), sensitivity to change (innovation, technological advances, economic, social and mobility issues), seasonality, flexibility of human resources, high percentage of part-time and non-professional employees, lack of qualifications and high level of employee turnover. (Janes, 2011) The growth of a particular hotel depends on the quality of service, which in turn depends on the performance of the employees. In other words, customer satisfaction and ultimately the hotel’s income depends on the quality of the service provided, which largely depends on the hotel’s employees. Thus, hotel managers should try to motivate employees. (Molina-Azorin, 2015)
However, there are other external factors that affect employee performance, including working conditions and career prospects in the industry. The hotel sector is known as one of the lowest paying employers. Due to extreme competition in the hotel market, hotels are struggling to survive. Due to taxes and other fixed costs, making a profit for hotels is quite a difficult task. (Immaneni K. 2019) Thus, salary is the only expense that can be controlled or kept within a limit. (Immaneni K. 2019) In addition, the hotel industry is characterized by long, non-working and holiday working hours, different shifts and more. However, due to seasonal fluctuations in business, hotels operate with reduced staff to maintain low labor costs, especially during the off-season, thus increasing the workload and working hours of existing employees.
The industry began to realize this fact, but could not find a solution. In order to reduce the severity of this problem, hotels have initiated the following procedures: Additional vacation, fixed number of working hours per day, overtime pay, incentive bonuses. (Moreno-Perdigon C.M. 2020).
The main selling “product” of the hospitality industry is service, so customer satisfaction and loyalty depend on the service provided by human capital. However, evaluating the quality of service is difficult, because it is intangible, delivery and consumption occur simultaneously, and the quality of service depends on the subjective evaluation of the user and the service person. Therefore, in the hospitality industry, human resources (human capital) play the most important role in the success of the organization. (Development Strategy of Georgia, 2022) This emphasizes the level of satisfaction and motivation of the employee. Guest satisfaction is directly proportional to hotel revenue growth. For example, a satisfied guest is a source of positive referrals and recommendations, which ensures increased awareness and higher levels of loyalty, and helps the hotel save on new guest acquisition costs and thus increase revenue. Employee attitudes and behaviors, including job satisfaction, teamwork, and commitment to the organization and work contribute to organizationally valued outcomes such as productivity, profit, and competitive advantage. This is why human resource management plays a vital role in the hospitality and tourism sector and includes requirements such as: Recruitment, retention and continuous development of effective personnel, creation of organizational culture, training and development, performance control and assessment system, equal opportunity and management diversity, incentives, rewards, employee benefits and motivation system, occupational safety, disciplinary procedures. (Burke R.J., 2018)

Practice of peculiarities of employment in chain hotels in Adjara region
The Black Sea coastline, the abundance of cultural and historical monuments, protected areas, mountainous Adjara landscapes, unique natural conditions and such brand hotels as “Sheraton”, “Le-Meridien”, “Hilton”, “Radisson” and others contribute to Rapid development of tourism in Adjara. Due to the fact that the flow of international tourists is increasing and the competitive environment among hotels is growing, branded hotels are trying their best to improve service standards and staff development. It should be highlighted that the management of human resources in branded hotels operating in Batumi fully complies with the provisions and guidelines of the Labor Code of Georgia. (Internal regulations of work of the legal messenger of Georgia of the legal entity of public law included in the sphere of governance of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia) At the same time, they maintain the culture of the company’s core values established by the brand- in the part of empowering employees and maintaining personal. For example, Marriot International Executive Vice President and Global HR David Rodriguez emphasizes: “Marriot’s core value is EVP (Employee Value Created), which develops at an early stage in the company’s history. When J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott opened their first company in Washington, D.C. in 1927, they said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.”.“ (Leppla A., 2016). For this very reason, employees feel connected to the company’s goals, which leads to their loyalty to the service and the creation of high service quality. (Leppla A., 2016)
After the negative consequences of the global pandemic spread around the world, the hotel industry, including in Georgia, faced a significant challenge. The hotel industry has lost its name and credibility as a stable employer. The regulations against the spread of the virus caused a temporary paralysis of local and international tourism. The number of customers of various destinations in the field of tourism, including accommodation facilities, travel agencies, transport companies, catering establishments and other businesses working with a similar profile, has decreased to a critical minimum. In the analysis of macroeconomic scenarios of the Ministry of Finance (2022), we read: “Despite the fact that the income from tourism during the first 8 months of 2021 exceeds the indicator of the corresponding period of 2020 by 45.6 percent, the level of income from tourism is only 31.1 percent of the similar indicator of 2019.” Companies left without income try to overcome financial challenges by optimizing costs, laying off employees or reducing their salaries. (Gössling, Scot, & Hall, 2020, 7-10).
Research and results related to this problem are discussed below.

Qualitative research method was used to collect data and in-depth interviews were conducted with 13 respondents. 8 of them were upper-level managers in chain hotels in the Adjara region (HR Manager, Revenue Manager, Food and Beverage Department Manager, Sales Manager), 5 hotel employees (Bartender, HR Specialist, Breakfast Supervisor, Security and Safety Officer, Shift Supervisor). The average duration of the interviews was 30-50 minutes.
The studied issues were related to the detection of the economic situation of the hotels in the Ajara region, the identification of the challenges of staff stability and outflow from the hotel staff, the strategic vision and the needs identified in this process.
The obtained data were analyzed using thematic content analysis, the main topics were identified: Which companies were able to ensure staff stability? What was the economic result of ensuring staff stability for hotels? How did these hotels manage to support/maintain staffing policies?
In addition, it was interesting to see what changes occurred in the hotel and hospitality business during the pandemic, what was the reason for leaving the hotel and hospitality industry? What strategic visions do hotels have in the direction of personnel policy? As a result, the needs of the process supporting the development of the service sector were identified.

Data analysis
During the quantitative research, it became clear that personnel changes during the pandemic. According to hotel employees, complete chaos was created in the hotel at the initial stage of the pandemic.

  • “At the beginning of the pandemic period, a terrible chaos was created, due to which it was not possible to comply with the regulations, the hotel was closed and I was terminated due to staff reduction” (employee of Intourist Batumi)
  • “At the beginning of the pandemic, the hotel had to close like other hotels, some of the employees left their jobs voluntarily, some were downsized” (employee of a 5-star hotel);
  • “In the first year - 2020, when the pandemic started, the hotel literally did not function” (Best Western Premier Batumi employee).

From this it can be concluded that most of the hotels were not prepared to manage such a critical situation. They did not have an “emergency management plan” developed, and most importantly, they did not have financial reserves to maintain a full staff of employees even for 6 months. In addition, hotels that have been able to continue operating during the pandemic despite government support have increased costs due to regulations (disinfectants, debarriers, special equipment (gloves, masks, hats, etc.), warning signs/distancing and awareness stickers and etc.).

  • “Unfortunately, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, I was terminated due to downse of labor force and I have no information about the measures taken by the hotel, and when I returned, I found the following situation: The rules of reception and accommodation were changed, the absence of international traveling tourists was felt, which was due to the suspension of international air flights and the closing of borders. Only the Georgian Visitors stayed in the hotel... Also, upon entering, the guest had to go through the dezo barrier, thermal screening, wash his hands with a solution and, of course, wear a mask inside the hotel. In order to maintain distance, attendance at breakfast was limited, they had to order breakfast in room.” (Employee of Le Meridien Batumi)

According to the respondents, Sheraton Batumi faced the initial stage of the pandemic in a more orderly manner compared to other hotels, in which international practices and guidelines helped significantly:

  • “As soon as the pandemic started, the hotel came up with specific guidelines according to which we were guided throughout the entire period.” (Sheraton Batumi employee)
  • “Until now, during the pandemic, the hotel has kept the staff as much as possible. For a period, we moved to part-time. We haven’t beent without a salary for a month. Even when the hotel was closed, we continued to work half-time during difficult times when almost all hotels were closed” (Sheraton Batumi employee).

What was the reason for leaving the hotel industry?
The study is interested in determining the reason for the outflow of personnel from the hotel. In the process of interviewing the participants of the research, information was obtained about what motivators push employees to be “loyal” to the company and what factors (internal or external motivators) lead them to leave their jobs.
The opinion of the respondents was basically the same: the reason for leaving the hotel was due to a decrease in salary and a feeling of instability.
“The hotel started downsizing, the officers in my department were temporarily reduced.....after 2 months I was called and I worked for 6 months....my final resignation was due to the low salary range.” (low level employee of 5-star international chain in Batumi).
Which hotels and at what expense managed to maintain staff stability?
Respondents unanimously name the Sheraton Batumi hotel, which, compared to other hotels, was able to manage the hotel best during the Covid pandemic and kept the staff as much as possible.
“Hotel Sheraton quickly managed to adapt to the Covid regulations and continued to receive tourist tours in the usual rhythm”
“As far as I know, a lot of hotels have solved this situation with their employees with unpaid leave, so I think our hotel is one of the ones that handled the situation normally compared to others.“
“In my opinion, the Sheraton hotel managed this crisis period the best”
“Compared to other hotels, based on the information I had, I think Sheraton Batumi managed the crisis best”
“Compared to other hotels, from the information I had, I think Sheraton Batumi managed the crisis the best. With the help of financial resources.“
“Hotel “Sheraton” managed this crisis period in the best way... probably at the expense of strong and experienced management!!!”
How have hotels managed to support/maintain personnel policies?
Respondents associate several important factors:

  • Management
  • Experienced personnel
  • Financial resource (reserve)
  • Marriot International Guideline - Crisis Management Plan during the Covid Pandemic.

What was the economic result of ensuring staff stability for hotels?
Recruitment of qualified personnel remains a significant challenge for hotels, as some of them have moved to work in a completely different industry and have not considered returning due to instability. Professional staff, as we mentioned above, is important for providing high-quality services, which is directly proportional to the results of the hotel’s economic activity.
What strategic visions do hotels have in the direction of personnel policy?
The pandemic has created great challenges for the hotel industry, but it has also opened the door to recognizing and understanding opportunities that can help organizations guide their future actions. For example, crisis learning and future preparedness are essential to ensure business sustainability. Also, after the crisis, it is difficult to return qualified personnel to work. Sourcing, hiring and training new personnel requires a lot of time and money. Laying off employees will increase unemployment and disrupt the country’s economy, which in turn will affect hotels as a tourism business. Therefore, the hotel sector will be more prepared to meet such crisis challenges even for the purpose of retaining employees.
The needs of the process of promoting the development of the service sector Improving the quality of service and qualified staff remains a challenge in the field of services. In Georgia, there is still a problem of a lack of professional service personnel in the industry, which leads to an inappropriate level of service quality. The mentioned sector faced a significant challenge during the pandemic, during which most of the representatives of the hotel industry lost their jobs or saw a significant reduction in their salaries. Most of them changed their work profile altogether: “In my opinion, a professional employee represents a great value for the company and their retention should be a priority, it doesn’t matter if it is safety, housekeeping or engineering, so much time, resources and information are poured into these personnel that their release may become a bigger loss for the company than it seems in this case. Since competing companies expect such personnel in their institutions because of the knowledge and experience that company gave to the employee, who subsequently terminated due to some temporary financial benefit, which I will mention once again will affect it quite badly in the long term future.” (Le Méridien Batumi employee)
At this stage, based on the raised problem, the main identified need in the direction of tourism education is a strong network of tourism vocational schools, sufficient and appropriate training programs, restoration of trust in the hotel industry.

Conclusion, Recommendations
Among service industry representatives, such as international hotel chains, a noticeable trend has emerged: some employees have stayed with the company. It’s important to highlight that employees were retained, but this came at the expense of reducing their salaries by half. This decision posed a significant challenge for branded hotels because they prioritize a loyal relationship with their employees. This approach involves retaining staff, ensuring their well-being, and, in turn, maintaining a high standard of service. Furthermore, hotels faced increased operational expenses due to compliance with regulations such as the need for masks, sanitizers, and other safety measures.
Amid the challenges brought about by the pandemic, the Georgian Government devised an anti-crisis strategy that extends support to the tourism sector. This plan encompasses several benefits:

  • Hotels will be exempt from property tax for the entire year of 2020.
  • The deadline for income tax payments has been extended until the conclusion of 2020.
  • The state will subsidize 80% of the interest on bank loans, up to five million GEL, for hotels with an annual turnover of up to 20 million GEL, over a six-month period.
  • Financial support will be provided for participation in tourist exhibitions.
  • Assistance will be extended to hotel chains in implementing safety standards outlined by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). (Anti-crisis plan for the implementation of tourism, 2020)

The above mentioned plan was significant because amid the closure of borders and numerous regulations, hotels lost income and faced such financial difficulties as: Taxes (VAT, income, pension, property), lease, utility tax, employee wages, credit contributions, however, as a result, they were still unable to retain a large number of qualified personnel.
Although the growth of tourism is significantly noticeable after the pandemic, the problem of qualified personnel remains a challenge. Therefore, the following recommendations will be effective:

  • Strong network of professional tourism schools;
  • Appropriate training programs;
  • Restoring confidence in the hotel industry;
  • Development of a plan to retain employees during crisis;


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