For many, supply chain issues mean that something like the grocery store has run out of oat milk, so you’re stuck with soy instead. For hotels — an industry already hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic — supply chain issues are causing even bigger problems.
Vimal Patel knows this all too well. Patel is CEO of QHotels Management, which operates franchises of hotel brands, including select Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Best Western properties. Lately, he’s been scrambling to find towels, shampoos, notepads and other supplies his hotels are going through (and running out of) due to supply chain issues.
“Since the pandemic, serving paper products like plates and napkins, as well as the food itself, has become a huge problem — and a customer service challenge,” he says. “Customers often don’t understand why a product is not available.”
Things have heated up at one of its hotels, which advertises 12-ounce cups of coffee.
“We could only find 8-ounce cups, and we couldn’t find lids,” says Patel. “We had to use a lower quality mug because that’s all we could get. This deeply upset some customers.
For weary travelers looking to hit the caffeine, uncovered coffee might seem like a reason to leave a one-star review, especially for inexperienced travelers who might be unaccustomed to the myriad of travel-related changes. COVID. But here’s why there’s no point in crying over spilled milk.
How Supply Chain Issues Affect Your Hotel Stay
DELIVERIES MAY TAKE AN UNPREDICTABLE TIME: Most Patel properties are major brand franchises and must adhere to brand standards. Patel typically orders items from an approved vendor, which previously took around 48 hours to arrive.
“Now it can take months,” he says. “You’re lucky to have it within three weeks.”
Pads are usually ordered every two months, as they fade after enough use (and some just disappear). Still, bulky items like these are difficult to store, as most hotels have limited storage space.
“We’ll have a family of four who will use all the towels in the morning and then ask for a second one in the evening,” he says. “Sometimes we just don’t have enough.”
Amid the shortage of coffee cups, Patel had to send an employee to Costco to buy all the cups they could find. “With necessities, it’s hard to tell a customer, ‘We don’t have that,’ so sometimes you just have to make it work,” he says.
COSTS ARE HIGHER: The entire nation is witnessing inflation – and hotels are no different.
Hotels reported a 79% increase in costs for daily cleaning and housekeeping supplies, a 77% increase for linens and other non-textile items, and a 77% increase in food supplies and beverages, according to a November 2021 survey of approximately 500 hotels. operators led by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
PERSONNEL ISSUES ARE ON-GOING: In a separate October 2021 AHLA survey, 94% of respondents said their hotels were understaffed (including 47% who say they are severely understaffed). Additionally, 96% of hoteliers said they were trying to hire but had trouble filling vacancies.
And for an already overworked hotel worker, dealing with an upset guest over their undersized cup of coffee can be an added challenge.
CONSTRUCTION CHALLENGES COMPLICATE THE PROBLEM: The coffee chaos was small beans for Patel’s company, which operates in Louisiana. Nearly half of its properties are closed due to flooding and roof damage from Hurricane Ida. He says local home improvement stores are running out of materials and construction workers are hard to hire.
While the hurricane brought additional challenges to businesses in Louisiana, hotels across the country are experiencing construction-related issues. In the first year of the pandemic, many hotels postponed planned renovations.
Now, it may be too late to renovate within budget. Building material costs jumped nearly 20% in 2021, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. In a separate AGC survey from Winter 2021, 90% of contractors attributed these issues to the supply chain, and 72% said projects were taking longer than expected due to COVID-19.
What to expect on your next hotel stay: The travelers are coming back, but the labor and materials still haven’t returned – and the outlook isn’t exactly promising. Among respondents to the AHLA survey, 36% said they expect supply chain disruptions to last at least another year.
For travelers, that means planned renovations may not even have begun. That means you may not have the exact amenities you’re used to – and sometimes the amenities you expected won’t be available, period. Patel says he hopes customers will understand the challenges facing the hospitality industry.
“We don’t take shortcuts because we’re trying to earn nickels and silver,” he says. “That’s just the situation we find ourselves in.”
And just as a hotel probably wants you to feel at home, Patel says he hopes people realize that the supply chain shortages being felt at home are also hitting his industry.
“Whether it’s finding groceries or a roof over your own home, these are the same challenges businesses face, but 10 times more,” he says.