What Industry Expert Nikki Massey Predicts 2021 Will Look Like for Hospitality and Its Workers
Hcareers / DECEMBER 21 2020

Nikki Massey is the Senior Vice President, Human Resources – Americas for Hyatt Hotels Corporation and a 25-year member of the Hyatt family.

We recently spoke with Nikki Massey, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Americas at Hyatt, about the first moments it was clear that the pandemic was going to affect the global hospitality industry, what lessons can be learned from 2020, and how she predicts travel and rehiring will go in 2021 after the pandemic is under control.

Nikki also provided advice for candidates looking for new opportunities in the industry, and thoughts on how colleagues and candidates can take this unprecedented year as an opportunity to advance their careers to turn a bad year into a great future. 

Looking back at 2020

When did you first realize how serious of an impact the pandemic would have on the hospitality industry? What was happening “behind the scenes?”

We’re a global company, so our colleagues in the Asia Pacific were feeling the impact and responding to the rapidly changing situation months before we were. By the time cities in the US began shutting down, we realized that this would be an issue affecting every hotel. Behind the scenes, we began working furiously to put out resources for our stakeholders; operations were preparing cleanliness and safety protocols, leadership was communicating with our owners, and HR was planning for the effects this would have on colleagues – financially and mentally. Our team scheduled three calls a week to share information with leaders, while working within our departments to handle and respond to constantly evolving situations.  

What tactics did Hyatt put in place to help keep guests and staff safe through the COVID-19 pandemic? Hyatt created a Global Recovery Team to collaborate with the CDC, Cleveland Clinic, and other professional organizations, ensuring that science was informing the resources being created for our hotels. We began pursuing accreditation through GBAC (the Global Biorisk Advisory Council) with the goal of having every property certified by year-end. This would validate for guests and colleagues that each Hyatt property meets rigorous safety standards.

As colleagues started returning to work, we created a reorientation process to help them adjust to working in a completely new environment.  We also provided guidance on rearranging staff areas; distancing tables in the cafeteria, marking off every other locker in the locker room to allow for social distancing, and staggering colleague start times to reduce crowding at the employee entrance and other high-traffic areas. 

What innovative ideas and solutions did Hyatt create to help keep the brand and company and industry going? Have you seen ideas from other companies or organizations you admire that you feel are equally impactful?

Through our Global Recovery Team, Hyatt formed a collaboration with American Airlines and Enterprise Rent-A-Car to create a holistic travel experience. Each organization validated the other’s safety protocols to ensure a safe “end to end” experience for our guests. 

We saw a higher amount of guest traffic over the summer, particularly at our resort and select service locations.  As more guests checked in and started using the hotel amenities, properties got creative to meet their needs while still giving them great experiences. One really creative example is from the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. They delivered grill equipment, meats, and sides to guest balconies for a personal barbecue experience. This allowed families to enjoy a memorable, private dinner experience without ever visiting our dining room! Our teams have been incredibly innovative – we haven’t taken a one-size-fits-all approach, but we are sure to share our most successful ideas across the portfolio to create fun and safe experiences for our guests. 

What do you think has been one of the biggest lessons to come out of 2020 for the hospitality industry?

One of the biggest lessons from 2020 is that the hospitality industry is much, much more agile than we give ourselves credit for. We’ve quickly been able to redefine the way we do business, and how we communicate with each other and our stakeholders. We pivoted incredibly quickly to put procedures in place addressing safety concerns that never really existed before.  

We’re also reminded that although we can conduct a lot of day-to-day business through technology and remotely, everyone still wants the human connection that is the backbone of our industry. 

How has Hyatt stayed connected to their furloughed or laid off employees, or keep open communication with current employees?

We’ve always conducted an annual survey to gather feedback from our colleagues on what is working well and what needs to change. With the pandemic, however, we needed to address issues and get feedback in real-time.  We shifted to daily pulse surveys to ensure that our colleagues felt they were working in a safe environment, had the materials and equipment they needed, and knew who to go to for support. If any survey question received an agreement rating below 95%, we immediately spoke to the colleagues to learn more and make changes where needed. Sometimes it was just a matter of understanding their different perspectives and explaining our protocols for individual departments based on their responsibilities. 

Colleagues also use an internal communications tool, Hyatt Check-In, to share stories from around the world and stay connected to each other as we face this together. We’ve seen some amazing examples of our colleagues contributing to their local communities as well as helping one another. For example, many of our hotels have created “care packages” of groceries or holiday meals for colleagues to pick up, alleviating some financial responsibilities while also preventing food waste. An interesting example of this is our Miraval Austin property, which has an onsite garden and farm for their farm-to-table dining room. Although there are fewer guests checking in, our garden and animals are still producing just as much, so we used the extra eggs, honey, and produce to create CSA boxes for our colleagues.

We’ve also found ways to stay connected with hospitality program graduates who otherwise would have been going through immersive management training programs at our properties. For our 2020 corporate management trainee program, Hyatt switched to an all-remote version and gave our graduates a 6-month virtual learning experience with guest speakers and classes to help build their leadership skills. After 6 months, the trainees completed the program and Hyatt helped with outplacement services to help them land their next role. We felt it was important to show our partner schools and new hospitality grads that we would be there for them even during a very difficult time in our industry. 

2021 & Beyond

What are you most excited about heading into 2021 for Hyatt and for the industry?

One unexpected positive outcome of the pandemic is operational creativity.  Many ideas that served us well during the past few months will still be beneficial going forward. I think a lot of hospitality companies have become more open-minded and creative as a result of this year, so we can all think, operate, and recruit differently. It’s exciting to anticipate ongoing creativity and innovation. 

The pandemic forced all businesses and executives to prioritize and reevaluate processes, projects, initiatives, and messages, …. with that in mind, what do you think Hyatt will keep prioritizing, will stop doing, or will start doing in 2021?

At Hyatt, we continued to prioritize listening. Everything we do is grounded in listening to our stakeholders. We held a lot of calls with our owners during the pandemic to understand what was happening with them financially and how we could effectively collaborate so we all have a healthy business when this crisis is past. We conducted virtual focus groups with our guests to gather insight on what would make them feel safe while traveling, what our loyalty program should do differently, or what support they would like from us. And as mentioned before, we listened to our colleagues through the daily survey and other communication means to ensure they felt safe and supported. 

We’ve always had a culture of experimentation. We implemented the Stanford design thinking model a few years back, which has helped us get better results because we can try solutions for the simple purpose of learning and improving rather than being “perfect” every time. That ability to think creatively and quickly iterate based on feedback served us well during the pandemic. 

Do you see any new roles, or hybrid roles forming as a response to 2020? How will the industry and Hyatt cross-train team members, or provide opportunities to take on new skills? My guess is that the next phase will more likely be about different ways of working and the evolution of current roles. For example, in some ways, we’ve taken a contactless approach to guest service during the pandemic.  This is great from a safety standpoint, but how does our industry reconcile a contactless experience with the human aspect of guest service? Technology is great, it’s efficient, but it will never replace walking into a hotel after you’ve been on the road all day and having someone smile and talk to you.  Those relationships are what the industry is built on and what makes it so special. 

What are your travel predictions for 2021, and how are you using them to help strategize for recovery, increased occupancy levels, and creating rehiring strategies?

This has certainly been an unprecedented year for hospitality, but I feel very confident in the recovery of our industry. Ultimately, people want to be together – they want to see the world, have experiences, and form connections. That’s never going to go away. 

We’re going to get back to normal by boosting consumer confidence. Part of that will be through widespread testing and a vaccine. After that, there will be stages in how travel will return. 

This summer’s leisure markets showed us that guests still want to get out of their homes, enjoy hotel amenities and clean, safe spaces. For that reason, I believe leisure travel will be back on the rise in 2021. 

Business travel may ramp up more slowly as companies will likely be cautious about spending. And finally, large-scale meetings and conventions will probably be the last to return, but all of it will come back. Our industry will be ready to support all of these types of guests and customers by staying informed and continuing collaborations with the Cleveland Clinic, GBAC, etc.

Rehiring will depend on demand. A quick vaccination process would be great for business, but we may not get our colleagues back that quickly, so that’s a concern. As time continues to go on, hospitality professionals could go to other industries and employers will need to look at alternative candidate pools. 

There are a lot of candidates out there who, with the right training, would be a great fit for the hospitality industry. At Hyatt, we will continue to focus on opportunity youth through our RiseHY program, helping young people grow into more responsibility and hopefully long careers in the industry. Overall, hospitality employers may find that we need to hire more often for aptitude and skills rather than specific experience and provide the right onboarding and engagement.  

Can you talk about Hyatt’s plans related to diversity and inclusion practices in recruitment and hiring strategies, and advancement opportunities? 

Hyatt has always had a focus on diversity. We’ve established goals to increase our representation of diverse leaders by 2025, and we are continuously working towards that. I think it will be important moving forward for companies to not only say they want to support diversity but provide concrete examples and data to show what exactly they are doing and what their results are. 

At Hyatt, we have three main points of focus; who we employ, who we develop and advance, and who we do business with. Right now, we are paying attention to all of these groups, knowing that we have to have a plan in place as business returns. 

We’re also focusing on how we can advance our RiseHY participants into leadership roles and asking ourselves how we can bring more diversity into our college recruiting efforts. We want to be side by side with diverse talent at every touchpoint during their career journey, from when they are first hired, while they’re developing, and when they advance to leadership and executive leadership roles. 

When it comes to diversity, as an organization, employers can make a lot of statements about their intent, but the real proof sits with the colleagues themselves. If you have diverse colleagues who are speaking highly of your organization to potential candidates within their communities, that will do more for your organization than any marketing message about diversity ever will. 

When we implemented our Change Starts Here commitment, Hyatt conducted round table sessions with diverse leaders. One consistent theme of these conversations that stuck with me was that diverse talent wants to see themselves represented throughout an organization. Enabling connections with diverse general managers or regional team members helps rising diverse talent to see their career aspirations as achievable goals. 

How do you plan on spreading that message internally and externally?

Companies need to show organic proof of diversity efforts, including more real-life stories from diverse leaders about their career paths and experiences.  

Job seekers/advice

Are there any specific hard or soft skills that you and your staff will look for in candidates when rehiring post-COVID?

Hard skills are going to be more job-specific, but any skill relating to technology will be great to learn or have. As far as soft skills go, employers will look for candidates with resilience, agility, and creativity, alongside the more traditional hospitality soft skills. 

We may find ourselves conducting more behavior-based interviews to assess soft skills.  Employers will have to ask for very specific examples of a time when a candidate had to quickly pivot and to show agility, or to tell a story of a time when a candidate utilized empathy to design a solution. 

What are the top 2 pieces of advice you’d give to candidates looking at roles in the industry (or more specifically at Hyatt)

Don’t give up on our industry! There may not be a lot of open roles right now, but as business returns – and it will – we will need good people. One added bonus about joining the industry right now is that there is the opportunity to do career-defining work.  There is so much experimentation and creativity happening at all levels on a daily basis – yours could be the idea that the whole company embraces! 

What are the top 2 pieces of advice you’d give to current workforce looking to advance their career within the industry (or more specifically at Hyatt)?

Because we’re able to engage with each other more closely as we have smaller teams, there are so many more opportunities to put forth innovative ideas and engage with leaders. This is a great time for colleagues to show their capabilities and have leaders take notice. 

What advice would give students in hospitality college programs?

Don’t be afraid to take a more entry-level role to get into a good company. It may not be what you went to school for, or what you planned on doing, but it will get you into the industry and where hospitality companies will have a need first. There’s so much opportunity to grow when the industry rebounds, being there at the start and showing agility will help advance your career. 

What do you think is the best way to keep the hospitality workforce “in the industry” through this all? With re-openings, what will be the biggest challenges? How do you plan on tackling those challenges? 

I worry a bit that people will treat the pandemic as indicative of the overall health of our industry, and nothing could be further from the truth!  I hope candidates and colleagues will remember why they love working in the hospitality industry and that long, stable careers are possible; with regular shifts, benefits, and opportunities for anyone to advance with the right level of engagement. 

Nikki’s Background:

Nikki began her career at Hyatt Regency Cambridge in Massachusetts, where her first job was serving as a towel attendant in the hotel’s health club. Following several operational roles within the hotel, Nikki transitioned her career to a more colleague focused track in Human Resources. Nikki worked in onsite HR functions within hotels across North America for several years before joining Hyatt’s corporate office in Chicago.

Over the years, Nikki played critical roles in developing Hyatt’s design thinking approach and rolling out the company’s purpose journey, “to care for people to be their best.” Prior to her current role, Nikki was responsible for global learning, culture & engagement combined with implementing key change management techniques to drive these strategies.  Today she leads the Americas region in efforts to evolve Hyatt’s culture as the hotel and travel industry continues to operate within a dynamic and challenging environment.

Nikki holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, and a professional Human Resources certification from SHRM.  She currently services as co-chair of the AHLA Human Resources Committee. Nikki and her husband reside in Chicago with her two stepchildren and a rescue dog.