Analyses - June 30, 2004



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June 2004


Print Human resources, Management,

The challenge of staff scheduling

In the travel industry, the most challenging aspect of staff planning is adjusting the number of available workers to meet tourism demand, which fluctuates widely, depending on the time of year. Managers must therefore be able to predict this demand and use the information to determine the number of employees needed. Cornell University recently examined the issue and has proposed a guide for industry decisionmakers.

The importance of effective human resource planning

Although staff planning can often pose a real problem for tourism business managers, it is nonetheless crucial to the smooth running of an industry that experiences such extreme seasonal fluctuations. After all, labour is often the single largest operational expense for such businesses.

A dedicated staff-scheduling tool can have a major impact on an organization’s productivity. Businesses forced to operate with insufficient staff or poorly trained employees can face dire consequences: shoddy customer service; frustrated, overworked employees; lost sales; etc. And the other extreme is no better: hiring too many workers can reduce profit margins and diminish staff morale if employees cannot work the number of hours they were expecting to work.

Where to start?

The primary challenge facing managers is to adapt their operation’s management to the forecast demand. For this to succeed, the human resource planning process must involve three major steps:

  • Assess demand as accurately as possible. In other words, look at the factors that generate or influence the amount of work for staff. If a manager does not have basic, accurate indicators with regard to the firm?s clientele, this step will not be possible.
  • Translate the demand forecast into the actual number of employees needed (that is, the number of hours and the staff necessary for each required skill). It is also important to set specific productivity standards (e.g., how many housekeepers for X number of clients, given the average time needed to clean a room or the maximum amount of time a customer should wait for a room, regardless of time of day or how busy things are). Of course, managers should also maintain a clear idea of the economic consequences of these standards, as well as the potential impact should they not be met.
  • Create employee schedules using available manual or computer-driven aids.
    Each employee has individual work preferences, especially with regard to tasks, breaks, assigned co-workers, vacation time and scheduling, etc. In many cases, the preferences of one can complement those of another (for example, a preference for weekend or weekday shifts). Managers who take the time to discover what each employee prefers can create work schedules that are reasonably well adapted to the needs of both staff and business. This translates into enhanced job performance and better customer service.

Selecting the proper tool

There are two ways to create responsive employee schedules that consider both customer demand and staff needs: the human method and the technological solution. Although the first method can provide good results, managers who use this must devote a lot of time to scheduling. With the other approach, computer software automates the design of work schedules, simultaneously creating demand forecast models and taking into account employee preferences.

A good workforce scheduling system can be a wise choice, particularly for businesses with over 50 employees. There are a wide variety of systems available. Windows-based software can be purchased for under $1,000, while bigger organizations can purchase a customized scheduling solution for several hundred thousand dollars. According to Gary M. Thompson, the author of a Cornell University study on the topic, a good system should offer the following characteristics:

  • An intuitive graphical interface for editing schedules
  • A good scheduling engine that can use the parameters provided to create an optimal staff schedule that meets the company’s needs
  • The ability to inventory and prioritize individual employee preferences
  • The option of prioritizing various constraints and assigning greater importance to those that must be addressed
  • A high degree of flexibility, enabling the system to respond to various complex planning scenarios
  • System costs should be in line with the benefits

According to Adèle Girard, executive eirector of the Quebec Tourism Human Resource Council, there is a need to equip managers with effective planning strategies. However, such strategies are only viable once a business has a hiring policy. She notes that Aéroports de Montréal, Delta Hotels and the Société des casinos du Québec are among the organizations to emulate, in terms of human resource planning.

– Thompson, Gary M. «Workforce Scheduling: A Guide for the Hospitality Industry», The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University [], CHR Report, Vol. 4, No. 6, April 2004.
– Tsaur, Sheng-Hshiung and Y.-C.Yi-Chun Lin. «Promoting service quality in tourist hotels: The role of HRM practices and service behaviour», Tourism Management, Vol. 25, No. 4, August 2004, p. 471-481.


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