Luxembourg Arlon: "Finding hospitality staff will be our major challenge during the years ahead"
"Finding hospitality staff will be our major challenge during the years ahead"
The Van der Valk chain's famous toucan enjoys the hotel's highly visible locations, which beckon guests to their comfortable beds, polished restaurants and warm-hearted welcome. Since 2017, it has also been nesting at Arlon, in an amazing tower boasting 125 rooms. One year into the Covid pandemic, its director is only concerned about one thing: "finding hospitality staff will be our major challenge during the years ahead".
Van der Valk Hotels were founded in the Netherlands just before World War II and have spread across all of Europe – and even as far as North America. The family chain now has around 100 hotels, including 16 in Belgium. The Van der Valk Hotel Luxembourg Arlon, which sprung up in a field in Arlon in 2017, is the 101st.
"I grew up in my parents' hotel in the Netherlands", said Steven Zeeuw van der Laan, its director. In 2015, along with his wife, he emigrated to Arlon in order to build their version of the Van der Valk Hotel: a 12-storey, 11,000m ² tower with a futuristic look. This hotel features 125 rooms, 2 restaurants, 2 bars, 10 meeting or event rooms, and all the technology that guests would need to connect to the other side of the world in a flash or charge an electric car.
Staff who feel good are essential for good hospitality
Guests clearly enjoy their experience at the hotel, as more than 12,000 travellers who took the time to leave feedback online gave it an average score of 8.6. But, for the director, everything comes back to service above all else. "You can have the most beautiful buildings and the best infrastructure, but if you don't have a friendly service, your customers won't be happy. When it comes to quality, human resources do 90% of the work."
"If the team feels good, the service will reflect that", the manager continued. "And there's one crucial aspect to ensuring that employers have the trust of their staff: once they've done the work, their salary must follow not far behind. Payments must be correct and must come regularly. Based on what I've noticed, this is at least as important as the salary amount! When the hotel first opened, with our previous HR partner, the first year was a challenge. We made mistakes and, as a result, there were problems and delays with paying salaries. Staff members complained and left..."
However, this adopted son of Arlon has learned that it's difficult to find staff just a stone's throw away from the Luxembourg border. "Salaries are often higher in Luxembourg, at first glance, at least. However, the difference in salaries isn't that large if you take everything into account, such as the thirteenth month's pay, holiday pay and free meals. However, it's still a major challenge to recruit skilled staff."
The hotel operates all year round with a core team of approximately 80 people. In the summer, students become temporary members of staff, working alongside the permanent employees.
« Le plus important pour nous, c’est que les règles belges soient respectées. Les Dimona doivent se faire en temps et en heure. Le système de pointage doit être parfaitement fiable. Si on rate quelque chose, on est vite hors la loi ! »
"The most important thing for us is ensuring that we comply with Belgian rules. The Dimona registration formalities for new employees must be completed on time. The clocking-in system must be 100% reliable. If anything is missing, you'll quickly be breaking the law!"
"With the Strobbo clocking-in system, which is connected to the SD Worx payroll tool, we simply need to tell the students to clock in, and everything else is done automatically. The clock-in and clock-out information is automatically exported to the payroll tool, which makes our work much easier and makes errors far less likely to happen. The same goes for Dimona registration formalities: students sign their contract in the system, and all of the declarations are then submitted automatically."
"Our operating set-up has become very professional"
"In all truth, the difference between the one before we started working with SD Worx and the one after is like night and day. With the help of their legal department, we've rectified a number of failings in our working regulations. I now feel that our operating set-up has become very professional on the HR front. Even inspectors feel confident in SD Worx's legal department's monitoring during inspections on the company, as they can see that things are being done to a high standard and that there is expertise behind what we are doing."
Like all hotels, Van der Valk has had to adapt to the health measures brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. "We're part of a sector that has been hit very hard. During the first wave, we had to shut down the restaurants and almost the entire hotel overnight. This created major uncertainty: we had lots of employees on the payroll, and we didn't really know how we would be able to pay them. SD Worx immediately took the lead, talked to our HR department, and arranged everything so that the team could be placed on technical unemployment."
"It was mid-March 2020. The hotel stayed shut for the rest of the month. In April, we had a few business customers, who had to come to the area for work-related purposes. We limited our service to one person at the reception desk and one person working the night shift. After that, we gradually brought more people back to work, including in the kitchens so that we could provide a take-away service. Thanks to SD Worx's help, we were able to re-hire the number of people that we needed and leave others technically unemployed."
"Our biggest uncertainty is staff"
And what next, after Covid? Steven Zeeuw van der Laan isn't worried. Travellers will continue to stream in: the hotel will be able count on the appeal of the Belgian Ardennes, the Eisch Valley and its seven castles, as well as Bastogne and its war museum.
On the other hand, with the hotel's location just a stone's throw away from the Luxembourg border and after more than a year of continuous hardship for the hospitality industry, Steven Zeeuw van der Laan feels that staff are still the biggest uncertainty. "We were already having problems seeking out skilled workers for these roles, which involve working hours that aren't for everyone. These people have now been deprived of a large portion of their income for months. According to a study, one in three of them has left the industry as a result of the Covid crisis. This will make finding staff even more difficult. It will definitely be our biggest challenge during the years ahead."