Human Resource Management in the Hotel Industry: Strategy, Innovation and Performance

Dennis Nixon (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




Nixon, D. (2000), "Human Resource Management in the Hotel Industry: Strategy, Innovation and Performance", Employee Relations, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 423-428.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Kim Hoque offers a research monograph which will appeal to both “mainstream” and hospitality academics working in the field of human resource management (HRM). For the former (many of whom are unlikely to be aware of a substantial literature on people management issues in one of the UK’s largest industries), it serves as a useful overview of much of this literature and, as a corollary, the nature of the hotel industry itself; the conventional approach to people management in the industry; and, as far as Hoque is concerned, an empirically‐backed description of a burgeoning “best practice” approach to HRM in the “hotel industry”. For the latter, Hoque’s critique of the dominant research tradition in this field of enquiry – “it is perhaps time researchers stopped highlighting the example of ‘bad management’ and branding the industry as under‐developed or backward, and started identifying approaches to hotel management capable of generating high performance” (p. 154) – offers a challenge which adds significantly to the debate about the nature of HRM in the hotel industry.

Even for those who may not subscribe to the latter view of Hoque there is still much of interest in a book which systematically seeks to evaluate the relevance of mainstream HRM theory within the hotel industry. This is done via Hoque’s identification of three key issues: first, the extent to which hotels have experimented with new approaches to HRM; second, the factors that influence HRM decision making and whether these factors are any different in the hotel industry compared to elsewhere; third, the relationship between HRM and performance in the hotel industry. Much of this discussion is developed with reference to Hoque’s empirical research reported in the book. The research consists of a questionnaire‐based survey which generated 232 usable responses from questionnaires sent to 660 hotels and a number of follow‐up interviews conducted in targeted hotels, based on the results of the survey. The analysis of these results in Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 forms the substantive part of the book and it is here that the book is likely to create the most argument.

For example, in Chapter 3 Hoque is able to claim that, compared to a sample of over 300 greenfield‐site manufacturing establishments, the hotels in his sample were utilising a number of practices that were redolent of an HRM approach, and further to that, were approaching the management of human resources in a more strategic manner in terms of the integration of the HR strategy within a wider business strategy. As Hoque himself recognises though, his sample of hotels is large by industry standards, averaging 125 employees per unit compared to an industry “standard” of 81 per cent of establishments employing fewer than 25 people, and, thus, “patently unrepresentative of the industry as a whole” (p. 51). Furthermore, his reliance on city‐centre hotels with a high proportion of corporate clients is equally unrepresentative. Finally, the reliance on managerial voices in his research, to the exclusion of those on the receiving end of many of the initiatives described (i.e. employees), may be considered an important omission (though, to be fair, one that is shared by much research on HRM). Nonetheless, his rationale for choosing larger hotels is, in many respects, sound as he rightly suggests that it is more likely that they will have embraced HRM as a new managerial philosophy. However, notwithstanding the occasional caveats (most obviously on pp. 142‐3), his tendency throughout the book to often universalise the “hotel industry” as adopting progressive HRM practices seems somewhat disingenuous. Indeed, it stands in stark contrast to the recent revelations in the 1998 Workplace Employee Relations Survey Britain at Work which suggests that hotels and restaurants were the worst employers in the UK. More anecdotally, even a cursory glance at the trade journal for the industry, Caterer and Hotelkeeper, would point to continuing examples of poor personnel practice, sometimes even in larger hotel or restaurant chains. It may seem somewhat semantic to argue this point, but it does suggest that the book is rather misnamed and there is a need for a clearer signal that Hoque is describing a small and unrepresentative area of the hotel industry. In that respect his overall conclusion that larger, often foreign‐owned, hotel chains are more likely to adopt a sophisticated approach to HRM, and as a consequence perform better, is not startlingly new. Indeed, this says much the same as even the critics, such as Lucas (1995) and Price (1994), who Hoque is ostensibly disproving.

That said, the level of detail throughout the book, and particularly in Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6, is impressive and does indeed have a number of “prescriptive implications” (p. 153) which employers (and indeed academics) in the hospitality industry generally would be wise to consider. Specifically, Hoque’s theoretical and empirical refutation of the view that hotels are somehow “different” (in relation to challenges facing managers) is telling. For employers it means that claims as to the immutability of poor personnel practice should be rigorously questioned. Equally, the support for what Hoque terms a “HRM quality enhancer approach” is a recognition of the synergistic links between quality and HRM strategies that increasingly support a service quality focus as the source of competitive advantage. Such a strategy requires organisations to develop a sophisticated bundle of HRM practices, such as careful recruitment and selection to identify a “service orientation”, team building, extensive multi‐skilling and cross functional flexibility, delegation of authority via empowerment mechanisms, extensive consultative and participative mechanisms and the provision of employee attitude surveys. As Hoque details in Chapter 6, this adoption of a HRM quality enhancer approach is unsurprisingly likely to lead to more committed staff and a better performing organisation, compared to cost reduction strategies, which are unlikely to achieve comparable performance results. Indeed, the discussion allows Hoque to point to the innovative and important nature of his findings in relation to HRM, business strategy and performance, such that “these results represent a considerable advance on previous work examining the HRM and performance relationship” (p. 153).

In summary, this is a book which should be read by “mainstream” and hospitality academics and students alike. Although some might point to this book exemplifying what Vaughan (1994, p. 24) has described as the somewhat idealistic and naïve “romantic humanist quality” of much of the HRM literature and discourse, the work does nevertheless eschew the largely unthinking “how to do it” approach to HRM often found in hospitality‐focused textbooks. Such prescriptions that do exist are implicit rather than explicit and generally the book stands as an important sourcebook which offers a major contribution to the debate about the nature of HRM in the hotel industry.


Lucas, R. (1995), Employee Relations in the Hotel and Catering Industry, Cassell, London.

Price, L. (1994), “Poor personnel practice in the hotel and catering industry – does it matter?”, Human Resource Management Journal, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 44‐62.

Vaughan, E. (1994), “The trail between sense and sentiment: a reflection on the language of HRM”, Journal of General Management, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 20‐32.

Related articles