The future of work for the leisure industry

How to build a workforce in the post-pandemic world

In previous articles we’ve discussed that leisure service offerings will look different after COVID-19 than they did previously, primarily due to two key change drivers: government restrictions around reopening safely, and adjusting to satisfy the new customer mindset.

The first post had forecasted that the first stage of reopening would be in July 2020 (under strict social distancing and hygiene requirements) and that mass gatherings and a return to normalcy wouldn’t really be in effect until early 2021. It turns out it’s pretty tough to make accurate predictions about COVID-19, and since then it’s been announced that the plan for Australia is to reopen by the end of July 2020, which is quite a bit faster than I had suggested. However, as we “get out from under the doona” it’s still likely that customer mindsets and business norms won’t be the same as before. If work is going to look different, so will the workforce and the way that it’s managed. This article explores how businesses in the leisure industry can rebuild the workforce with the right capabilities and the right volume of work as they reopen in the new world.


Step 1: The right capabilities

As we start to see businesses opening around the world we are already getting an idea of the extra responsibilities of staff. For example, Disney Shanghai has cast members continuously sanitising, taking temperature checks, and ensuring masks and sometimes gloves are worn by park visitors. Mickey has to spread magic without spreading hugs. Luckily Disney Shanghai is already digitally enabled for touchless experiences, as all ticketing and fast passes are managed through smartphones, but other ticket-based businesses may need to rethink any processes that involve manually handling.

To determine the extra tasks that may be part of your new employee job descriptions I’d recommend an activity to explore and define what your new service experience will look like. A structured way to do this is to list criteria that are important to customers, and then define how you traditionally satisfied the criteria vs how you plan to in the future. You may already have your own customer research on what’s important to your customer base, but to illustrate I will use six criteria based on the characteristics of the ‘new customer’ post-pandemic. The quick version of the six criteria are:

  • Low price, since the average person will have less disposable income
  • Local-friendly offerings to increase repeat visits, since single-visit tourists will be less common
  • Opportunities to connect with people, since many people are craving social connection post lockdown
  • Hygienic, due to increased awareness around cleanliness, health and safety
  • Digital offerings, because people have a ‘new normal’ for what they can do online or with other technology
  • Environment-friendly, as COVID-19 has elevated the conversation on how our habits make an impact

In the example below we’ve taken a hypothetical business called Board Game Bar:

An excellent way to fill in a table like this for your own business would be hosting a workshop with frontline employees. This would help to capture the mindset of frontline operations, collaboratively build feedback channels for ongoing input from frontline employees, and get buy-in for changes that result from the workshop. For example, if your potential future state involves social media, you may be able to do employee takeovers of a TikTok account or even find an employee with a secret instagram obsession instead of spending money on specialist content creation. 

It would also be helpful to do some industry research on resources that could help shape your future state. In the spirit of staying local and connecting, there may be community groups for your sub-industry to help pool efforts. For example, Tourism Australia has been managing the ‘Holiday Here this Year’ campaign since the bush fires, and it’s now a very relevant platform for driving domestic tourism. Tourism Australia has also launched “Live from Aus”, which provides live-streaming of Australia’s tourism offerings to help people dream about their next adventure. If you’re in the tourism industry these campaigns could be leveraged to help build your strategy of being both local-friendly and digital.


Step 2: The right volume of work

There are three big questions to answer before lining up new contracts for your workforce.

Question 1: How many work hours do you need to meet forecasted demand?

Once you factor in the potential capacity limits by your state’s social distancing rules and any potential changes to prices, how many visitors do you expect? Do you have an idea of how much time it takes to serve visitors? It may look different if your offering has changed or if there are extra activities, such as a thorough check-in to get any data important for tracking the spread of COVID-19.

In the Disney Shanghai example demand is drastically different: they are at 30% capacity, leave every second row empty on rollercoasters, and have eliminated crowd-gathering events such as fireworks and parades. However, demand is more predictable as visitors are given staggered entry times, so at least it’s easier to plan for.

Question 2: How confident are you in your forecast?

If a significant amount of the work you do is variable instead of fixed, you may struggle to optimise labour to meet demand. On top of that, you may have new activities and miscalculate the amount of time required to execute them. The important thing will be to track data accurately so you can pick up on trends and correct quickly. If you have low confidence in your forecasts you may lean more towards casual staff so that you have the flexibility to adjust as you learn more about demand. This is a great time to intentionally hire the right workforce mix!

Question 3: What can you afford?

Businesses recovering from the economic downturn are likely under extra pressure to stay cash flow positive. You will have new revenue forecasts based on new demand and potentially new prices. You may also have to factor in training time before employees are fully productive, whether it’s from hiring new people or having new guide books, such as  ‘what to do if visitors refuse to follow social distancing rules’. If you don’t think you’ll be able to afford enough labour hours to meet demand, you may explore alternatives to daily operations, such as technology that can supplement or automate common tasks.

The answers to these three questions will look very different for each business, but now is the time to self-reflect and get organised.  Whether it’s fine-tuning your service offering or workforce mix, this is a rare opportunity to start fresh with a strategic direction and processes to stay on track.



For many businesses, the resulting changes from step one may be minor. In the Board Game Bar example above the changes to employee responsibilities are minimal and could likely be addressed through a memo, with the exception of exploring a new capability of website and app management. Other businesses, however, may require such high levels of new activities – such as sanitisation – that they create whole new role types or change the job description significantly enough that existing employees need to sign off on it.

Regardless of the results of step one, it is very important for businesses to consider step two, as demand may look very different in the future. If you don’t already have processes around collecting and analysing data, now is an excellent time to get streamlined and organised. We are often so busy with business as usual that we don’t have time for improvement projects, but most businesses, big and small, have improvement opportunities with managing data in particular (one of my favourite topics).

We will continue blogging tips for reopening, so reach out if there are particular details you’d like to learn more about!


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