Labor shortages at hotels and airlines could wreak havoc on your summer trip

Henry Harteveldt had already planned a few morning meetings at his hotel restaurant when he recently arrived in New York. But when he arrived he was told it was closed for breakfast due to staff issues.

Getting room service was also tricky. The travel industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group had to go through a third-party app, which had a latency and kept crashing.

“It became much easier to go to the deli next door for coffee, and I made other arrangements for my breakfast meetings,” he said.

These are the kinds of service disruptions travelers can continue to expect on their spring and summer trips. Housekeepers in hotels tend to maintain the rooms less often. Restaurants are struggling to find staff. Airlines are dealing with shortages themselves, leading to delays and cancellations.

As many pandemic travel restrictions ease, taking a trip may feel somewhat semi-normal, but a lingering labor shortage means there aren’t enough employees to meet the repressed request. Now that the busy summer season is approaching, you might feel the shortage on your next vacation.

“The Bubble Has Burst”

Jamie Larounis, travel industry analyst at UpgradedPoints.comsaid “we are currently at a point where there is the most optimism that has ever been” regarding travel demand in the wake of the pandemic, in part due to the reduction in covid rules and the decrease in the number of cases.

“We’re now at the point where the bubble burst, and maybe airlines and hotels weren’t quite ready for that,” he said, not because they weren’t. not anticipating higher demand, but because they were unable to hire enough people. . Additionally, travelers face higher prices at almost every turn, making vacationing both expensive and difficult.

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Many people in the United States have remained on the fringes of the labor market in the wake of the pandemic, contributing to a labor shortage in many industries, including travel and hospitality.

Leisure and hospitality led to an increase in jobs in March, accounting for 112,000 of the 431,000 jobs added in total, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But employment in the sector is down 8.7% since February 2020.

Of the 1.6 million jobs that have yet to recover, 1.5 million are in leisure and hospitality, according to the US Travel Association.

“A lack of available workers, coupled with the slow return of business and international travel spending, is limiting the recovery of leisure and hospitality, even as other sectors of the economy recover – and in some cases exceed – pre-pandemic levels,” US Travel association spokeswoman Tori Emerson Barnes said in a statement. statement Last week.

She called on Congress and the Biden administration to remove covid-19-related travel restrictions, such as testing requirements for inbound international travelers, among other measures.

Less customer service, more waiting time

One of the most notable shortages in travel is the lack of customer-facing staff, Harteveldt said. “Airlines have laid off far too many of their reservation staff and trained airport workers during covid, and even people who have been on unpaid leave may have just said, ‘You know, I found another job that’s less stressful, pays more, or both.'”

What to expect flying this year

There is also a shortage of pilots, which according to Harteveldt is due to the fact that there are too few pilots with the minimum number of hours to serve on commercial flights. The problem is less pronounced than a year ago, when airlines recalled furloughed pilots and signed them up for required training after they had not flown for a period of time.

Airlines are hiring new pilots, but the process to become one is expensive and requires many hours of experience. Potential employees with other interests “may choose another industry where the barriers to entry are lower and the opportunities for advancement, frankly, are perceived to be better,” Harteveldt said.

Labor shortages, combined with other factors, have caused flight cancellations and other air travel disruptions. Robert W. Mann Jr., industry analyst and aviation consultant, said when travelers encounter flight changes that require airline assistance, they can expect longer wait times. time-consuming and possibly at higher costs if they have to fix the problem on their own. . “When things aren’t going well, it’s just going to take longer to get things done with these fewer employees,” he said.

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Hotels are also struggling to fill front desk, housekeeping and other roles in “almost every part of the hotel,” Harteveldt said. Hotels may limit the number of rooms available and guest check-in may take longer. Travelers may also encounter hotel restaurants that are closed or operating with reduced hours, and housekeeping may show up less frequently.

Experts said many factors hinder hiring, including better paying jobs outside the industry, reports of unruly passengers, less interest in labor-intensive jobs such as housekeeping and coronavirus concerns.

Travel destinations across the country are grappling with these issues as they prepare for summer.

Robin Hoover, executive director of Yellowstone Country Montana, Inc. — the tourism region of south-central Montana — said the region rebounded fairly quickly from the pandemic, with its 2021 visitor numbers “fairly comparable” to 2019. At the height of the pandemic, travelers flooded national parks and outdoor destinations such as Montana as cities remained largely restricted.

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At least as many travelers are expected this summer, but when Hoover walks down Main Street in Bozeman, she said, a number of businesses have “request help” signs in their windows.

“I think all of your hospitality businesses are feeling that at least a little bit,” she said.

Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce in Delaware, said at a local job fair last month that 28 participating companies in various industries, including hotel industry, accounted for more than 1,000 vacant positions. Only 47 candidates presented themselves.

“That pretty much sums it all up,” she said.

Tipped workers were already hard hit by a cashless economy. Then came the pandemic.

Bar Harbor, Maine, has faced labor issues for years, said Alf Anderson, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Given its seasonality and limited population, they’ve had to find other solutions, like relying on J-1 and H-2B visa holders, and more recently offering housing and staff bonuses.

But the more acute labor shortage as a result of the pandemic caught businesses off guard in 2021, when visitor numbers were even higher than in 2019,” Anderson said.

This summer, he said, with high visitor numbers expected, companies are “entering this season with eyes wide open”, adjusting their plans in a bid to maintain regular service.

Some companies have gotten particularly creative when adding extra hands. Andy Newman, spokesman for the Florida Keys Tourism Board, noted that Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key brought robots to perform janitorial work and support the service staff of his restaurant. “The Keys are unlike any other tourist destination. … The work was difficult, but [we’ve] managed to pass,” he said.

Larounis said he thinks “we’re in this kind of a waiting pattern until demand starts to go down,” which usually happens at the start of the school year. “I think for everyone at this point, whether it’s hotels, airlines, rental car companies, etc., the pressure is just to get through the second and third quarters,” he said. he declared. Then they can reevaluate.

In the meantime, Harteveldt advised, people traveling for an event — such as a wedding, graduation or cruise — should leave with a little extra time to be safe. “Give yourself a little buffer before the event if you can,” he said.

He also urged travelers to be patient, especially air travelers who need to speak to a representative, even though they may face longer wait times and speak to staff who aren’t as friendly. trained than they think.

“Be polite, be professional and just remember that the agent you’re talking to, whether it’s someone on the phone or at the airport, didn’t cause the problem and is there to try to help you” , did he declare.

About Brad S. Fulton

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