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Stubborn Hotel-Labor Shortages: What Should Planners Expect?

Recent data finds that even more on-property jobs are unfilled now than at the start of 2023, affecting overall guest service but also event services and sales.

It’s a baffling trend, and one that hotel guests and meeting planners alike must contend with: The percentage of U.S. hotels experiencing a staffing shortage rose from 79 percent in January to 82 percent in May, according to a new report released by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Further, 26 percent of the 474 responding hotel executives saying they have a “severe shortage” of labor that’s impacting their hotel’s ability to operate.

While the data encompasses hotels across all categories, larger properties are naturally more likely to find themselves lacking personnel
in one or more departments. Responding hotel managers are attempting to fill an average of almost nine positions per property, up from seven positions in January. In May 2022, as the Covid pandemic waned and travel started to return, an average of 12 positions were unfilled at each property. Specifically, housekeeping and food & beverage are the areas where shortfalls are presently the greatest.

In response, 75 percent of these hotel managers are increasing wages; 64 percent are offering greater flexibility with hours; and 36 percent are expanding benefits. But 87 percent say they are still unable to fill open positions, even with average hourly wages recently breaking the $23 mark.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA, notes that the association’s foundation is focused on growing the industry’s talent pipeline through workforce recruitment and retention initiatives such as its Empowering Youth and Registered Apprenticeship programs.

AHLA is also pushing Congress to help hoteliers address workforce shortages by expanding the legal H-2B guest-worker program by including “returning worker exemption” in the fiscal year 2024 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. Currently, The H-2B program is capped at 66,000 visas each year; AHLA is asking Congress to modify that by exempting returning workers, who have already been vetted, from that number.

Further, AHLA hopes to see the passage of the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act.A historic number of asylum seekers are already housed in hotels across America; they are awaiting court dates and are following the legal process,” read a recent AHLA press release. “Unfortunately, current law prevents them from legally working for at least six months, forcing them to rely on assistance from local governments and communities. This legislation would help hotels address critical staffing needs by allowing asylum seekers to work as soon as 30 days after applying for asylum.”

To ensure the level of service they expect, planners should include in meeting contracts minimum personnel numbers for the hotel’s event-services team as well as for meals and receptions. However, another area where planners are finding difficulty is with hotel sales teams, which experienced significant turnover during the Covid era and now have many less-experienced reps in place. One pet peeve of many planners right now: Getting no response to requests for proposals, or simply getting a response of “no” rather than a counteroffer to one or more elements of an RFP, which could be the result of the responding sales rep’s lack of experience.

MarriottGilligan.pngSome large hotel companies are seeking to alleviate this issue. To wit: Brian Gilligan, senior vice president sales and distribution, U.S. & Canada, for Marriott International (in photo), tells MeetingsNet that “our sales and event leaders are very focused on providing onboarding and training resources for property teams to help ensure they can partner seamlessly with customers.” Further, “as hotels fill roles and recover at varying paces depending on the market and demand, [planners] may see sales professionals who are new to a particular hotel, but not new to Marriott.”

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