Creative solutions emerge for hospitality worker shortage

“We have to do a better job of helping young people at the university level see that there is a career path.” -Amy Calvert

Returning groups are finding some convention hotels brimming with leisure travelers may be stretched thin on staff. Already missing overseas seasonal workers, they are competing with newly launched properties, Amazon fulfillment centers, alternate careers and full-time parenting duties for workers needed to get back up to speed quickly.

Some Las Vegas properties report busing in part-time workers from Arizona and California to staff all those manned buffets and outdoor gatherings. Others are eliminating amenities such as daily housekeeping and room service.

Carl Winston, director at San Diego State University‘s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, says top executives from major brands are calling him to personally interview college students because they are desperate for employees to clean rooms and check people in.

Paying a Premium

Melanie Velasquez, an account manager with Luxor Staffing, calls the situation an “employee drought” and says her company is “doing whatever it takes” to hire hundreds of people each week for hospitality clients. That includes radio, television and billboard ads, job fairs and a partnership with Goodwill Industries. Some properties, she says, are offering incentives or higher pay to get the right candidates.

Katherine Frost, CEO of ORO says training temporary workers on constantly-changing rules is a challenge when go-no-go decision windows are being compressed. She suggests meeting professionals reach out to their personal networks to find qualified help. “Partnering with wedding planners or recruiting teachings who might be free for the summer is a way to fill that gap,” she said.

A study from Strategic Solutions Partners and SearchWide Global called “When the Gig is Good” found that a majority of hoteliers (74 percent) are looking for quick solutions when they bring in contractors and 56 percent say then are finding them in less than two weeks.

Amy Calvert, CEO at EIC Events Industry Council, which produced the Workforce and Wellness resource guide, stresses the importance of supporting front-line workers right now. “They are working incredible hours and struggling with transitioning back while dealing with scheduling challenges at home,” she notes. In order to do that, she thinks it’s time to re-examine how events are funded. “The business model of events is a bit broken,” she says, pointing to reliance on a small set of stakeholder sponsors. “If we are creating valuable experiences people will pay for, that could help to pay for the incredible amount of staff time it takes to put on hybrid events.”

A Flexible Solution

Jeff Quade, executive vice president of exhibitions with convention logistics company GES, predicts the return of big meetings will be “a little lumpy,” particularly in some parts of the country, for the rest of this year. An uneven flow of trade shows, with extreme peaks and valleys, will make rehiring difficult if employers can’t guarantee steady work.

That’s why GES launched Flex Talent Pool in Las Vegas in January to help provide trained, temporary staffing. In addition to trying to lure back former hospitality employees from jobs they may have taken in shipping fulfilment centers or assisted living, he is also tasked with finding talent for new roles, such as health and safety checking, monitoring temperatures and streaming technology.

There may be additional incremental costs,” he warns, even if you are just adding those duties to existing roles. “But those costs are far outweighed by the benefits of holding meetings in person.”

Building Back Better

Greg DeShields, executive director with Tourism Diversity Matters, compares the current wave of leisure travel in some cities to a firehose. Once the shock has worked its way through the system, and business and group travel starts to return by fall, he hopes the industry will rehire more equitably, with more diverse representation across all job levels.

Focusing on supplier diversity, cross-training current employees and higher wages could move the industry in the right direction, he says.

A Passion for Serving

At Caesars Entertainment, Don Ross, vice president of catering, convention and events, says the hundred or so servers hired for the opening of CAESARS FORUM and then furloughed just weeks before the shutdown have largely responded enthusiastically when they heard the company “is getting the band back together.”

Caesars contracted with Albertsons to administer 10,000 Covid vaccination shots at stations in ballrooms at Rio Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Caesars Palace Las Vegas and Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The vaccine wasn’t mandated, but it was incentivized.

Ross predicts that by August the number of people meeting will look as if Covid never happened.

How will they staff all those catering teams? Ross believes true hospitality professionals enjoy taking care of people and will come back when the time is right. “Our employees are so excited to be back to work, you will be able to see their smiles through their masks.”