As vaccinations ramp up and re-openings continue on a global scale, the hotel industry is eager to move past the coronavirus pandemic. But COVID-19 variants loom, labor shortages have decimated staffing numbers, and government policies are forcing a new path forward, rather than a return to how things once were. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges the industry is facing.
“Getting back to normal” does not signify a trip back to March 2020. And the hotel industry has changed a lot since then, despite lockdowns and reduced occupancy rates. While talks of “futuristic hotels” seemed 5-10 years away before the pandemic, the future has arrived. Contactless check-in, room service robots, QR codes, and vending machines replacing the beloved breakfast buffet have all become the norm in the name of health and safety.
Combine a safer hotel stay with this year’s vaccination roll-out, and you’ve got a massive influx of tourists ready to start traveling again.
On July 23, Becker’s Hospital Review reported that Vermont was leading the country with 67.12% of its population fully vaccinated. In last place was Alabama with 33.91%. The same day, the Government of Canada reported that 57% of Canadians had been fully vaccinated, with those who had only received their first dose on a good pace to boost that total.
Given the numbers, it can be hard to take a one-size-fits-all approach towards the future.
Remember what I said about the hotel of the future, chock full of technology? This goes hand in hand with the labor shortages facing the industry. Layoffs and furloughs have depleted hotel workforces, and other employees have followed suit, looking for a job with better pay and working conditions, or to change careers completely.
In a Joblist survey, one third of former hospitality workers said they weren’t considering re-joining the industry, while half were not looking to return to their previous job. So begins the search for new labor – but will hotel managers be filling each and every spot that was vacated in 2020? It seems unlikely, especially with the influx of new guest service technologies being boasted.
It also seems unlikely in terms of housekeeping. Hotels are only cleaning rooms every certain number of days, or upon check-out, in adherence to guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
COVID-19 isn’t the only factor effecting supply and demand: Hotels in British Columbia found themselves overwhelmed at the end of June when a record-breaking heat wave scorched the province with temperatures of up to 119 degrees Fahrenheit. For a place known for its mild temperatures and rainy atmosphere, residents were not prepared, and flocked to hotels for the air-conditioning. It forced hotel managers to take yet another look at their staffing levels.
The week before, B.C. hotels found themselves with 20% occupancy rates. During the heat wave, they were nearly sold out, but still facing labor shortages. Hotel managers shared that former employees did not want to come back on a full-time basis, but perhaps part-time. This opens up several different hiring avenues for future staff, whether it be hiring more part-time workers, or students.
In the case of hotels located around Santa Monica, CA, the pandemic-induced shutdowns haven’t been as catastrophic as they could have been. Santa Monica’s hotels have benefited from the area’s worker recall laws, a pre-existing staffing pipeline, and competitive wages, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.
The long-term job security for workers has yet to bring back all of the employees furloughed, but the future remains bright, with spots for more workers readily available via the Los Angeles Hospitality Training Academy.
How else to make up for the lack of revenues over the past year? In Maui, a 3% tax will be collected from those staying at hotels and short-term rentals, which is estimated to rake in $50-70 million, according to Maui County Council Chair Alice Lee.
Hawaii has made it easier for tourists to visit, waiving COVID-19 tests for fully vaccinated travelers. Those who aren’t vaccinated can skip a quarantine period by getting tested. Tourism has exploded to the point where Maui’s Mayor Michael Victorino has asked airlines to bring in less tourists. Imagine that!
In Canada, federal wage and rent subsidies are set to expire at the end of 2021, but for Alberta, the provincial 4% tourism levy expired in June. Hotel associations are pushing to have it extended to September 2022 so that they are able to use the funds to hire staff and focus on marketing as the number of tourists continues to increase. Lifting international travel restrictions has begun, albeit slowly, with phases set to take effect in August and September of this year.
As seen with B.C.’s heat wave, another curveball presents itself to the industry, which those in the Pacific Northwest through to California know all too well: wildfire season. Earlier this month, there were 300 wildfires burning in British Columbia. Evacuation orders, highway checkpoints, and road closures posed yet another roadblock for operators, already dealing with the effects that COVID-19 has had. Operators along the West Coast will be on high alert for yet another disruption to their business.
Tourists are looking to travel again, but COVID-19 leaves a lot of unanswered questions for the hotel industry, especially as variants surge, and travel restrictions continue. Hotels are unable to breathe a sigh of relief because non-pandemic factors are also hitting their businesses. Where do they go from here? Now that many have taken on new technological initiatives and decreased housekeeping schedules, the industry must turn another page in order to attract a fresh workforce and continue planning for the unexpected.