Photo of Rosanna Caira
Photo by Nick Wong

Across North America, hoteliers find themselves continuing to grapple with staffing challenges. A recent report by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, AHLA, indicates more than two thirds of hotels are experiencing staffing shortages, leading many operators to increase salaries and offer up a host of incentives in order to attract and retain talent. 

Over the last six months, 82 per cent of respondents to the AHLA survey have increased wages, which hit a record high average for hotels in December 2023. In addition, 59 per cent are offering greater flexibility with hours, and 33 per cent are expanding benefits. But despite those new approaches, 72 per cent say they are still unable to fill open positions.

According to the report, 67 per cent of survey respondents are experiencing a staffing shortage, with 12 per cent saying they are “severely understaffed,” meaning the shortage is affecting their ability to operate. The most critical staffing need is housekeeping, with 48 per cent ranking it as their top hiring need. 

Ongoing staffing challenges are resulting in historic career opportunities for hotel employees across North America. There are more than 70,000 hotel jobs currently open in the U.S. according to Indeed, and as of December 2023 national average hotel wages were at an all-time high of $23.91 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Interestingly, post pandemic, average hotel wages have increased faster than average wages throughout the general economy and hotel benefits and flexibility are better than ever, yet “…labour shortages are preventing hoteliers from filling tens of thousands of jobs,” says the AHLA report.

In Canada, it’s a similar story. According to Adrienne Foster, vice-president of Policy & Public Affairs, Hotel Association of Canada (HAC),“the workforce shortage is a key concern for hoteliers, with 40 per cent of our members taking rooms off the market last year due to staff shortages.” 

Foster says that “the tourism industry has re-gained 2019 employment levels but due to increased demand for travel, we are still experiencing a workforce shortage to service this demand. Currently, we expect a tourism workforce shortage of 170,000 to 300,000 to meet increased demand this summer. For hotels, the shortage is most pronounced in occupations such as front-desk agents, housekeepers, and cooks.”  And, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia are amongst the provinces where the situation is most dire. 

Interestingly, a study undertaken by HAC with Deloitte shows that while competitive wages, comprehensive benefits packages and retirement plans do incentivize long-term employment, 45 per cent of surveyed candidates continue to have a negative perception regarding salary and benefits in the hotel sector (see story on labour on p. 46). Complicating the matter is the reality that benefits, rather than pay, are more important to the millennial and Gen-X-workforce demographics. Clearly, the days of developing a-one-size-fits-all solution to recruitment and retention are long gone. More than ever, what’s required is a mammoth mindset shift in how the industry and its stakeholders tackle this ongoing issue ― not to mention a ton of creativity in doing so.


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