It was an unexpected sign of hiring strength for U.S. hotels at the beginning of 2022, but the industry still needs to find ways to close a labor shortage gap before the busy summer travel season.
The U.S. hotel sector, defying expectations of Omicron-related hiring problems, in January saw its strongest pace of hiring since last fall.
The accommodation sector added 23,000 jobs last month after several months of negligible job gains, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The industry’s unemployment rate is at 8 percent, higher than the 4 percent national average but significantly more in step with the overall figure than earlier in the pandemic when industry unemployment approached 50 percent.
The overall jobs report, which showed the U.S. added 467,000 jobs, beat economist expectations. The hotel-specific figure is good news to an industry desperately trying to solve a labor shortage crisis before the busy summer travel season.
January’s biggest job gains came from the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants. The sector added 151,000 jobs, with 108,000 of those tied to bars and restaurants.
But overall leisure and hospitality employment is still down about 10 percent, or 1.8 million jobs, from pre-pandemic levels. Finding ways to get those workers back was top of mind at the recent Americas Lodging Investment Summit.
Just because the industry has an 8 percent unemployment rate doesn’t mean most hotel positions are filled. Many analysts see it as a sign the workforce is giving up on jobs in the hotel sector and instead pursuing careers in other industries.
Remington Hotels CEO Sloan Dean, in an interview with Skift late last month, outlined an array of job perks and programs the company was offering in the hope of making a dent in the job shortage.
Some of those included higher wages, educational programs like language classes, contracting with daycare centers to offer discounted childcare, and better marketing that the hotel industry can provide a better career path than the high-paying Amazon warehouse down the street.
“You have to tell that story of, ‘Stick with us, and we’ll develop you,’” Dean said. “That’s the only way we’ll solve [the labor shortage problem].”
Evidence suggests the Remington model is working and links up with the job gains seen last month. The company peaked at 700 open positions several months ago, and that number has since come down to about 500.
“Is it working? When I talk to competitors of mine about staffing, I feel less pain than they do,” Dean said while noting there are still job openings at every single hotel of the nearly 90 that Remington manages. “It’s hoping all these programs additively added up [and] that I’m doing better than everyone else in the industry. And I’m still probably not doing all that great.”
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Photo credit: Hotels picked up a surprisingly strong round of hiring during the first month of the year. Pixabay / Michelle_Raponi