There’s room for workers Manitoba hoteliers launch campaign to seek staff

After two years of uncertainty — travel bans, closings and partial openings — the hotel industry has been as hard hit as any by the pandemic, ranking up there with the airline industry.

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After two years of uncertainty — travel bans, closings and partial openings — the hotel industry has been as hard hit as any by the pandemic, ranking up there with the airline industry.

Now that travel restrictions are lifted and there’s huge pent-up demand for summer travel, Manitoba hotel operators hope to avoid the mayhem experienced by the airlines, which is partly a result of not being able to staff up as fast as the demand has returned.

The Manitoba Hotel Association has launched a campaign, called “There’s Room for You,” to promote employment in the industry. It features television and online ads that highlight the range of work, flexibility of schedules, plenty of opportunity for advancement and promotion and the fact that experience or education is often not needed. The federal and provincial governments kicked in $250,000 for the ad campaign.

Scott Jocelyn, president and CEO of the association, said after cycling through all the pandemic restrictions, people may have looked at the industry and decided it didn’t offer stable employment, but that was not the industry’s doing.

“Now that we can be open again, it’s almost as painful to hear that even though hotels can be open again, some don’t have enough people to man all the stations that they need,” Jocelyn said.

Occupancy rates and room rates are on the rise, but remain far below 2019 levels. Throughout the first five months of the year, average occupancy rates across the province were just above 50 per cent. Rates were up to 69.4 per cent in May, and 77.1 per cent for the week ending June 25, according to STR, the company that provides data benchmarking for the global hospitality industry.

Jeff Kennedy, the general manager of Delta Hotels by Marriott Winnipeg, on St. Mary Avenue, said June was the best month his hotel has had since the start of the pandemic in 2020, but it’s still only operating at 65 per cent capacity.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jeff Kennedy said his hotel has been recruiting workers non-stop for the past 10 months.

“Those guests we are able to service, we want to make sure we are giving them the great stay they are looking for,” he said. “The reality is that everything is costing more these days and people’s expectations are growing as well.”

Kennedy said his hotel has been recruiting workers non-stop for the past 10 months. At its busiest time, it would have about 160 employees. It currently has about 110.

“That’s not to say we need to hire 50 people,” he said, but he still has some positions he’s not been able to fill.

In addition to providing industry-wide recruitment, a program like “There’s Room for You” drives awareness about the possibilities of a career in hospitality, he said.

“The pandemic changed so many people’s lives and possibly career paths,” he said. “It’s really important that we try to highlight the benefits of the hospitality industry. This program can open the eyes to some people who would not have even considered it as a path.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Even though hotel properties are in competition for patrons as well as workers, Scott Jocelyn said the labour market is full of opportunities and choices, and the province’s hotels are keen to work together on this file.

The association encourages interested potential hospitality workers to send their resumes, work preference and the region of the province to theresroomforyou.ca and it will email the entries to every one of its 275 members on a weekly basis.

Even though hotel properties are in competition for patrons as well as workers, Jocelyn said the labour market is full of opportunities and choices, and the province’s hotels are keen to work together on this file.

“It’s not very often I would be working on an issue that would impact all of our members,” he said.

For instance while the Delta, a downtown business hotel, typically experiences a dip in business during summer, that’s the high season for the tourism and hotel industry in Churchill.

John Gunter, owner of Frontiers North and the Tundra Inn in Churchill, said the industry has always experienced a churn in the labour market, but for the past two years the churn has been one way – exiting the industry.

“We really had to put our foot on the gas pedal during the last month to make sure we are fully staffed.” – John Gunter, owner of Frontiers North and the Tundra Inn

“Churchillians want more predictable year-round tourism jobs,” he said.

Gunter said one way to address the seasonality, something the Churchill tourism and hotel industry is keen to do, is to better promote the wintertime Northern Lights experience.

Gunter said his operation is not in bad shape when it comes to being staffed up; he gives credit to the initiative the hotel association has undertaken.

“We really had to put our foot on the gas pedal during the last month to make sure we are fully staffed,” he said. “We feel a lot better now about the summer in Churchill compared to how we felt just a couple of weeks ago.”

Naomi Griffith, chair of the association’s board and the general manager of the 52-room Swan Valley Super 8 by Wyndham in Swan River, said her property typically had about 20 employees pre-pandemic and is at 14 now with front desk and housekeeping positions available.

“This is a top-notch campaign,” she said. “I think it’s going to attract people to our industry. There are so many opportunities from roles in front desk, kitchen, housekeeping, bartending, banquet catering to management, maintenance and more.”

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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