As New Jersey’s leisure and hospitality industry struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers across the state continue to face labor shortages. In a survey recently published by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 87% of hoteliers said they had trouble filling vacancies, with 36% saying the situation was serious. Although they have taken steps to try to fill vacancies, such as increasing salaries (81%), offering employees more flexible hours (64%) and extending benefits to workers (35%), 91% said they were still understaffed.
However, the situation is slightly better than in May, when 97% of hoteliers told AHLA they had problems filling jobs. On average, hoteliers are trying to fill 10.3 vacancies per property, compared to 12 vacancies in the May survey.
According to the AHLA, 43% of respondents said that housekeepers were the most difficult position to fill and that they struggled to find enough cleaning staff for their hotels.
“Staffing has been difficult,” said Christina Ranuro, general manager of White Sands Oceanfront Resort and Spa in Point Pleasant. “I find it much easier to retain employees than to hire new ones,” she explained. “I have a great relationship with our staff and they are part of the family.”
Ranuro also said the company had “found some relief” in hiring international students on J-1 visas, but noted that those workers needed to be housed.
As for why the shortage persists, Ranuro could not pinpoint any specific reason.
” Honestly, I do not know. I had thought it was because of the COVID relief funds, but that shouldn’t have been a factor this summer,” she explained. “I think the minimum wage may be the problem. I think employees are looking for a higher salary than can be affordable for companies. I know I can’t hire under $15 an hour.
“I also think the new generation values their work-life balance and doesn’t want to work full shifts,” Ranuro said. “I’m really not sure.”
While the New Jersey Business and Industry Association continues to collect specific data on hotel staffing as part of its annual business outlook survey, communications director Bob Considine said: “Some member hotels have told us that staffing continues to be a big challenge.
“This has been the case both in high season and off season. We heard, in particular, of difficulties in attracting and retaining housekeeping staff,” he said.
“In many ways, these challenges mirror what we’ve seen in the New Jersey hospitality industry and even nationally – that some jobs have gone unfilled since the pandemic began in March 2020,” he said. he continued. “These ongoing staffing challenges have occurred even with hotels and motels offering more in terms of salaries, benefits and incentives.”
According to the latest jobs report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83,000 jobs were added in September in the recreation and hospitality sector, but the industry remains 6.7% below its pre-pandemic level of 1.1 million in February 2020.
In New Jersey, the recreation and hospitality industry employed 388,700 employees in September, up from 339,300 a year ago, according to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Before the pandemic, recreation and hospitality was one of the fastest growing industries in the state through 2028, but COVID has changed everything. In April 2020, a month into Governor Phil Murphy’s shutdown orders for non-essential businesses, leisure and hospitality accounted for 236,500 of the 757,700 jobs lost.
In total, the pandemic has wiped out more than 16,000 hotel jobs in the Garden State, according to the BLS.
The agency estimated that the Garden State has seen more than 16,000 hotel jobs wiped out by the pandemic.
Despite staffing issues, the hospitality industry is moving towards recovery, with room revenues and state and local tax revenues expected to surpass 2019 levels by the end of the year. According to the AHLA, hotels are expected to generate nearly $44 billion in revenue in 2022, up 7% from pre-pandemic levels. New Jersey is forecasting about $1.2 billion in revenue, a 6.2% increase from the 2019 total.
Visitor spending in New Jersey reached $37.38 billion in 2021, up $807 million (or nearly 2%) from 2020. According to the state’s Travel and Tourism Division, 28% of that spending was spent on hotels and motels, helping to fuel a 50% rebound in the lodging sector.