Summer Travel Forecast Demands Longer Waits, Fewer Choices | News, Sports, Jobs
After a year of coronavirus lockdown, the start of summer invites with vacation plans made possible by relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. But a severe labor shortage comes with a warning for travelers: expect delays and exercise a little patience.
Lifeguards and hotel housekeepers are rare. The same goes for rental cars. And don’t count on a fruity cocktail at the Tiki hotel bar.
The labor shortage is hitting tourist destinations nationwide just as they attempt to bounce back from a lost year due to the pandemic, where periodic surges of cases and lockdowns have forced Americans to stay close to home. them. Now, with more than half of adults vaccinated, Americans are ready to venture with the traditional start of summer travel.
But staffing issues threaten to derail the travel industry’s recovery. Travelers can expect fewer menu choices at restaurants, long lines at hotels and airports, and fewer rides and food stalls at theme parks.
Some hotels don’t fill all of their rooms or change the sheets as often because they don’t have enough housekeepers. Six of the most popular national parks – including Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Acadia, and Zion – will require advance reservations for many visitors to allow for social distancing.
“It’s nothing like we’ve never seen it before,” said Michelle Woodhull, president of Charming Inns, which includes four small hotels and a fine dining restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina.
The company has limited room reservations by 20% during certain weeks and reduced restaurant seating, said Woodhull, who recently filed a complaint about a customer who couldn’t get a table for four weeks.
“Unfortunately, this is a reality,” she said, adding that it was better than providing poor service. “What company wants to turn business away, especially after the year we’ve had?”
Yet the tourism industry is showing signs of a comeback. Airlines executives say domestic leisure travel is at pre-pandemic levels and the number of people passing through U.S. airports daily is expected to surpass 2 million before the end of the week – the first time this has happened. produced since early March 2020.
Air travelers who plan to hire a car over Memorial Day weekend might be out of luck. Rental cars are scarce and expensive – the average cost has nearly doubled from a year ago, according to government figures.
The AAA Automobile Club predicts that 37 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over the next vacation, a 60% increase from last year. But if AAA is right about this weekend, that will mean 6 million fewer travelers than on the same vacation in 2019.
The reasons for the labor shortage are hotly debated. Many employers blame the federal government for an additional $ 300 per week in unemployment assistance. But many hospitality workers who abruptly lost their jobs a year ago have moved on to new careers and are not coming back.
Some employers in the hospitality industry are keen to hire new workers at lower wages instead of recalling laid-off workers, said D. Taylor, president of the hotel, gaming and airport workers union, Unite Here.
Big hotel chains plan to cut housekeeping and customer service jobs, and casinos are cutting food and drink jobs, he told an under- Congress committee.
“It’s bad for customers, but it’s also bad for workers and communities because housekeepers, cooks, waiters – it’s the backbone of the service economy,” Taylor said.
A survey of 4,000 travel and tourism workers earlier this year showed that many have found jobs with higher wages and predictable hours and more plan to leave the industry soon, said Peter Ricci, director of the Florida Atlantic University Hospitality and Tourism Management Program.
The travel industry as a whole, he said, is facing a time of change and will need to offer better wages and benefits and rethink the way it treats employees.
“It’s time for our industry to wake up and see that this is an important thing. We have a shortage for a reason ” said Cathy Balestriere, general manager of Crane’s Beach House, a boutique hotel in Delray Beach, Florida.
She has managed to keep most of her staff and bring in outside workers to provide massages and yoga, but the hotel does not offer breakfast and the Tiki bar by the pool is closed because it there is no one to serve drinks. Managers and housekeeping staff assisted with housekeeping duties.
Maine’s largest amusement park, Funtown Splashtown USA, which opens Memorial Day weekend, cuts hours and only operates five days a week because it can’t find enough workers.
Saco, Maine Park is still in need of lifeguards, amusement ride operators and clean-up crews despite the offer of salary increases and four season passes for summer hires. The reduced number of international students is another issue for the state’s largest seasonal employer.
Raj Kapoor, who runs a popular food court on the waterfront in Belmar, New Jersey, hired 14 people for the summer, but he could still use eight to 10 more to pick up ice cream, roll burritos and sell sodas, milkshakes and candy.
The labor shortage affected his business in other, less obvious ways. A promised soda shipment the next day took a week and a half to arrive because the distributor did not have enough delivery drivers.
Diners in tourist hot spots shouldn’t be surprised when they find restaurants with limited hours, simplified menus and some sections of closed seating, even when there is a wait for tables, said Barry Gutin, co-owner. of the Cuba Libre restaurant chain in the East. Coast.
To attract workers and help them progress, they increased wages and went so far as to offer English and Spanish classes and personal finance training. But hiring has always been a challenge. Their Fort Lauderdale, Florida location is only open for dinner at the moment – not even for take out or delivery.
“We protect the customer experience by avoiding sitting down too much”, he said. “We hope they understand that things are a little different from before the pandemic.”
Regardless of the destination, travelers should make sure to call ahead and be prepared to change their plans at any time.
Jamie Goble was scheduled to fly to Ohio from his Waco, Texas home to join his family for three days next week at Cedar Point Amusement Park, where they planned to celebrate his high school graduation. nephew.
But nine days before its flight, the park announced last week that it would be closed two days a week for most of the month due to understaffing.
“Not just the park, the hotel too,” she said. “So we were out of a place to stay. Everything is understandable, but we thought they had solved things. “
Instead, they quickly changed their plans to ride a roller coaster in Dollywood, Tennessee and hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Associated Press editors David Koenig in Dallas, Wayne Parry in Belmar, New Jersey, and David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.