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Job openings for the leisure and hospitality segment of the U.S. economy remain disproportionately high compared to other industries, which could slow the travel industry’s growth as the country considers its future following its post-pandemic recovery period.
While employment in this country is at its lowest level since March 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that employment in leisure and hospitality is 1.7 percent lower now than it was in February of 2020, before the pandemic. That’s a lack of 290,000 people, but the disparity deepens when you consider the number of hotels and resorts in the U.S. continues to grow at a fast pace.
The industry has a need to fill 1.23 million jobs, with the majority of unfilled job openings in accommodations and food services. Back in June, an American Hotels & Lodging Association survey found that over 80 percent of hotels were struggling hiring staff.
There are a few different ways to attract more people to the jobs that are needed so much, but two are the biggest: better benefits and pay, and an increase in the nation’s short-term worker visa program.
“The need for workers throughout the lodging industry continues to drive historic career opportunities for hotel employees, who are enjoying record wages and better benefits and flexibility than ever before,” AHLA CEO Chip Rogers said back in June.
The average wage for workers across the leisure and hospitality sector is over $21 an hour, and hotels are especially offering greater development opportunities, more paid time off and other enhanced benefits to compete against other job types that may already have these advantages.
“To help boost the leisure and hospitality sector, travel businesses have been increasing wages, improving benefits and modernizing career development tracks,” said a U.S. Travel Association spokesperson. “The average wage across the entire leisure & hospitality is now over $21 an hour—well above minimum wage.”
The U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit dedicated to growing and supporting the travel and tourism industry within the government, also encourages a growth of the country’s H-2B visa program, which allows for short-term workers from other countries to live in the U.S. and work for a specified amount of time, usually half a year. This program has eased the burden of staffing shortages for important segments of the travel industry even prior to the pandemic, but especially so for hotels.
Currently, 64,176 workers are able to come to the U.S. and work through the visa program for the 2023 fiscal year; nowhere near filling the need that is currently there in the hospitality sector alone. This year, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor have apportioned 20,000 visas for workers from Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras.
“U.S. Travel will continue advocating for increased access to the H-2B program through the appropriations and legislative process,” said a U.S. Travel Association spokesperson. “Congress should ensure final FY24 appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security includes a cap exemption for returning H-2B workers, which would significantly expand the number of available H-2B visas. American travel businesses need workers—and without focusing on real solutions, travel growth won’t be fully realized.”
The leisure and hospitality sector needs government support to welcome more international workers to fill the current need. It also needs to modernize its employment approach, offering greater benefits to employees in order to compete against other segments. Without these efforts, the industry could see its growth stunted by the lack of workers needed to sustain it.
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Lacey Pfalz is a freelance Associate Writer for TravelPulse. When she's not writing about traveling, she's often found fussing...
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