Industry leaders address travel's labor shortage at IPW show

The trade show floor at the IPW conference.
The trade show floor at the IPW conference. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

ORLANDO -- Travel industry leaders at the IPW conference here warned that as travel rebounds, it's critical to properly staff the U.S.'s hotels, restaurants and attractions. 

"Not having employees is just as damaging as not having customers," said Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel's executive vice president of public affairs. "There are currently one-and-a-half-million open jobs in leisure and hospitality in the United States. This lag and workforce recovery bears on the performance of our industry." 

Citing data showing that for every 100 jobs across all industries, there are only 65 Americans actively looking for jobs, Emerson Barnes said that U.S. Travel is supporting initiatives to expand worker diversity within the industry and is looking to expand programs for international workers as well as targeted immigration reforms to help fill "our significant workforce needs."

Brand USA CEO Chris Thompson called the labor shortfall in the tourism industry "a huge issue." 

"The pandemic rocked our labor world," he said. "Our industry is so labor-intensive at every level, all the way down to the entry level. The experiences that are delivered every day on the ground were delivered by nearly 10 million people pre-pandemic: jobs tied to international alone was nearly 2 million. So that is a challenge. How do we get back to the pandemic levels to be able to deliver the experiences that we were delivering beforehand?" 

At Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, one of the IPW host hotels, the line to check in the afternoon of June 6 was more than an hour long. Hotel staff were handing out water and apologizing for the delay.  

The check-in line at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
The check-in line at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

The warnings about staffing come as U.S. Travel predicts that international visitation will rise to 65 million in 2023, 82% of pre-pandemic levels, and fully recover to 2019 levels by 2025. 

Furthermore, U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow believes that inbound travel will recover faster than what is current forecasted.

"The economists say 2025, and even though that's what they tell me in my notes here, I don't believe that," Dow said during a press conference here. "I believe that travel, because it's such a coiled spring, is going to come back faster than anyone believes once we get a few hurdles out of the way and get some consistency around the world."

Chief among those hurdles, he said, is dropping the requirement that travelers flying into the U.S. present a negative Covid test prior to departure. That alone, U.S. Travel data indicates, would mean an additional 5.4 million visitors and $9 billion in spending by the end of 2022. 

And if Asian countries reopen their borders, a potential swell of visitors could come from Japan, China and South Korea, which were three of the top 10 markets in 2019 and are no longer on the list. 

The organization also said that the strong IPW turnout -- nearly 4,800 attendees from more than 60 countries and 500 members of the press, double the number that attended last year's event -- was indicative of the travel rebound. 


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