LOS ANGELES -- With U.S. unemployment at historically low
rates, concern over a tight labor market was a hot topic across executive
panels here at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit.
Brian Crawford, senior vice president of government affairs
for the American Hotel and Lodging Association called labor "the
number-one topic" of concern for the trade group.
"One of our board members recently opened up a new
hotel in Salt Lake City and did extensive recruiting," said Crawford, who
estimates there are roughly 900,000 job openings within the hotel industry. "He
went to local colleges, job fairs, posted ads online, was offering far above
minimum wage and full benefits. He got zero applicants. That's the type of
labor market we're facing across the country."
Similar sentiments were echoed by Wyndham Hotels &
Resorts CEO and AH&LA chairman Geoff Ballotti.
"When it comes to finding the jobs that we need, it's
the biggest issue that everybody should be worried about and focused on,"
said Ballotti, adding that further focus on initiatives like cost-free college
education programs can help keep employees engaged and ensure they're not
poached by other industries.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts CEO David Kong also
challenged the industry to adapt its recruiting strategy, explaining that the
hotel sector must do a better job of "broadcasting" its career
"We need to all do our share to communicate that this
industry actually offers tremendous career progression for anyone who aspires
to do bigger and better things," said Kong. "At the same time, we've
been able pay a certain wage scale and attract pretty good talent, but at this
point, we have to reconsider how we get people to come in and maybe need to
rethink our whole compensation scheme."
Meanwhile, several executives stressed the important role
immigration reform plays in the matter, with Interstate Hotels & Resorts CEO
Mike Deitemeyer, among others, putting the onus on the current administration
to loosen regulations restricting the flow of immigrant labor.
"From a policy perspective, we've got to get our heads
around [immigration]," said Deitemeyer. "The reality in the
hospitality space is that, going back generations, those entry-level positions
have been filled by immigrants, and that's incredibly critical to us as an
industry as we grow."
InterContinental Hotels Group CEO of the Americas Elie
Maalouf urged the industry to think outside the box when it comes to tackling
labor-related challenges. He took a relatively contrarian view on the matter.
"I hope we have low unemployment forever," said
Maalouf. "It creates some stresses on our business, but I'd rather be
solving low unemployment issues than high unemployment and low occupancy
issues. How should we approach it? I think [our industry] has to stand for
something more than profit, margins, occupancy and RevPAR, which is all
fundamental, but people want to feel they're part of something great. Everyone
can find a different paycheck. If a place just isn't nice or fun to be at, it
Margaritaville Holdings CEO John Cohlan expressed a similar
sentiment, telling the ALIS audience that despite the current landscape, he
sees Margaritaville resorts as having an "advantage on labor" due to
the brand's focus on fostering an enjoyable work environment.
"I'm always stunned when we have our labor fairs
because of the number of people who apply," said Cohlan. "One of the
things about consolidation is that it's harder to have a personality when you're
part of a big consolidated entity. But when you come apply for a job at
Margaritaville, we want you to be part of the experience, and that's more fun
than being a hotel clerk at a generic property."