Are you asking about staffing capacity before you book your meeting or event at a hotel? If not, you should, because much of the hospitality industry is still struggling to build up its staff after mass layoffs, furloughs and resignations post-pandemic. It’s one way you can ensure that your guests are getting the service they deserve while attending your meeting or event.

According to a recent survey of hoteliers conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), more than three-quarters of surveyed hotels are currently experiencing a staffing shortage, so the issue is prevalent. As a results, hotels are increasing pay, benefits, and perks to recruit and retain employees to alleviate the problem.

About 76% of survey respondents said they are experiencing a staffing shortage, and 13% reported they are severely understaffed, meaning the shortage is affecting their hotel’s ability to operate. The most critical staffing need is housekeeping, with 50% ranking it as their top hiring need.

Over the last six months, 86% of respondents have increased wages, 52% have offered greater flexibility with hours and 33% have expanded benefits to cope with the nationwide workforce shortage. Nonetheless, 79% say they are still unable to fill open positions.

These survey results indicate a worsening workforce situation for hoteliers over the last few months. In a January 2024 survey, fewer respondents (67%) said they were experiencing a staffing shortage and fewer (72%) said they were unable to fill open positions. In the May 2024 survey, however, respondents said they are attempting to fill an average of seven job openings per property, down from almost nine positions per property in January.

“Strong summer travel demand and a nationwide workforce shortage have combined to create more pay, perks and upward mobility for current and prospective hotel employees,” says the AHLA interim president and CEO Kevin Carey. “But hotels need access to more workers to continue creating jobs. The AHLA is lobbying Congress and the administration for a variety of solutions to grow the workforce, while the AHLA Foundation’s Empowering Youth and Registered Apprenticeship programs continue to give workers the tools and support they need to enter, advance and succeed in our industry.”

The AHLA is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to expand the workforce by making available nearly 65,000 additional H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas as soon as possible, under authority Congress gave it as part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act. Congress can help hoteliers address workforce shortages by taking the following actions:

  • Expanding and streamlining the legal H-2B guestworker program. The H-2B program allows employers to hire workers from other countries on temporary work permits to fill nonagricultural jobs that last less than one year. The H-2B program is vital to helping independent hotels and resorts fill seasonal roles, but the program is capped at 66,000 visas each year.
  • Passing the Closing the Workforce Gap Act of 2024. This bipartisan bill would replace the arbitrary annual cap of 66,000 H-2B guestworker visas with a new, needs-based system for allocating visas.
  • Passing the H-2 Improvements to Relieve Employers (HIRE) Act. This bill would expand the H-2A/H-2B labor certification period to three years and permanently authorize the waiver of in-person interviews for returning workers. The HIRE Act would make it easier for qualified workers to secure jobs in fields that are struggling to recruit and retain enough employees to meet demand. By growing the pool of seasonal workers, the bill would give seasonal small business hotels critical staffing relief and facilitate the hotel industry’s continued recovery.
  • Passing the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act. This bill would allow people seeking asylum at ports of entry to be eligible for work authorizations starting 30 days after they apply for asylum, provided their applications are not frivolous; they are not detained; their identities have been verified; and their names are run through the federal government’s terrorist watch lists. This change would help hotels address critical staffing needs by allowing certain asylum seekers to work as soon as 30 days after applying for asylum. Current law prevents them from legally working for at least six months, forcing them to rely on assistance from local governments and communities.

As of April, there were 8.1 million job openings in the United States and only 6.5 million unemployed people to fill those jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are tens of thousands of hotel jobs currently open across the nation, according to Indeed.

The AHLA’s Front Desk Feedback survey of 456 hoteliers was conducted May 16 through 24, 2024.