Saskatchewan’s hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the province’s Hotel & Hospitality Association says the effects will be felt for years to come.
“There are two aspects of our industry that we are looking at for marketing purposes; one is the recreation side and the other is the corporate side, ”said Jim Bence, President and CEO of the Saskatchewan Hotel & Hospitality Association.
When the pandemic began, the industry was hit hard.
“Massive cancellations at all levels,” said Corrine Lund, general manager of the Alt hotel.
“It was a sweep, where everything from lectures to meetings to individual guests was suddenly wiped out in one fell swoop.”
“For the downtown rooms, we have 250 rooms, 30,000 square feet of banquet space, restaurants, lounges, the whole nine yards,” Bence said.
“They are really addicted, in many cases, to these business trips. They need conferences, trade shows and all those other things. So they laid off, in many cases, 90% of their staff when it all started. “
“It was pretty scary,” Lund said.
LACK OF HOTEL STAFF
After that, they say supervisors and managers with transferable skills have left for other industries.
“The staff had either continued to find other work because they had waited patiently, waited a very long time to come back, that did not happen,” Lund said. “Some of them just weren’t comfortable coming back to this industry.
“We had GMs left and maybe a few of the management team, who really stayed behind to run the shows,” he said.
“They cleaned the rooms, they did night checks, they painted lines in the parking lots. They really do the lion’s share of the work of a full service hotel.
Today, according to Bence, up to 40% of that group are planning to retire, which will pose more challenges for the industry.
“A lot of CEOs fall into a certain age group,” Lund said.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Okay, I’ve been through this for two years and maybe it’s time to retire because I’m just, I’m mentally exhausted.'”
“It’s hard to plan for succession when all of your managers or supervisors have moved on,” Bence adds.
“We’re really in a dilemma as to what we’re going to do in the next 12 to 16 months, 18 months, about who is going to fill these positions if they are released. “
FUTURE OF THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY
The industry’s job now is to get more people to work.
“If I am a young person looking to further their education, this will be the industry I go into,” said Josh Davidson, manager of the recreation and tourism management program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
“Just considering how many people are leaving the industry because of the pandemic, and then on the other side, just the aging workforce – there are a lot of opportunities for people to find jobs and in a fairly positive and enjoyable career. “
Davidson says program enrollments are at 100 percent this year, and already at 80 percent of capacity for next year, and many students will receive job offers before they complete the two-year program.
“A lot of them go into internships and internship hosts see students’ skills and abilities and usually offer them a job offer,” he said. “If they don’t, there is literally a line up for people to hire our graduates.”
Lund says she will do what she can to keep the hospital industry going until more people can enter the workforce.
“We always want to hang on to the fact that we are providing a service, that’s the hospitality industry,” she said. “I think good hotels will know when to pull out and say ‘no we’re not going to rent you that room unless we know you’re going to have a great experience.’ So if that means I have to close three or four floors to make sure the other 10 floors are well served, then that’s what we’re going to do.
“I hope that’s not the long term effect we’re looking at, but you know, you roll with the punches and do what you have to do.”