SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – "Checking-in" on the hotel industry: Nightly stays are quickly booking up again, and the need for staff is higher than ever. The industry took a huge hit this time last year with the coronavirus outbreak forcing shutdowns and thousands of layoffs.
In sunny tourist destinations such as Arizona, statewide hotel occupancy is at 61.5% for the first half of the year (January-June 2021), which is 15% below the same time period in 2019. The Arizona Office of Tourism also reports that overall hotel occupancy in June 2021 was 65%, which was nearly equal to June 2019 (67%).
"About 90% of travelers say they have a trip planned in the next six months," said Becky Blaine, deputy director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. "Looking forward to fall and convention bookings, we see that a bunch of the meetings and conventions that have been postponed, moved into the fall, and so we really expect to start to see that business traveler come back as well."
The tourism and hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit. Even with growing demand for vacations, they’re still down 33,500 jobs statewide.
"We have a workforce issue, a lot of people that were displaced during the pandemic have either chosen to switch industries, or just not come back," said Blaine. "We've really had to work to attract new workers to the hospitality industry that maybe never considered tourism as a career."
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess said it noticed a real turning point in the spring, that’s when the vaccine was made available to everyone and travel restrictions started to loosen. It hosted a large job fair at the end of July to try and hire staff fast.
"We actually started with 1,200 employees last year, went down to 28, basically overnight. A lot of people went on furlough, so as soon as we could, even starting last summer we started inviting everyone back," said Christie Martinez, employee relations and retention manager at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
Around 60 people arrived in the first two hours of the job fair. They even made a few offers on the spot.
"We actually do have 150 hourly positions open, so some are full time, part time, casual, you name it we've got it available. We also have about 20 leadership roles available," said Martinez. "We are hiring for servers, assistant bartenders, we also have a lot of administrative assistant roles, we've got some in our sales department, conference services, spa front desk and reservations."
David Williams came to the event to make an impression and land a job. He used to work in a local restaurant before the pandemic and is now looking for a career change. "It helped me break out of my comfort zone. You know, the past year with COVID everyone's been in the house so it helped me step outside and get back to who I used to be," said Williams.
Across town, the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa was working at just 1% capacity in April 2020 and even started a GoFundMe to support staff. Now demand is growing again, it is offering higher-than-normal wages to entice new employee applicants.
"We just had to go raise our housekeeping rate to $20, which is I think the highest in the market. We had a wonderful reaction and we're finally starting to hire some fantastic housekeepers," said Paul Gray, Arizona Grand Resort and Spa general manager. "We're also able to reward our housekeepers who saw us through the pandemic and housekeeping is one of the toughest positions in the industry and they work so hard".
They were able to maintain a large portion of business through their amenities. The golf course and waterpark were very popular and helped bring in much needed revenue. Now they’re excited to welcome back visitors and corporate business again.
"The fourth quarter looks really good and we're getting back to what we call a corporate group or normal group travel, and the first quarter is looking great too," said Gray.
For those looking for a new job, now’s the time to apply. Many companies are offering a hiring bonus and other incentives.
The Arizona Office of Tourism is partnering with career development organizations Pipeline AZ and Arizona@Work to launch a new initiative connecting job-seekers with thousands of career opportunities across the state’s tourism and hospitality industry. Thousands of jobs are available and businesses can post openings in one location.