Staff shortages continue to plague hotels, restaurants, airports, and more – but this could be an opportunity to rebuild a more diverse and dynamic travel industry.
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HDetour’s Note: This is one in a series of opinion pieces for AFAR by Roger Dow, President and CEO of the American Travel Association, a Washington, DC-based organization that represents all sectors of travel in America. US Travel’s mission is to increase travel to and within the United States.
It’s a great week for the US travel industry: this is it National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW, May 1-7, 2022), a kind of annual travel reunion Professionals across the United States are reflecting on the past – celebrating what the industry has accomplished – and planning for the future.
There’s plenty to celebrate: While international and business travel remains low, domestic leisure travel has almost fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
While we will continue to work towards recovery, we know we cannot go back to the way things were. Making real change depends in large part on our industry’s ability to rebuild and retain a diverse and dynamic workforce.
With a new vision that has emerged from the years of the pandemic, the US travel industry is preparing for a future that will be more sustainable, innovative, and safer.
A moment to rebuild
The employment statistics were sobering: More jobs were lost in travel and hospitality than in any other sector. The Leisure and Hospitality (L&H) sector alone accounted for 11 percent of employment in the United States that outlived the pandemic, but represented it at the time An astonishing 93 percent of all jobs have been lost As of March 2022.
While this is a clear setback, it also provides an opportunity for rebuilding to become more competitive with other industries. The travel industry generates good, well-paying jobs that provide stability and upward mobility for families in every pocket of America. Our industry can offer highly competitive wages, which is critical to rebuilding the travel workforce. meIn fact, the average hourly earnings of L&H employees were 20% above 2019 levels in March–Greater than 14% for the private sector in general.
A path of upward movement
This is also an industry where workers can really climb up the ladder and gain valuable skills along the way. Travel builds a strong talent pool through professional training, mentoring and hospitality management programmes. These efforts equip hospitality leaders with next-generation skills that instill a sense of purpose and mission.
I know this because I have experienced first-hand the massive upward mobility that this industry creates. I took my first job as a pool manager at a Marriott in 1966, then moved through housekeeping to sales. From there, she led sales and marketing jobs at hotels in 12 different cities before joining Marriott headquarters in 1983 as Head of Marketing. Ten years later, an opportunity arose to lead Marriott’s global sales team of 10,000 people. That first job at Marriott led me into a decades-long career built on invaluable and highly transferable skills.
So, how do we ensure that others similarly benefit from the travel profession?
Show workers opportunities in travel jobs
The US travel industry should do more to showcase this enormous industry to job seekers. As of November 2021, the labor force participation rate was nearly 62 percent — the equivalent of 2.4 million fewer Americans in the labor force than at the same time in 2019.
While this is troubling news, it presents a unique opportunity. The travel industry is a supportive bridge for Americans looking to re-enter the workforce in a dynamic economy. When we are hiring new talent, we must convey to job seekers that travel jobs are very accessible and flexible. Many entry-level workers can find work in travel — front desk staff, housekeepers, lifeguards, and more. These jobs provide much-needed training to develop key core skills, such as communication, dedication, confidence, leadership, flexibility, customer service, and problem-solving.
The American Travel Association recently partnered with Tourist diversity is important To help attract a more diverse workforce and enhance these skills. Tourism Diversity Matters was founded in 2021 to address racial disparities in the tourism and events industry to engage, hire, and retain a diverse workforce. Specifically, tourism diversity drives a vocational training program which engage underrepresented university students by providing hands-on experience in tourism and hospitality. Training workers to be more productive and prosperous in the workplace not only benefits individuals – it will also benefit employers and the communities they serve.
Looking to the future
At National Travel & Tourism Week, I am proud to join my colleagues across the country in envisioning the bright future and unlimited opportunities for the next generation of travel. Travelers and the US travel industry have struggled a lot during the pandemic, but this is an opportunity to reimagine the industry to be more dynamic, resilient and forward-looking than it was before the public health crisis. It all starts with building a diverse and talented workforce.
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