Hotels, restaurants throughout Virginia struggle to fill open job positions

GILES COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) – The hospitality industry was decimated at the start of the pandemic. But as hotels continue to increase operations, they’re facing a new and unexpected challenge: no one is applying.

It’s an issue a resort in one of our hometowns didn’t foresee.

In March 2020, Mountain Lake Lodge in Giles County experienced cancellation after cancellation, but fortunately, that didn’t last long.

“The summer was huge, right?” Heidi Stone, general manager, said. “People really escape to the mountains. We really were a safe place to come.”

However, even though guests are beginning to return, employees aren’t.

“We still have lots of positions available, really good paying jobs and we can’t get anyone local to apply,” she said.

From managers to bartenders to servers and housekeepers, the Lodge has more than a dozen open positions right now.

“Three years ago, we would just be flooded with resumes for these positions,” she said.

It’s a setback that has Stone stumped.

“I don’t understand it!”

And what’s even more perplexing is of the applicants they are receiving, none are from Virginia

“We’re getting resumes from all over the United States, but none locally” she explained.

That’s even though Virginia’s unemployment rate is around 5.3%.

“There’s lots of folks out there who don’t have jobs, so it is puzzling why we can’t get people locally to apply for good paying jobs here in their backyard,” Stone said.

Hotels and restaurants around the Commonwealth are experiencing the same shortage.

“The numbers, I’d say, are pretty staggering still in terms of open positions,” Eric Terry, the president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, said.

He explained career changes, health concerns and people staying home with their kids who aren’t back in school yet are common factors, but so are unemployment benefits.

“I think until the federal unemployment incentives run out, it’s going to take a while,” Terry said.

And in the meantime, businesses still risk permanently closing.

“People have used all their PPP money, used all the funding they had available and now they can’t open their business all the way because they can’t get enough employees,” he said.

Over at Mountain Lake Lodge, there’s one key factor that’s keep the doors open.

“We’re very much a storied place and part of generations and generations of people’s lives,” Stone said. “It’s basically our fans. Our fans don’t ever want us to close and thank God for our fans.”

Terry said they’re reporting the hotel industry won’t be back to its pre-pandemic numbers until 2023.

In 2019, tourism in Virginia was a $27 billion industry, annual 2018 restaurant sales were over $18 billion, and Virginia’s lodging industry was estimated to be $6 billion in 2019. The impact of the pandemic on hospitality and tourism in Virginia has been devastating. Estimates show, in 2020, the Virginia tourism industry lost $10 billion, the state’s lodging industry lost over $3 billion, and Virginia’s restaurant industry lost over $1.8 billion.

As part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) 25% of $350 billion given to state, local and tribal governments is devoted to hospitality industry relief efforts.

Copyright 2021 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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