Attracting New Tourism Talent

July 08, 2021

While rebuilding trust among travelers has been the goal for so long, the travel industry is realizing it also needs to attract back much of the tourism talent and workforce that forms its backbone. With some 65% of all pandemic-related job loss related to travel and hospitality in the U.S. alone, there’s a lot of work ahead still.

Numbers won’t return to pre-pandemic levels on their own, and leaders are calling on the travel industry to take a more active approach in attracting new tourism talent to their teams.

The U.S. Travel Association held a webinar in May, “Crisis to Opportunity: Building Back the Tourism Workforce,” that highlighted these challenges. The message is clear. With too few workers, it will be impossible to build back. The answer is equally clear. As an industry, we need to rethink how we operate.

Writers and researchers from Europe to Florida are making the case that we need to change, and the takeaways from the webinar are a good start.

Don’t be surprised

As industry leaders, it’s easy to get comfortable thinking that working in tourism is enviable and workers should want to return – but those of us still with our jobs, safe and secure, may be a bit myopic. COVID-19 ravaged the tourism industry and the industry cut jobs left and right. Therefore it should not be surprising that talent went elsewhere to make a living.

Now that we’re reopening and building back, it’s equally myopic to think talent will want to come rushing back to their old positions. We need to think critically about both pulling talent from other sectors while creating new pathways for new hires instead of simply waiting for former employees to return.

Attract new talent

Instead of just luring back veterans, speakers in the webinar make one very clear point. Look for new tourism talent. Through training programs at local schools and partnerships within the industry, the travel industry can repopulate its ranks with newcomers and first-time job seekers, training new tourism talent to step directly into this new reality.

Job fairs that double as vaccination sites are also ways to promote a safe return to work, as demonstrated by an event in May in Louisiana. Through certification and educational programs, a little bit of investment upfront can lead to new tourism talent attraction from those in your backyard. It just requires a bit of outreach to get there.

Upskill and incentivize

For positions and roles that may require more experience, attracting managers and leaders away from their new roles will be difficult. It has to be worth their while. Businesses need to make it clear why moving back to the hospitality sector is worth the transition.

Consider how your company can offer up new trainings or courses, upskilling and enhancing workers on a path to a better job. Consider relocation packages as well, to help make the move to a new role less of an investment by the employee. A little bit goes a long way.

If employees feel like you are investing in them to create a more sustainable work environment, they may be more willing to return and less afraid that you’ll simply treat them as seasonal workers who are also disposable.

It’s not just a job

The biggest challenge to rebuilding tourism talent is establishing a better culture of work. For many in the hospitality and cruise industry, their roles are treated as simple jobs and not careers or paths to new positions. For anyone who has worked in the hospitality industry, you likely understand the feeling of being undervalued.

If not, then try working behind a bar or serving tables for a season – it may change your perspective.

For the industry at large, a fundamental shift in the way we treat talent, across the board, will be a positive step towards rebuilding. Consider featuring profiles of those who have made the move to your destination to tell their stories, giving their testimonies and putting a human face on it all. It may seem difficult, but the biggest misstep we could make collectively is not learning from this pandemic and returning to “the way things were.”

Look how it worked out for most people.

Cut the pessimism

In the webinar with U.S. Travel Association, most speakers were hopeful about rebuilding. A bit of pessimism, however, still loomed over parts of the conversation. At one point, a speaker said, “We’re paying entry level workers living wages. I don’t know that that’s a bad thing, but it is going to create inflation in our industry.”

Let’s focus on the word “but” there. Any pessimism that we can’t create at hospitality workforce that receives a living wage must be called out and stamped out. Instead of focusing on the negative effects of a living wage, we must look instead at the entire ecosystem to understand why that causes inflation in the industry in order to repair it. After all, no one is questioning a living wage for CEOs or destination organization staff – so why are we so quick to criticize hospitality and service industry workers who receive one?

If we’re still debating the value of a living wage in the hospitality industry, we need not be surprised when employees don’t want to return to our industry.

Move forward with hope

The hospitality industry is still unsteady when it comes to operating at 100% occupancy, and catering to the rush of visitors this summer will be a challenge. As vaccine rollouts become more pervasive, however, we should be able to rethink our talent attraction and retention. The travel and hospitality industry needs more transparency, sustainability, and appreciation built into the relationships it forms with employees. Without it, we won’t build back better, or even build back at all.

Interested in attracting new tourism talent back to your destination? The hospitality sector needs workers, and DCI knows how to appeal to them. With more 60 years of experience at destination management and tourism talent attraction, we’re here to help. Contact Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more about rebuilding your destination today.