Stressing the need for immigration reform and a greater number of work visas, AHLA President/CEO Chip Rogers was keenly focused on the industry’s current labor challenge during an association update earlier this week at ALIS (Americas Lodging Investment Summit).
During the update, Rogers urged hoteliers to get more involved in the process, particularly as it relates to reaching out to elected officials for change on behalf of the industry.
“If we in the hotel industry—which will probably be more impacted by the lack of workers than any other industry—are not willing to lead on this issue no one is. We desperately need your help in doing this and it doesn’t cost anything. We need an army of voices reminding our elected officials that this is a critically important issue if we’re going to get our economy going again,” he said.
Rogers noted that while the pandemic may have exacerbated it, the workforce issue did exist before COVID. As an example, he noted that despite supporting more than 2 million jobs “in 2019 before we even got into this challenge, this industry already had a 900,000 job deficit.”
Rogers shared some results from a recent AHLA survey of hoteliers which revealed that some 85% of hotels are either somewhat or severely understaffed, while 22% are severely understaffed. The biggest positions of need are housekeeping, front desk, culinary, maintenance, and executive/GM.
Rogers, however, pointed out that progress has been made in recent months.
“These numbers are bad but they’re actually much better than what we’ve seen,” he said, noting that in May of last year, these figures were 97% and 42%, respectively. In September, the numbers dropped to 87% and 36%.
“We’re continuing to improve but these are still incredibly challenging numbers to operate your hotels on a daily basis if you can’t find housekeepers, if you can’t find people for the front desk,” he commented.
Rogers further explained that on top of the roughly 900,000 unfulfilled jobs, there are another 260,000 missing jobs following the pandemic, estimating that there are some 1.2 or 1.3 million jobs in total that could be filled if the industry was operating at full capacity.
“It impacts not just daily operations but ultimately profit, ultimately how the industry performs. So these numbers are critical to change if we’re going to reach maximum performance,” he said.
Meanwhile, when it comes to immigration reform, Rogers highlighted some key findings with regard to voter sentiment.
- 67% of voters believe to build a dependable and efficient economy we need to fix our immigration system so that immigrants willing to contribute to our economy do so legally;
- 75% rate the immigration crisis worse than education, healthcare, Social Security, and Medicare;
- 76% say Congress has not done enough on immigration;
- 87% believe it’s important Democrats and Republicans work together to reform immigration.
Rogers went on to detail the immigration reform efforts on behalf of the AHLA.
“We have begun to lead an effort, and it’s is a very narrowly focused effort, to try and convince Congress left and right, Republican and Democrat, that this is an issue that’s impacting every single one of the districts. This is an issue that impacts our ability to get the economy back to where it needs to be. It’s also an issue that is impacting inflation; wage inflation is contributing considerably to overall inflation,” he said.
Rogers further noted that work visas represent a significant part of the solution. The AHLA secured the largest expansion of work visas in recent history with an additional nearly 65,000 in Fiscal year 2023. The Biden administration recently agreed to double the number of H-2B work visas.
“We’re trying to convince members of Congress that the work visa program that we have—particularly the H-2B visas—works and it works exceptionally well. But we just need a heck of a lot more than they’re giving us. We need about three to four times more workers than the H-2B visa cap allows,” he said.