Staffing shortage crisis hits local hotels hard

Business

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A staffing crisis for hotels has hit Virginia Beach — and hit hard. There are currently about 1,100 open positions for hotels in the resort city.

Veterans of the industry say they’ve never seen anything like it.

“I’ve been in this business 25 years and have never had such a difficulty getting workforce and getting staffing. It’s just bad,” said John Zirkle, president of the Virginia Beach Hotel Association.

The shortage is already having a significant effect on hotels’ ability to operate.

“The worst I’ve heard is some hotels have had to shut down 30 or 40 rooms,” explained Zirkle. “Which if you’re a 200 room hotel, that’s 10% plus of your occupancy. It’s pretty devastating.”

It’s a concerning situation, especially heading into the busy summer tourism season.

So what is going on? According to Zirkle, it appears to be a few things.

First, there’s the significant loss of foreign students who come every summer to work in Virginia Beach hotels. These international students, typically from Europe, aren’t getting visas because many U.S. embassies abroad are closed.

In a normal year, about 1,500 students will come to Virginia Beach on J-1 work-study visas for the summer. This year, Zirkle says, they expect only a few hundred.

Another contributing factor is that many parents have to stay home with their children who are learning virtually. Then, there are those choosing to get out of the hospitality business altogether and pursue other careers.

And finally, hotel officials 10 On Your Side spoke with across the resort city seem to agree that federal unemployment is not helping an already difficult situation.

“During the pandemic, it’s been clear that people have needed help and certainly, I don’t begrudge anyone for that,” said John Uhrin, the director of operations for Burlage Management. “But we’ve just got to get out of this program where we’re encouraging people not to show up, and not be productive, and work.”

Hotels, like restaurants, are getting a lot of applications but no employees.

“Last week at my hotel, we had 12 interviews lined up. none of them showed up,” said Zirkle.

Uhrin has had similar experiences at his hotels.

“It’s not a problem getting applicants it’s just a problem having them answer the phone and actually show up for an interview.”

Frustrated with the mess, the Virginia Beach Hotel Association sent a letter to City Council asking for assistance to offer work incentives. They’ve also reached out to Congress to ask representatives to take a more business-focused approach to legislation.

“We really would like to see Congress take a business-focused approach,” said Zirkle. “There are jobs out there, we really need to get people back to work. And I honestly think people want to get back to work and if we don’t put the focus on getting them back to work they’re going to continue to stay home and that’s just going to continue to drive debt and everything else.”

Zirkle says if this problem isn’t fixed, it will have a ripple effect through the whole economy.

“Tourism is a driving factor in Hampton Roads and definitely in Virginia Beach. When hotels can’t fill their rooms that means restaurants aren’t filling their seats, which means the attractions aren’t filling the entry fees and such,” he said. “It’s a trickle-down effect and it’s going to affect the tax base and it’s going to affect the city’s ability to operate when they don’t have those extra tax dollars coming in.” 

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