Resort hotel

Phoenix hotel staff surge after pandemic and labor shortages

The Valley Ho Hotel in Scottsdale might be the closest thing to a “Cheers” hotel – the place where everyone knows your name.

Front desk agent Luis Iman and restaurant server trainer Eddie Rodriguez often interact with returning customers.

“I come to work with a good attitude,” Iman said. “I feel very close to my guests and they can see that I love what I do and want to help in any way.”

Personalized service, like workers at the on-site restaurant ZuZu remembering customers’ favorite food and drink orders, is part of the appeal of the Valley Ho Hotel for these returning visitors.

“The little things make a big difference when they come back as regulars,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe you know their drink preferences, like, ‘Welcome, do we have a triple espresso this morning?'”

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How the pandemic has changed the hospitality industry

The role of hospitality workers in shaping the visitor experience remains vital as people travel again following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arizona’s most recent statewide lodging data showed occupancy was around 67% from April to June, with average daily rates of $151.69 $. That’s up from 60.8% occupancy and daily rates averaging $120.23 during the same period in 2021, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism.

Hotels across the state saw a 12.5% ​​increase in accommodation demand in the quarter, even as supply grew 2.3%, according to AOT.

The growth of regional and statewide tourism has bolstered the recreation and hospitality workforce over the past decade, including but not limited to jobs in the hospitality industry. ‘hotel.

Arizona had more than 335,000 recreation and hospitality workers in July 2022, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bulk of those workers — just under 231,000 of them — are employed in the Phoenix metro area.

The state has about 15,000 more hospitality workers than in 2017 and about 69,000 more than in 2012, and the current employment tally is only slightly below a pre-pandemic high of more than 341,000 workers in February 2020, according to BLS data.

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“Everyone is happy when they come here”

Among these new workers is Matthew Brake, recently promoted to head chef at We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort’s famed Ember restaurant. Brake previously worked as a line cook at the Nisqually Red Wind Casino in Olympia, Washington.

He moved to Arizona in 2019 and found work at We-Ko-Pa, then known as Fort McDowell Casino, where he was a production manager and sushi chef. He became Sous Chef at Ember when the restaurant opened with We-Ko-Pa’s rebranding during the pandemic.

Brake said he felt a “higher purpose to serve and give back to people” working in hospitality. He is particularly motivated by the excitement he feels when the opportunity arises to prepare new recipes.

“Food talks a lot,” he said. “It really resonates with people.”

Building a strong hospitality workforce depends not only on hiring new workers to meet tourism demand, but also on retaining existing workers.

We-Ko-Pa’s staff includes 35-year-old veteran Tim Davis, who has spent most of his time working in the bingo hall. His title is bingo manager.

Davis said he was unfamiliar with bingo before working at We-Ko-Pa. He grew to appreciate the game and found his role rewarding over the years, especially seeing hundreds of casino guests both enthralled by the game and anticipating each number’s call.

“You could hear a pin drop,” he said. “There is no more satisfaction than seeing people earning money and anticipating their number being called. Everyone is happy when they come here, because they think they are going to win. “

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“Travelers always want to feel well cared for”

Finding new workers is a bigger challenge as the nationwide tourism industry continues to face a labor shortage.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association recently forecast that US hotels will end 2022 with 1.97 million employeesdown from the 2.3 million people employed nationwide in 2019.

Hotels are not expected to reach pre-pandemic employment levels until at least 2024, the association says. A survey released by the group in May found that 97% of hotels said they were experiencing staff shortages.

Phoenix has not been immune to these challenges.

Jesse Thompson, regional sales and marketing manager at Hotel Valley Ho and Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley, said staffing issues at both hotels have led management to raise salaries and recruit new talent, as well as to “ensure a good working environment for our existing team.”

Both hotels were among those that remained open at the start of the pandemic.

Some hotels in the Phoenix metro closed between March and May 2020. Monthly hotel room supply fell from 3.6 million in March 2020 to 3.1 million in April 2020, down nearly 9%, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism, citing a STR study.

The guest experience has evolved to adapt to the circumstances of the pandemic, such as requiring masks and more frequent cleaning of common areas.

But the evolution of hospitality jobs from pre-pandemic to current conditions isn’t visible from a guest perspective, Thompson said.

“Travelers always want to feel well cared for and want the experience they receive to meet or exceed their expectations,” he said. “It’s our job as hoteliers to provide that experience in the most seamless way possible.”

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Why Workers Find Hospitality Jobs Rewarding

Hospitality jobs tend to attract workers who describe themselves as people. They can enjoy the satisfaction of meeting new customers every day or seeing the smiles on customers’ faces when they notice how clean their room is.

Some came from other jobs looking for a change. Regan Copeland, concierge at Mountain Shadows Resort, left a teaching job to come to the hotel to help guests plan everything from tours to transportation to spa appointments while traveling.

“It’s the best thing I’ve done in my career,” she said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Brent Rumph, general manager of Ember at the We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort in Fort McDowell, compared running a restaurant to a Broadway show, where the play is the same but the actors change.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and people think a manager is just shaking (guest) hands,” he said. “Execution is crucial in fine dining. It’s the little things like a card on the table for a birthday or a bottle of champagne for the first date.”

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Contact the reporter at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.

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