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Sidney hotels struggle to fill job openings

Demand for staff exceeds supply as COVID-19 restrictions ease
Nick Coates, general manager of the Victoria Airport Travelodge, stands in one of the hotel’s rooms with head housekeeper Ashley Jones. Like many other accommodation providers, the Travelodge is struggling to fill jobs. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

It is a case of good news, bad news for hoteliers.

As COVID-19 infections drop, the share of vaccinated individuals rises, and governments lift public health protocols, local inns have less and less room.

“We are excited to see people come back,” said Lisa Nordstrom, general manager of the Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa. “It’s giving everybody a really positive feeling we are heading in the right direction.”

But this shift is also contributing to a shortage of labour in the accommodation sector.

“It’s definitely a challenge for all positions,” said Nordstrom. “As a team, we certainly help out in all departments with whatever is required. That’s just the type of team that we are.”

Nick Coates, general manager of the Victoria Airport Travelodge located at the other end of Beacon Avenue, can sing that same tune.

“I have a severe labour shortage — too many vacancies and not enough people to fill them,” he said.

Labour appears especially short in the kitchen, a condition that preceded the pandemic. “COVID-19 has exacerbated it,” he said. “We also have openings at our front desk, in our housekeeping department, in our maintenance department — all of the above. And I know from speaking with my counterparts, that everybody is in the same boat.”

Coates said his hotel started advertising for these positions in March, hoping restrictions would start lifting. “Regardless if they weren’t, we knew that the business in the summertime would be a little bit busier than what it is in the middle of winter or fall, ” he said. “So we have been advertising for five months – we haven’t been able to fill those positions.”

Coates points to several possible reasons for the labour shortage. “It is just a theory, but myself and a lot of other business leaders think that the government programs like the (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) and the extended employment benefits have kept some people from looking for work.”

The hospitality industry also relies on local post-secondary students, but remote learning has meant that many out-of-town students might have stayed, well, out of town.

RELATED: Lifting of public health measures drops unemployment rate in Greater Victoria

A possible remedy is attracting labour from other parts of Canada or even beyond. “But again, to come and live on the coast here, it is a daunting proposition for some folks, just because the cost of living is so much higher out here and that is directly related to housing,” Coates said.

Local leaders have in the past also raised concerns about transportation options to the Saanich Peninsula from other parts of Greater Victoria.

Coates said the shortage has forced the business to operate with fewer people. A complimentary shuttle for visitors that have would run otherwise remains stalled and the pub part of the hotel is running on reduced hours. “We are only open six days a week right now because I don’t have enough staff to operate my full potential hours.”

Not surprisingly, he is concerned about what will happen when cross-border travel resumes.

“We are hanging on right now and that is with our occupancy levels significantly reduced from what we would be normally doing in the summer,” he said. “If the border opens and we get a whole bunch of American tourists coming in here, it is going to be a struggle to accommodate them.”

Nordstrom, for her part, is not sure how to deal with the labour shortage. “If I knew that, we wouldn’t be in this trouble,” she said.

Ultimately, the shortage will require more flexibility and efficiency, Nordstorm added, “but it has been a struggle.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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