By MARK OKRANT, NH Travel Guru
From many decades ago, the transport industry has been a much needed source of employment, due to its reputation for being accessible to different cultural groups and different work experience. As the state of New Hampshire enters its crucial summer travel season, there is widespread concern about the industry because job opportunities currently far outweigh the number of people who will take them.
Globally, the seemingly infallible transportation industry as an employer is under heavy attack following the COVID-19 disaster. Here in New Hampshire, where tourism has long been a major source of employment and a major source of income, this situation cannot be ignored.
Since February, 2020, when the epidemic begins, employment in the U.S. hospitality and tourism industry has shrunk by 1.5 million jobs, with accommodation falling further (-20%). This situation has manifested itself in a number of ways, even affecting enrollment in university hospitality programs across the country. According to Peter Ricci, director of the hospitality and tourism management program at Florida Atlantic University, “For the first time, we see parents discouraging their children from enrolling in hospitality programs.”
Why is this happening? At the peak of the epidemic, employers engaged in practices that helped “promote and accelerate existing conditions,” according to Bruno Eeckels of New York University. Workers were laid off, and a lack of industry flexibility was evident. Thus, other forms of employment that provided schedule flexibility and a clear path towards higher mobility — both seemingly lacking in the hospitality and tourism industry — had different advantages in attracting recent university graduates and retrenched staff. accommodation, restaurants, attractions, and related businesses.
To date, the response of thousands of businesses and services including the tourism industry has failed. Although compensation paid to the regular hotel clerk, waiter, maître d ‘, security guard, and many others is much higher than before 2020, it has not had the expected effect of returning staff to the trenches.
Part of the problem lies in the nature of generous employment. Charyl Reardon, president of the White Mountain Attractions Association, hit a nail in the head when she told us, “The disease brought about a change in perspective.” While employees were accustomed to the idea of working remotely, the service industry is about connecting with people. Or, as Reardon said, “You can’t wait at the table from home.”
Prior to 2020, in New Hampshire, homeowners in the Northern Hemisphere, who were looking for something to do, could be counted on to fill working hours at theme parks and other businesses. Now, some of these same people are spending their time working online, while others would prefer to spend their families relaxing or enjoying the outdoors. Both arguments are the result of this tragedy.
So, in view of all that we have described, as well as the changing migrant situation, what should the industry do? Recommendations include: creating increased scheduling flexibility in hospitality work, maximizing benefits, and clearer mapping of work methods. Perhaps, one of the most innovative answers comes from Reardon himself, who has recommended the State of Plymouth and the University of New Hampshire to make their dormitories available for the summer task force comprising graduates and others. Students would have the opportunity to work for one employer for several summers, and be in a position to finish school well prepared to take on those required management positions after graduation.
Note to government and business decision makers: a healthy tourism industry is critical to public welfare and the economy as a whole.
Mark Okrant’s NH Travel Guru column returns to InDepthNH.org following a three-year break. Mark is a retired professor of tourism management and policy at Plymouth State University, having spent more than four decades as a tourism teacher and twenty-five years as a research coordinator for the government unit of travel and tourism development. He is the former president of the International Association for the Study of Transport and Tourism, and author of fifteen books. Kary Turnell Mystery’s creative tour is about its nine New Hampshire whodunits.