Hotel staff shortages may drive travel costs in US to all-time high

FILE-A housekeeper prepares a room at a hotel. (Photo by Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

A scarcity of hotel employees and lack of adequate pay for them could drive travel costs to higher levels than what they currently are.

Over two thirds of hotels continue to experience staffing shortages, with companies offering more pay and incentives in order to attract and retain talent, according to an American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA survey in February. 

This year, hotels nationwide are projected to spend $123 billion in compensation — up more than 20% from 2019, according to the AHLA.

The AHLA conducted a survey of hotels to get their feedback on how they are managing a worker shortage. 

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About 82% of respondents say they have raised hourly wages to hire employees at their hotels, with 59% saying they offer better flexibility with hours, while 33% of respondents are expanding benefits. 

But despite these incentives to bring in new hires, 72% say they still can’t fill open positions at their hotels.  

The AHLA noted that 67% of respondents said they are experiencing a staffing shortage, with 12% sharing they are "severely understaffed," meaning the worker shortage affects their ability to run the hotel's daily operations efficiently. And 48% of respondents said housekeeping is their biggest hiring need. 

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Most hotels have reduced or eliminated amenities and services at their properties because of the scarcity of workers, as hotel leadership tries to use technology to address the labor shortage, according to a travel report from Deloitte in 2023.

Separately, airline and hotel leaders are looking into tech options like artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud services to remedy their labor struggles. But hotels are using more cloud computing to process guests and manage bookings, Deloitte noted.

Recently, more airports have launched self-service offerings for air travelers, but very few hotels are doing the same to accommodate guests. One thing hotels are doing for more is relying on food-delivery apps instead of their in-house kitchen staff.

The shortage of hotel workers is also increasing the workload of existing employees. More hotels are asking staff members to handle tasks outside of their routine duties, including checking in guests at the front desk, bartending when needed, and providing laundry services and housekeeping tasks. 

Citing government data, the Wall Street Journal reported that the hotel industry’s staffing levels have remained below COVID-19 levels since early 2020.

This story was reported from Washington, D.C.