The pandemic and ongoing state and federal COVID restrictions are unintentionally impacting the Bucks County tourism and hospitality industry by reversing the usual ratio of vacancies to vacancies. candidates.
It’s not that there aren’t enough jobs for everyone. This season, as the industry braces for a busy time and rebounds from the depths of the pandemic, there are not enough applicants to fill the hundreds of available positions.
Consider Sesame Place in Middletown, one of the area’s top family summer attractions, and its recent career fair.
“Overall, we are looking to fill 800 vacancies,” said Dana Ryan, public relations manager for Sesame Place. “While there weren’t as many attendees at this job fair as we would typically see in a year without COVID, it was hugely successful. We made more offers in a day than we did. do not have any in most weeks. “
Tourism industry overcomes obstacles
Last year and even earlier this spring, Visit Bucks County launched an ambitious targeted advertising campaign to highlight the many benefits of vacationing in the county, including the strengths of outdoor activities. The tourism organization used funds from the CARES Act to fund the campaign, as well as other initiatives to support businesses. He received $ 3.7 million.
Even the first advertisements, including advertisements and billboards in the New York, Washington, and Harrisburg area, were designed to promote safe travel through the pandemic and plant the seeds for future visits, have officials said.
These efforts, among others, have generally resulted in the regional tourism industry enjoying better numbers than those recorded in 2019. About 8.29 million people visited Bucks County in 2019, generating more than one billion dollars. dollars, according to Visit Bucks County internal estimates.
Officials say that before the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism industry here employed 29,000 people.
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“Bucks County fared much better than many destinations in 2020 because of its open countryside location,” Visit Bucks County Board Chairman Frank Lyons said. where we are today. As vaccine delivery continues, we are seeing more positive consumer sentiment and are optimistic Bucks County will continue on the path to tourism recovery. “
Most of the industry has not kept track of the number of visits in 2020, as many county and state entities have been closed for months due to coronavirus precautions.
“The first thing we see is that the occupancy rate is not far from the April 2019 figures. In April, we saw hotels that were 70% occupied on Friday and 80% on Saturday, which is a good indicator of travel, ”said Visit Bucks County President and COO Paul Bencivengo. “We are already seeing people starting to travel back to Bucks County.
“… Research clearly shows that people are planning to travel and visit Bucks County and, as we model things through the pandemic, we always knew that vaccination would drive the trip; more people get vaccinated and see others get vaccinated, we’ll see people more willing to travel. “
Tourist ready to visit, but who is ready to work
The side effect of better than expected tourism figures is to fill the positions in a timely manner. For a myriad of reasons, job seekers simply don’t turn to the tourism and hospitality industry.
Managers try to avoid the labor shortage through unique collaborations.
“As demand increases, our attractions need to be staffed. We are looking to help the industry by connecting our partners with the resources the county has to offer, like PA CareerLink in Bucks County,” said Bencinvego. “Put them in contact with people who need staff, and also seek to put partners in touch with hotel schools.
For example, he said, Temple University recently graduated from its reputable sports, tourism and hospitality management school that the agency is working to connect with industry employers.
“But right now, as things open up as demand increases, staffing has been a barrier,” he said.
Ryan observes a similar trend at Sesame Place.
She said another challenge is that everyone has different levels of comfort when it comes to coexisting with COVID and returning to work.
“While we follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our local government to keep our team and customers safe, it’s hard for people to feel safe working in a theme park when they are told that is not the case. safe to attend school in person or live on a college campus, ”Ryan said. “With vaccines now readily available and restrictions lifted, we have already seen an increase in applications.
“We believe we will continue to see more applicants walk through the door as we move closer to a sense of normalcy with fewer COVID restrictions.”
Ryan said Sesame Place hires around 1,500 employees per year and offers perks such as flexible hours, free park entrance tickets and the like, internship opportunities, park discounts and other perks to attract and retain staff.
Peddler’s Village, a unique indoor / outdoor destination in Lahaska that features over 60 specialty stores and boutiques and hosts events and festivals year round, is also experiencing welcome traffic and an unprecedented staff shortage.
“I have been in business for 40 years and have never seen anything like it. During the Gulf War, the financial crisis, September 11, nothing compares to that, ”said Robert McGowan, Chief Operating Officer of Peddler’s Village. “This is unprecedented. If 200 people walked to the village to work, we would put them to work.”
McGowan said the coronavirus forced Peddler’s Village to change the way it does business. Management, for example, added tents to increase outdoor capacity.
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Highlighting Bucks County Offers
While tourism specialists are generally happy with the financial preparations and forecasts and the turnstiles, it is known and accepted that there is still a long way to go, both to attract talent and to showcase Bucks County in as a tourist destination.
To that end, in addition to its new commercials, Visit Bucks County recently wrapped up the National Travel and Tourism Week Celebration Week. which highlighted five tourism and hospitality leaders in the county.
The winners were nominated by their peers in the local hospitality industry, and County Commissioners Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Gene DiGirolamo presented the awards. She thanked employees in the “hospitality industry who went above and beyond during the pandemic to support the company they work for, as well as the customers they serve.”
Sesame Place and Peddler’s Village also know that it will take more to recruit staff.
At Sesame Place, Ryan hopes to proclaim “the one-of-a-kind experience” of working in a theme park.
“Most of the team will tell you that the reason they come back season after season is for the people; your coworkers become your family,” said Ryan. “And the benefits of the position are great. Free tickets, exclusive employee events, internship and scholarship opportunities and great discounts in the park. In addition, we now have higher rates and a summer bonus of $ 1,000 to which all Ambassadors are eligible. ”
At Peddler’s Village, McGowan said the staff shortage has forced the industry to cannibalize and knows he has to pay his staff more to retain them, which is good for the economy but has put a pinch on budgets. .
“We need people and can’t get them, but we’re not alone. I’m optimistic and I think in general things will work out,” McGowan said. “There is still a lot of work going on.”