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Hotels face challenging summer with labor shortage

Posted at 3:52 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 08:01:04-04

TWIN FALLS — Tourism is the fifth leading industry in Twin Falls and plays a significant role in the city's economy. Following a tough year due to COVID-19, Twin Falls has been experiencing waves of visitors from both in and out of state.

Although city officials and local businesses are happy to see such a spike in summer tourism, the hospitality industry is having trouble when it comes to finding staff, especially hotels which are experiencing record numbers of guests.

“People are having a hard time filling vacant positions," said Shawn Barigar, The President of the Chamber of Commerce. "Unemployment is at near-record lows here. A lot of people didn’t come back to the workforce after they left it, maybe in early COVID, that is really the biggest challenge.”

The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott is one of many hotels in the area struggling to fill vacant positions. The main problem they're facing is the number of employees that didn't return after the fall and winter and because of people who came to work for them and then decided to leave, realizing this is not what they want to do.

“During the pandemic, we got down to about 12 employees," said Curtis Hansen, the General Manager for the Fairfield Inn. "We went from 60 to 12, and now we’ve been working constantly to get back up. I kind of joke that, I’m like if we can ever get above 50 and hold for a few weeks, that would be amazing, but it’s just floating up and down.”

The hotel is in the process of having to rebuild its staff and still faces the daily workload of providing efficient services to its visitors. The staff has had to work longer hours, and the hotel has even adopted a new strategy called, "cross-training."

“Everyone from every department should be able to go in and do anything," said Hansen. "If I have to go to make beds, I will go make beds one day or clean more rooms. If we need help at the front desk, it’s training our sales department to go in and do that. It’s training our breakfast attendants and restaurant crew to be able to help out in different areas.”

For the month of July, the Vistors Center has nearly doubled the amount of their visitor count from the same period of time back in 2020 with over 19,000 people.

(The Chamber estimates those to be even higher since these numbers only account for people who have walked in and signed their names at the visitors center.)

“They’re not going overseas, they’re maybe not going to resort destinations," said Barigar. "It’s easy to get into your car and drive for 10 hours from around us and be here. The Denver flight certainly has helped. We’ve seen visitors coming from not only the Denver area but also the places that they connect through.”

From the hotel's side of things, they're seeing 94% occupancy for the summer months this year.

“Occupancy is growing each week, year over year, and we’re actually seeing some of the 2019 numbers,” said Hansen.

With still time left of the summer, officials anticipate tourists to still be heading to the area. The Fairfield Inn is continuing its work to try and hire more employees to meet the high demand of visitors.

“Job boards, we do referral bonuses for our employees if they recommend somebody they can earn a bonus," said Hansen. "As well we have done some retention bonuses, somebody comes in, stays for a while we give them a bonus for staying for 90 days to come in and really learn the job. Just creativity to keep them coming in.”