I meet a lot of tourism businesses in the course of my work. Normally, when I speak to owners and managers of large and small businesses they’ll ask to pick my brain on marketing topics. Over the last year, this has changed.
Everyone’s still interested in marketing, but they have a more urgent question to answer: how to get more staff?
There have been days when I’ve almost become convinced I’d make my fortune running a tourism and hospitality job agency. Until I remember that to do that you need a) vacancies and b) people…
Permanent staff, temporary staff, full-time, part-time, senior staff, skilled and unskilled labour – they’re all in serious demand in Yorkshire at the moment.
We could debate the reasons for this but that’s not necessarily going to change anything. And we need change - fast. I know of numerous businesses that have closed for lack of staff. Imagine that – visitors and customers wanting to spend their money in our area, but unable to do so because there’s no one there.
Who is going to do something about this?
I’m not sure anyone within any kind of official body is addressing this issue immediately. There’s talk of the odd strategy or piece of research. None of it feels particularly grounded or likely to have any results this year.
Who could do something about this? Are there any proactive, strategic, and practical ‘official’ bodies out there who are dealing with this? I haven’t found any.
I really do think the only answer is DIY, although not alone. Collaboration between businesses is essential. I’m not sure that it will be easy to find solutions but some ideas are already being discussed. We’re meeting soon to take them further.
Some possible practical solutions?
Each individual business currently advertises their own vacancies. This will no doubt need to continue but when it comes to raising awareness of the range of opportunities offered by a career in tourism, a more collaborative approach might be more time and cost-effective. Maybe a collaborative online vacancy board might help. The media traditionally treats tourism as a low-income-only industry. It might not be the highest paying industry but it's more economically rewarding than farming, and some manufacturing.
There are other non-financial rewards for those working in the industry, particularly if they like meeting people or spending time in beautiful places. A combined PR & social media campaign to raise awareness of Yorkshire as a good place to live and work is needed.
We also need to be better at demonstrating the opportunities to progress within the industry. These have never been so good - show your ability as a waiter, be reliable and you could be managing a restaurant in no time.
We need to use stories of success to build more success. Many young people just don’t realise the opportunities available to them through tourism. Their school careers advisors may have dismissed the industry as low-pay-long-hours. Few recognise the rapid promotion prospects. One multi-award-winning hotel owner recently told me how the local girl originally recruited as a waitress is now their general manager – all achieved within a few years.
Many tourism staff move around quite frequently, seeking career progression and assuming they have to move in search of blight lights and city living to get better jobs, even if that isn’t their preference. That may not be necessary. We’re looking at how we might create a more collaborative training and recruitment 'labour pool' to retain staff within the area, but still give them career progression. Individual businesses may not be able to offer this on their own, but by joining forces they can.
Many older people retire here and want to meet new people. They may have taken early retirement from quite stressful jobs but they're not really ready to retreat from the world and not be productive in some way. I know several who are less worried about how much they earn - they just want to feel useful and part of a community. They're even happy to work weekends. When I suggest working in hospitality and tourism, they're always surprised. They thought they wouldn't be welcome, and that such jobs were only for younger people. We've got some work to do to change that. Many would be delighted to be given the opportunity to keep active and meet a wide range of people.
Of course there are practical issues to consider. Availability of public transport and local accommodation are also necessary. We’re looking at those, and considering some very simple ground-up solutions.
All of these possible angles are strategic, and yet rooted in practicality. We could start to implement them pretty quickly and at low cost. Informal collaborations may prove easier to develop than complex structural arrangements.
These ideas may not work, but surely its better to try them immediately than to wait until more doors close
I've worked in tourism marketing for over 30 years, developing strategies & practical solutions for accommodation, attractions, activity providers, food & drink businesses. These are some of the tourism industry issues I'm concerned about. I'm writing here about Yorkshire but most of the issues are relevant elsewhere.