Niagara-on-the-Lake's hotels are hiring and gearing up for what will hopefully be a busy summer, as people resume travelling.
Bob Jackson, chief executive officer of Vintage Hotels, says the company is hiring about 300 people to prepare to meet the anticipated demand among travellers, especially people staying close to home this year.
“We're expecting a good season. Obviously demand is strong, a lot of pent-up demand. So, on that side, it's good. Our challenge, like everybody else, is on the staffing front.”
The hotel company hosted a job fair in St. Catharines recently, but Jackson said those types of events draw fewer and fewer people every year. The company almost never stops hiring, he said. And while job fairs used to bring out hundreds of people, he said now it's more like dozens.
“On the good side, you're generally hiring the majority of those,” he said.
“You're never going to stop looking for people. That's always been the norm in our business regardless, but certainly at this point in time, it's become a larger challenge.”
The company operates the Prince of Wales, Queen's Landing, Moffat Inn and Pillar & Post in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
He said in general the hotels are in a better position this year with hiring, looking at hopefully a more stable season without being back and forth between opened and closed.
COVID-19 “continues to be a challenge for the business,” he said. “But for the most part, we'll be in good shape. You kind of make your plans around that and we'll be good to go.”
Jackson said one challenge is that the pandemic cut down the work force numbers, but he said Vintage Hotels planned for that and would normally be hiring about the same number of positions as in past years.
The hotel firm also is looking at options through the foreign workers program to bring in additional staff — something the company did historically about 10 years ago, but haven't been able to do since.
“We're getting some help from the government who just recently loosened restrictions on the foreign workers program,” he said.
“We're optimistic that we'll be able to bring some people through that avenue.”
Jackson said while it's not a normal year for hiring, “but in terms of the operation itself, I think it'll be close to normal.”
“There's many things that could happen along the way. We don't expect any major interruptions to business. But there could be a hiccup or two. I think, if the last couple of years has taught us (anything) it's to be very agile when it comes to that kind of stuff.
The company is hiring lots of different positions, Jackson said, including various levels of kitchen staff, housekeeping and management.
Right now Vintage also is focused on finding more flexible job options.
“As an employer and like a lot of employers are doing, we're we're looking at ways to become more flexible to people and bring people on that want to perhaps move around in the organization and not be committed to either one hotel or one department but kind of grow their skill base and grow what they're exposed to,” he said.
That includes basic things like shift selection and days off and the times that people work, he said.
“Sick days, for example. A lot of it, honestly, it's a bit of an experiment to see what people want because this is a job-seekers' market and we have always aimed to be a top employer,” he said.
“That has never been more important, whether that's on the wage or benefit but also just in terms of the experience. When you're coming in to work every day you want to enjoy the time that you're spending there.”
Looking to the summer, Jackson says demand is “very strong,” especially in southern Ontario and the GTA. Even some corporate clients are returning, but in smaller groups.
“There is a strong demand to get away,” he said.
“We have to look back now to 2018-2019 to see how we're tracking and we're not quite there, but we're getting there in terms of the demand. On the corporate side, that always trails any kind of recovery. But I would say that it has been a little bit better than we expected.”
He said the traffic is still different, with fewer American travellers. But it's balancing out.
“You're still not seeing the American traveller. We want them back whenever we can, but with the kind of surge in demand on the Canadian side, and plus a bit of an apprehension still to not travel too far, it probably balances things out,” he said.
As things open up wider, he hopes more American guests will return.
At the moment, the hotels generally have capacity on weekdays, but are close sold out on weekends, he said.