Lack of employees keeps Virginia hotels, restaurants from returning to full capacity

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 6:14 AM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - As Virginia inches closer to a post-pandemic world, one industry still struggling to bounce back is restaurant and hospitality.

A September survey of Virginia restaurants indicated four of five remained critically understaffed and nearly 80% of business didn’t have enough employees to meet demand.

“This is one of the most drastic issues we’re dealing with right now,” Jim Wilson, Vice President of Education and Workforce Development with the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, said.

He painted a bleak picture of hospitality industry.

“We’re having restaurants close down a couple days a week,” he explained. “We’re having hotels having to shut down entire floors because they don’t have staff to turn over rooms. So this is really the worst that we’ve seen it.”

And Virginia residents could feel this particular aftermath of the pandemic because of its effect on the tourism industry.

“Tourism brings economic impact to our region. It keeps our taxes low,” Catherine Fox, Vice President of Destination Development at Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, said.

She explained those tourism dollars go toward schools, infrastructure, police, fire and rescue, among other things.

“It’s just so important,” she said. “The more that we generate, the more we’re able to provide that money back to each of the localities.”

In 2019, the Roanoke Valley region was on track to reach $1 billion in the next 2-3 years, but the pandemic changed that trajectory drastically. There were also 81,000 employees working in the tourism industry in the valley alone.

Now, the region isn’t even close to that number after Virginia’s food and beverage industry fell 44% between February and April 2020.

“We know it could be ‘22-’23 before we really start to see the hospitality industry come back to the same levels we saw in 2019,” Fox said.

But people are starting to travel and go out to eat more frequently. The unexpected issue businesses are facing is the lack of staffing to handle a full return to normalcy.

“The employment is really critical as we get ready for the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas,” Fox said. “People are traveling. People are going to be headed to our restaurants, our hotels. So we really need to be up to a certain level.”

That’s where Virginia Career Works is stepping in to help by hosting a job fair Tuesday.

“One of the areas that has the best or most hiring needs in this area is the hospitality industry overall,” the one-stop coordinator Toni McLawhorn said.

She added pre-pandemic, this was not where the employment needs were, but it is now. And there is a plethora of diverse businesses participating in the event.

“We have hotels, motels, we have resorts of different kinds; some of the restaurant chains are going to be involved,” she said. “And actually the Salem Civic Center too because it is a form of entertainment and they have lots of opportunities as well.”

All this effort because hospitality and food services is a vital part of Virginia’s return to economic prosperity.

Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Job Fair

Businesses looking to fill immediate positions:

  • Boddie Noell Hardees
  • Comfort Inn Roanoke Civic Center
  • Daly Seven for Hilton Garden Inn South Peak (they also own Fairfield Inn by Marriott out in Hollins, so we’re checking to see if they also need to hire for that location)
  • Dominion Lodging
  • Downtown Roanoke, Inc.
  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites Roanoke Civic Center
  • Holiday Inn Tanglewood
  • Homestead Creamery, Inc.
  • Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
  • Rosie’s Gaming Emporium
  • Salem Civic Center
  • The Greenbrier
  • The Omni Homestead Resort

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