No experience, no CV, you’re hired! Hotels are fighting for staff

DOHA/LISBON/MADRID, July 4 (Reuters) – Top European hotel chains are hiring staff with no experience or even a CV, as executives admit years of underpaid staff have returned to meet post-pandemic travel demand.

Thousands of workers left the hospitality industry as international travel halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many chose not to return, finding better-paying employment elsewhere, leaving hoteliers with a desperate shortage.

Europe’s largest hotelier Accor (ACCP.PA) is running testing initiatives to hire people who haven’t worked in the industry before, chief executive Sebastien Bazin said in an interview with Reuters at the Qatar Economic Forum last month.

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Accor, which operates brands like Mercure, ibis and Fairmont in over 110 countries, needs 35,000 employees worldwide, he said.

“We tried it in Lyon and Bordeaux ten days ago and this weekend we have people with no CV and no previous work experience interviewed and they’ll be hired within 24 hours,” Bazin said.

Accor is filling short-term positions in France with young people and migrants while restricting services.

“They are students, people from North Africa,” said Bazin. “And basically restaurants close for lunch or (open) only five days a week. There is no other solution.”

The new recruits receive six hours of training and learn on the job, he said.

The labor shortage is particularly pressing in Spain and Portugal, where tourism accounted for 13% and 15% of economic output respectively before the pandemic.

There, hoteliers offer higher wages, free nights, and perks like bonuses and health insurance.

“Many employees have decided to move to other sectors, so we are creating an industry from scratch and we have to fight for talent,” Gabriel Escarrer, CEO of Spanish hotelier Melia (MEL.MC), told reporters in Madrid.

Recently, to attract employees, his company provided accommodation, sometimes in hotel rooms, due to the lack of rental housing near its resorts.

Smaller hoteliers face similar staffing challenges.

The operations manager of Hotel Mundial, one of Lisbon’s most famous hotels, said it is currently trying to hire 59 staff. He worries that some hotels without enough staff will reduce the number of guests and the range of amenities they can offer.

“If we can’t hire staff, we’ll have to cut our services,” he said. “This is unfortunate and dramatic for an industry that has had no revenue for the last two years.”

“WE WERE BLIND”

Across Spain and Portugal, two of Europe’s top tourism destinations, the scenario is repeating itself in bars, restaurants and hotels – the bookings they’ve been craving, but at a price they’re struggling to match.

Jose Carlos Sacó, 52, can only open his Madrid bar Tabanco de Jerez on weekends, when students who need extra money are out of classes and able to work.

“We can’t open during the week because we don’t have hands, they’re learning,” he said, gesturing toward his student staff setting up tables on a Saturday.

In Madrid’s vibey neighborhood of La Latina, Angosta Tavern owner Mariveni Rodriguez hired migrants for the high season.

“We give migrants the opportunity to work because they don’t have family or institutional support,” she said.

Spanish restaurants are short of 200,000 workers and Portuguese hotels need at least 15,000 additional workers to meet growing demand, according to national hospitality associations.

“The solution will certainly be to pay more,” said Jose Luis Yzuel of the Federation of Catering Services.

Attempts are being made to lure workers back. In Spain, bars and restaurants increased workers’ wages by almost 60% year-on-year in the first quarter, according to official data. But tourism is still the sector that pays workers the least, at around €1,150 ($1,200) a month.

In neighboring Portugal, salaries for hospitality workers are expected to rise 7% this year, according to a survey by the central bank and the National Institute for Statistics, but the average wage in the industry is €881 a month, above the €705 minimum wage .

Bazin said that while hotels are only at 60% or 70% occupancy, they can cope with staffing shortages, but the crisis comes when they’re fully booked.

“The problem I have is if I know we’re going to be 100% staffed between the beginning of July and the end of August, can I serve all the people?” he said.

In the past, the industry hasn’t paid enough or focused on staff development, Bazin said.

“Half of it is that we were blind, that we didn’t pay attention to a lot of people and also probably underpaid some people for too long,” he said. “So it’s a wake-up call.”

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Reporting by Andrew Mills, Corina Pons and Caterina Demony Editing by Matt Scuffham, Josephine Mason and Mark Potter

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