FAU Poll Tells Disturbing Tale of Hospitality and Tourism Employment

By paul owers | 5/4/2021

The world’s battered hospitality and tourism industry has a long way to go to rebound from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey of workers conducted by Florida Atlantic University.

Roughly 70 percent of the more than 4,000 respondents felt COVID-19 would have a negative long-term impact on the industry, while 65 percent said they felt the industry did not protect its employees better than other sectors.

More than one-third of respondents indicated they would be seeking employment outside the industry over the next year. Meanwhile, desperately needed entry-level workers are more likely than not to leave the industry or their organizations, the poll showed.

Even as hotels, restaurants and other places of employment ramp back up to full staffing, they face a severe shortage of workers, and U.S. colleges and universities can expect a one- or two-year decline in hospitality and tourism enrollment, said Peter Ricci, Ed.D., director of FAU’s hospitality and tourism management program.

“These programs are the largest pipeline of future workers for the hospitality and tourism industry in America,” Ricci said. “For years, the industry has struggled with a public relations problem of long hours, low pay and demanding guests. Now those who work in the business have an even more tarnished image from the pandemic’s impacts. The industry needs more than just a PR campaign. It needs a full overhaul in its staffing levels, pay rates and employee treatment.”

FAU researchers Ricci, Soyoung Park, Ph.D., Anil Bilgihan, Ph.D., and Ye Zhang, Ph.D., conducted the survey in March and April, with responses coming from 46 countries, including all U.S. states and territories. Respondents made up all the major industry segments: lodging; food service; tourism and transportation; events; and leisure, recreation and sports.

In Florida alone, hospitality and tourism is a $111.7 billion annual business with about 1.5 million employees, according to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association trade group.

Results of the FAU survey mirrored those from a poll conducted by the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Respondents to the FAU survey said employers were too quick to fire or furlough them and that employers cared more about stock value than the workers themselves.

In March 2020, with COVID-19 starting to disrupt nearly every aspect of American life and many employees out of work, FAU decided to help hospitality workers continue their education by offering a free hospitality and tourism management certificate through the College of Business Executive Education department . More than 77,000 people worldwide registered for the certificate, which normally costs $900. 

“The overwhelming response showed that workers wanted to stay engaged during the pandemic,” Ricci said. “But the results of this poll clearly indicate that employees now are fed up and are looking at moving on to other industries. That’s a huge concern.”  

Ricci posts 500 to 1,000 entry-level to senior-management job openings a week. He said employers are desperate to attract talent, with some offering $500 signing bonuses for new employees as well as fast-track promotion opportunities.

Just prior to the pandemic, industry leaders were attempting to hold off on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, according to Ricci. Now the average starting wage for entry-level hotel workers has regularly surpassed that mark.

“The shortage in hospitality workers cannot continue if the industry is to sustain long-term growth and profitability,” he said.