For most London businesses, customers are back but staffing remains a challenge

If overnight stays were the only metric to watch, Katie Hardie would be happy at the Delta London Armories Hotel, where she works in human resources.

After two summers hit by crippling COVID-19 shutdowns on conferences, sporting events and travel, things started to get back to normal this summer.

She said bookings were strong over the past week as the southwestern Ontario town hosted two major music events: the Home County Festival and Rock the Park.

« Things are going really well right now with our bookings, and we’re very happy to have customers back, » Hardie said.

And while the customers have returned, the same cannot be said for the staff.

Before the pandemic, the hotel operated with around 140 workers. At the moment they have around 110. As overnight stays increase this adds to the pressure on staff.

« I think there’s just a little bit of anxiety about going back to work, » she said. « It’s been pretty tough that way. »

Globally, thousands of workers in the hospitality industry changed careers during the darkest days of the pandemic. Few people would blame them as health orders, but shut down so many events that generate business for restaurants and hotels. Now that business is picking up, some owners say they are struggling to bring staff levels back to pre-pandemic levels.

« I’ve found that people are sometimes a little shy to go back to an industry that wasn’t stable at that time, » Hardie said. She’s even had applicants who either didn’t show up for available positions or accepted job offers only to turn them down before working their first shift.

Hardie said staff appreciation days and referral incentives have helped recruit and retain staff, but she would still like to have more workers on her roster.

Overnight stays are returning to normal at the London Delta Armories Hotel, but staffing levels are not quite where managers would like. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Mike Smith owns four bars and/or restaurants in downtown London, including Joe Kool’s, Fellini’s, Runt Club and Toboggan. His cash registers are ringing again, but he would like more employees to respond to the demand.

« Staffing is definitely one of the biggest challenges right now, » he said. “People retired or left during COVID and to fill that void, and it took time.”

Smith said some staff at his facilities have had to adapt to different roles to keep things running smoothly.

Elon Shatil, a member of the East Park management team, has a particular staffing challenge. He would like to have a few more lifeguards to cover the shifts at the water park. Across Canada, municipalities are facing a pressing shortage of lifeguards which, in some cases, is leading to the cancellation of swimming lessons. New lifeguards were not trained during the pandemic, which is now creating staffing issues.

« There’s just a shortage of lifeguards in general, » Shatil said. « We are lucky to have what we need, but it is certainly very tight. If there are lifeguards there, we would certainly be welcome to apply. »

Like many businesses, Shatil is facing supply chain issues – there is a global shortage of chlorine – but he said so far they have been successful in keeping the park open.

« It hasn’t been without its challenges, but we’ve been able to get what we need to keep our park open, » he said. « Admittedly, it has been more stressful than in the past. »


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