It took until June 2023 for employment in B.C.’s tourism industry to grow beyond where it was in June 2019 – before the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions on movement and travel brought tourism activity to a standstill.
For the first time since 2019, employment hit 355,500 people, according to statistics from Go2HR, the human resources and health and safety association for B.C.’s tourism and hospitality industry.
But as tourism demand rises post-pandemic, a shortfall of workers in all categories of the industry is restraining B.C. tourism from realizing its full business potential, according to experts.
“Jobs have rebounded compared to in 2020 when our workforce here in B.C. was almost cut in half because of COVID-19 … but it hasn’t been easy for employers to find workers,” said Krista Bax, CEO of Go2HR.
“Housing affordability really had a lot of impacts on the workforce and tourism and hospitality is no different because we have a lot of entry-level work,” she said. “[The] housing issue makes some regions very difficult for people to live and work in.”
Certain areas within tourism are lagging in terms of meeting labour needs as other industries compete to attract workers with the same skillsets. Demand remains acute for housekeeping jobs in accommodations, chefs and servers in the food and beverage industry and drivers in travel and transportation services.
“There are accommodators in hotels that only book out 80 per cent of their rooms because of the lack of housekeeping staff, and some businesses in food and beverage have kept their reduced hours, cut their lunch service or menu offerings, to manage their workforce availability,” said Bax.
There is also a lack of tour guides, resulting in fewer guided tours – especially for Indigenous tourism, an area that has been growing rapidly after the pandemic.
“There were a lot of growth projections.… We need to increase our workforce to be able to realize those growth opportunities, so while the employment numbers and the job numbers are similar to 2019, we may not be realizing the full business potential,” Bax said.
When nearly half of B.C.’s tourism workforce left the industry during the pandemic, they found jobs elsewhere – and some are not coming back, according to Philip Mondor, CEO and president of Tourism HR Canada.
“Those people that lost their jobs during the pandemic were displaced and went to other industries like health and social assistance, finance and public administration – they were very attractive to our workers,” said Mondor.
“Once you take on a new job and move and all the rest of it, you don’t just return easily.”
Mondor said as the number of tourists continues to rise, labour shortage has impacted B.C.’s ability to fully accommodate them, which slows down the pace of recovery and growth of the tourism industry.
“The economy has grown and the demand for tourism and particular tourism experiences and services has grown.… We are meeting 2019 [employment] levels, but we’re not meeting 2023-level demand,” he said.
The industry has taken action to attract talent. Tourism HR Canada recently launched DiscoverTourism.ca, a website to help people explore possible career pathways in tourism, and DiscoverIndigenousTourism.ca launched by Destination Indigenous late last month aims to connect job seekers with opportunities at Indigenous-led tourism businesses.
“As an industry, we need to be actively attracting new labour to our industry … and we need our businesses to adapt to the workforce of today to reflect inflation in terms of what workers are dealing with their day-to-day costs, but also reflecting different social values,” said Bax.
“There also needs to be available housing solutions in various communities – there are urban issues and there are rural issues, too.”
She added that local bylaws have sometimes prevented businesses from being able to build worker housing.