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Recruitment crisis in Brighton’s tourism and hospitality industry

The UK Tourism Alliance has announced the results of a nationwide tourism employment survey, writes Nick Mosley.

As the country comes out of lockdown and the hospitality and tourism sectors reopens, employers across the country are reporting significant and ongoing issues in the recruitment and retention of staff.

According to the Tourism Alliance research based on 500 national employers of all sizes, 46% of businesses have less staff than they did pre-Covid with only 18% reporting that they have all the staff they need.

This is even though 30% of businesses have reduced trading capacity, services or hours because of the shortage of staff. Many businesses are needing to offer higher wages to gain new employees and keep their current ones.

“Despite restrictions such as social distancing and capacity reducing the financial viability of businesses, 34% of all operators report that they are having to increase wages in order to attract staff”, said Kurt Janson of the UK Tourism Alliance.

Brighton Palace Pier is one of the largest tourism employers on the south coast. General manager Anne Ackord has also identified that staffing has become the attraction’s biggest challenge.

“There is a shortage of staff and its crippling”, said Anne. “We are offering packages that allow staff wages to increase but critically this has to be skills-based incentive pay: the more you learn, the more you earn”.

“Just paying higher wages to attract people is a dead end if there isn’t a career path allied with skills enhancement and – importantly – recognition of these skills”.

Trade groups including UK Hospitality – the national trade body for restaurants and hotels – say that Covid has significantly compounded the structural impact of Brexit. With the closure of hospitality and tourism businesses – and significant numbers of businesses not willing to use the government furlough scheme for low paid workers – significant numbers of those previously working in the industry have returned to the EU to be closer to the security of their home countries.

In an about-turn, Brexit-backing Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin was quoted in the Daily Telegraph this week that he was keen to see a more “liberal” visa scheme for workers to tackle the staffing shortfall, with neighbouring countries treated preferentially.

The issue now is that workers from the EU are no longer entitled to live and work in the UK, leaving a gaping hole in the contemporary workforce. The UK’s new immigration criteria states that to obtain a general work visa, an employee must have an annual wage of at least £25,000 and be sponsored by a licensed organisation for up to six years. Whilst the industry offers flexible working and an engaging working environment that is particularly attractive to young people, entry-level wages are often lower than in other sectors of the economy and individuals regularly move between businesses as their career progresses.

“Our industry isn’t considered ‘skilled’”, continued Anne. “It’s not easy to get EU employees on whom we have relied in the past as there are no visas”.

“British people don’t see hospitality as a career and whilst we the industry have to play our part going forwards in changing this image, we need support from Government to allow us access to other sources of staff”.

With 35% of businesses relaying to the UK Tourism Alliance that they are having to employ people who don’t have the skills that their business needs, the skills-gap will impact not only employers but also consumers who have come to expect a certain level of service at a certain price. Ultimately higher wage costs for employers will be passed on to customers.

“For too long, the hospitality industry has been seen as something to dip in to during term time holidays or a for a work visa”, said Gavin Stewart, chief executive of the Brighton Business Improvement District that represents many retailers and hospitality businesses in the city centre.

“The truth is that there are strong career pathways where individuals can flex their skills and really shine”.

“From customer service to CEO level, hospitality is the people person’s industry. The sooner Government invests in the power of well-trained individuals, who are pivotal in businesses being able to secure return bookings, the sooner the whole industry can elevate and be a real win-win for the UK.”

Anne from Brighton Palace Pier agrees that now is the time for industry, government and educational providers to be working closely together to secure the future success of UK tourism and hospitality. As tourism contributes £800-900 million annually to the economy of Brighton, getting this right is critical for the success of the city as not only a place to visit but also to live, work and study.

“As an industry we should not be competing with each other for staff by offering 10p an hour more but should be collaborating on how we attract great people into a great industry and how we reward those people”, said Anne.

“We can get great support from further education colleges like Greater Brighton Metropolitan College and we need to be knocking loudly on their door saying this is what we need. I know they are keen to support us, they just need to know how they can help best”.


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