Hotels across the United States are looking for employees. Why isn’t this an issue in San Antonio so far?

Tourism is returning in the United States, but hotel workers in many destinations are not.

But in San Antonio, the hospitality workforce is actually larger than it was before the pandemic, and some hoteliers say they haven’t seen any negative impact on their employees.

Like across the country, San Antonio hotels and resorts have learned how to operate with leaner staffing models during the pandemic. Now, three years later, coronavirus-era bandaids like self-service kiosks and reduced frequency of housework have become the norm for many companies trying to cope with rising labor costs and permanent vacancies.

Related: San Antonio’s hospitality industry is inching closer to pre-pandemic levels.

Hotel companies are now increasingly using artificial intelligence to automate tasks such as contactless check-in, reservations, and in-room ordering, and to bridge workforce gaps.

Alexi Khajavi, president of hospitality, travel and wellness at Questex, told Bloomberg. But “there’s also the simple fact that they don’t think labor issues will be resolved anytime soon.”

Hiring wasn’t as difficult in San Antonio, as occupancy rates at hotels near downtown and the airport remained below pre-pandemic levels during the tourist season.

in san antonio

The San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area had 146,900 leisure and hospitality workers in August, up from 142,400 in the same period in 2019, according to the Texas Labor Commission. Increased by 3%. However, the sector’s share of the region’s total labor force declined from 13.2% to 12.7%. The number of employees across the state increased from 1.4 million to 1.5 million.

At the downtown Hilton Palacio del Rio, general manager Robert Thrylekill said there are few positions to fill, in part because business has been slower than usual this summer.

“The (job openings) we have are the kinds of things you would typically see anyway,” he said, referring to jobs that have long been difficult to hire, such as housekeepers and dishwashers. .

After laying off employees due to poor business performance during the pandemic, hoteliers scrambled to rebuild their workforces as travel boomed in the wake of the health crisis. Many workers have left for higher-paying, less demanding jobs in other industries, and hotels have raised wages to lure them back.

Related: San Antonio vacationers are back, but hotels downtown and near the airport have yet to recover

Safet Dokara, general manager of Hotel Valencia in downtown San Antonio, said he noticed a change this spring. Although the number of job applications increased significantly, he attributed some of this change to fewer jobs in industries such as retail and construction.

“It’s much easier to not only find candidates, but to find good candidates,” Dokara said.

Dokala said he does not intend to fill many positions because the hotel is not very busy. Americans flocked to Europe and other international destinations this summer, he said. San Antonio’s extreme temperatures have also kept some tourists away, and conferences and gatherings have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“They were overseas this year,” he said.

However, Dokara expects business to pick up next year.

Las Vegas shortage

As the market heats up, we face bigger challenges. Nowhere in the United States is this impact more evident than in Las Vegas, where one in four people work in the leisure and hospitality industry. The city’s lodging industry is short of more than 17,000 workers, and despite employment growth in other industries, the city’s unemployment rate remains at 6.1%, one of the highest in the country. Highest among metropolitan areas.

Hospitality technology is on display throughout Las Vegas. At major hotels, self-check-in or mobile entry allows guests to access their rooms with little human intervention. At resorts like the MGM Grand, drink vending machines mix cocktails. And robots named Elvis and Priscilla are delivering rooms at the Renaissance Marriott International.

Distrust of new technology and cost-cutting measures was one reason the culinary union approved a strike on Tuesday that could affect more than 30 casinos and hotels. The contract covering 40,000 of the union’s members has just expired.

In recent years, with the spread of drink vending machines, an increasing number of bartenders are looking for new jobs. Starting at about $40,000, businesses can get a Smart Bar USA automatic dispensing machine fully installed and with employees trained to use it.

Related: New study: Hotel guests are more willing to let AI make decisions about their stay

This machine can serve drinks quickly with the help of less bartenders. But union server officials argue the machines require maintenance and monitoring, which means they have to balance more tasks. The machine might get jammed or not be able to process the orders she placed, which could put her in a tough situation with a customer, for example.

The service robot industry is expected to reach $216 billion by 2030, as the talent shortage accelerates the need to automate processes such as customer service and cleaning, according to research firm GlobalData.

The growth is occurring as hotels increasingly rely on AI-powered tools to increase efficiency and revenue while reducing the need for staff.

Recent cyberattacks on MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment demonstrate that advances in technology can come with new challenges. The attack disrupted MGM’s website, reservation and payment systems, as well as some of the casino’s slot machines.

Service reduction

However, many hotels have simply reduced their guest service offerings, such as reducing the frequency of cleaning and shortening front desk, bar, and pool hours. According to a recent survey, more than one in four hoteliers say their hotel front office functions will be phased out within the next five years.

From longshoremen to screenwriters, employees have long sacrificed their jobs to prevent new technology and cost-cutting techniques from being introduced. Just last week, the United Auto Workers union launched an unprecedented strike against the nation’s three largest automakers. The pandemic required a new approach for hotels, but as these policies continued, employee hostility increased.

“Companies are taking advantage of the pandemic, not just here in Las Vegas, but across the country,” Ted Papageorge, secretary and treasurer of the Culinary Union, told Bloomberg. “We’re seeing these big companies try to eliminate labor and replace it with technology, or simply cut back on service and change guest behavior to deliver service.”

Nationally, many hotels say they are trying to increase their staff numbers, but without much success. A May survey by the American Hotel and Lodging Association found that 82% of hotels are understaffed, particularly in the cleaning department. Poor housekeeping is common in San Antonio.

Labor leaders say such shortages were not seen before the pandemic. And while the culinary union’s latest contract included protections such as free retraining on new technology, not all hospitality workers in Las Vegas are unionized. Looking more broadly, less than 3% of leisure and hospitality workers nationwide were union members last year.

Related: More rooms at Pearl: 151-room hotel planned for rapidly redeveloping area across the San Antonio River

San Antonio has at least one local union affiliated with a division of the Service Employees International Union, but its membership and union location are unknown.

Looking ahead, more hotels are expected to be built in San Antonio, adding approximately 3,600 hotel rooms from 2018 to 2022, and lodging jobs are expected to recover. Currently, many hotels in downtown and nearby areas have recently opened or are under construction. Earlier this year, about a dozen hotels were under construction or in the planning stages downtown alone.

Their recruitment could make the reality of employment in the city even harsher.

“What we now realize is that, structurally speaking, we are still woefully short of the amount of jobs we need,” Questtex’s Kajabi said.

Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

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