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Staffing tourism business not an easy task

April 1, 1997


Kathy Cobb Associate Editor

Staffing tourism business not an easy task

"We're having a hard time filling lower-paying jobs like housekeeper and groundskeeper, which are vital to our operation," says Richelle Kruse, owner of Kruse's Pinewood Lodge in Rhinelander, Wis., and another resort in nearby St. Germain. "We're paying up to $10 per hour, but still have trouble finding people. The public perception is that this is a demeaning job."

That is a misperception, says Donald Holecek, director of the Travel, Tourism and Recreation Resource Center at Michigan State University in East Lansing. "Travel and tourism is the world's largest employer and the wages overall are above minimum." But Holecek adds that entry-level jobs are generally the most visible.

Dean Runyan, principal of Dean Runyan Associates, Portland, Ore., an economic and marketing research firm working primarily in the travel industry, agrees. "The travel industry gets a bad rap partly because of low-skilled entry-level jobs," he says. "3M is good and Hilton is bad," is the perception, Runyan says. And while it may be true that 3M engineers earn more than Hilton housekeepers, Hilton and other travel businesses have lots of jobs for young people, women and minorities, Runyan adds. Most of those employees move on after some time, Runyan says, to more skilled positions in other industries or in better travel jobs. "The travel industry serves as a place in the American economy where there are entry-level jobs," Runyan says, "and the opportunities are good for the young and unskilled."

Tourism's share of jobs in Ninth District states ranks high: from 14 percent of Montana jobs tied to tourism, placing the state third nationally, to Wisconsin with 9.3 percent of the state's jobs tourism related. In addition, the number of tourism jobs has grown above the national average over the past six years: In Montana tourism jobs grew by 5.5 percent, more than double the national average. The jobs are there, but with unemployment in district states below the national average, filling those jobs is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in the service industries.

Gary Brown, president of the Best Western Town 'n Country Inn in Rapid City, S.D., says that a lot of tourism workers are looking for a secondary income or they're single parents. "So the question is what else can you offer besides high wages?" Brown suggests that medical benefits, day care and flexible schedules make the jobs more desirable.

William Gartner, professor and director of the University of Minnesota Tourism Center, agrees that benefits have to be offered, and suggests that small tourism operators can make these benefits affordable by forming associations to take advantage of group rates.

"I'm more concerned with skill levels. We can get around the problem of enough bodies," Gartner adds. Post-secondary education opportunities in travel and tourism are limited in the Ninth District, Holecek says.

The 1995 White House conference addressed education and training, with emphasis on the projected demand for new jobs, the changing job market and the importance of maintaining and improving the quality of service. Issue papers recommended creating an electronic catalog of federal government-sponsored, tourism-related training materials and encouraging national tourism associations and organizations to establish accredited tourism-related continuing education programs.

But Tom Nemacheck, director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association in Iron Mountain, Mich., isn't sure what the impact of more training opportunities might be. "We haven't seen small tourism operators willing to pay more if employees come with a degree," Nemacheck says. People who do have degrees will go to a larger operation where they can grow into other jobs. "There are more entry-level jobs in tourism, and they will always be a feeder to other jobs or as seasonal work," Nemacheck adds. There's no mix of employment in some communities to draw from, and a lot of employers don't want to pay the wages needed to draw workers, Nemacheck says. They want to keep labor costs low. At the same time, Nemacheck says, it's difficult to get people to stay when fast food chain restaurants pay $7.50 an hour in the cities while rural operations pay only $4.50. He adds that a U.P. ski resort that wanted to turn into a year-round attraction couldn't get the workers.

Wisconsin hopes to give more credence to tourism jobs through the Wisconsin Tourism Youth Apprenticeship Program that pairs high school juniors and seniors with tourism businesses to help students plan a career in the industry. The program was implemented in fall 1996 as part of Wisconsin's School to Work Transition Initiative.

Tourism links:
University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research
Travel Industry Association of America
World Travel and Tourism Council