The accelerated recovery in this industry in Puerto Rico is causing an increase in the demand for the labor force that many employers are trying to fill.
Although the record number of jobs in the tourism industry was surpassed in the past two years – with an increase from 85,000 to 94,000 people in the labor force and almost $126 million in occupancy tax collections – the truth is that the demand for labor is so high that there are nearly 17,000 vacancies in this sector that have yet to be filled.
This was stated in an interview with Primera Hora by the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC), Carlos Mercado Santiago, who noted that the number of jobs in the tourism industry for 2019 -prior to the pandemic- was about 85,000 people, which until then represented a historic figure.
Then came the challenges following the coronavirus crisis, causing cracks in the industry due to restrictions imposed between countries and at the trade level.
Nine months after the emergency began – by December 2020 – the Government calculated the loss in the contribution to the gross domestic product at 61%, while the year closed with 25% fewer passengers than had entered the island for 2019.
The outlook was bleak. By then, the projections in the PRTC’s Recovery Plan, were set for 2023.
“In 2019 we had a record number of employees in the tourism industry that hovered around 85,000 people in areas related to the sector ranging from lodging, restaurants, casinos, travel agencies, tour guides… in short, the entire ecosystem that depends on tourism.
Then came the pandemic in 2020 and there was a dramatic decrease, particularly between the months of March and August.
Many companies for obvious reasons had to let their staff go, limit operations and, although hotels never closed, there were many restrictions on the use of space and that affected a lot,” recalls Mercado Santiago.
On the other hand, as soon as the flexibilization began in 2021, a significant growth was evidenced in which even the numbers reached in the industry in its best moments were surpassed in almost all areas: entry of travelers, hotel tax collections and increase in short-term rental bookings, among others.
Government data show that last fiscal year ended with $126 million in hotel tax collections, an increase of over $10 million compared to the previous period.
In addition, passenger traffic at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport reached 11 million, an increase of 3.40% over last year. In fact, Mercedita Airport in Ponce and Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla also exceeded passenger traffic expectations.
These scenarios, together with the arrival of 15 new direct routes that increased the frequency of flights and resulted in the availability of half a million additional seats, meant an economic impact of $150 million in additional revenues for the Treasury.
However, the accelerated recovery brought with it a major challenge: recruiting employees to meet the high market demand.
“When the flexibilization began in that summer of 2020 little by little the situation improved and in the last 24 months we have seen a historic recovery.
At the Americas level only three destinations have been able to recover with numbers that are above what was pre-pandemic: Mexico, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
And that has caused an exponential increase in tourism activity that has led to the return of personnel who left at the beginning and even more employees have to be recruited in many areas,” said the official.
He determined that according to data from the local and federal Labor Department, the labor force for the summer of 2023 should be around 94,000 people.
“This is almost 10,000 above the record year, and with all that, since the demand is so high, we are 15% below the numbers we require to have an optimal offer,” said the PRTC director.
The base number of employees that Puerto Rico should have to offer services in all areas of tourism would be approximately 110,588 people.
If there are currently 94,000 in the labor force, that means there is a demand for 16,588 vacancies, which is a headache for employers because they are unable to fill their positions.
“The reality is that we see it every day when we go out to restaurants or inns… we see notices that they are looking for personnel,” Mercado Santiago said, indicating that there must be close to 300 hotels of all categories on the island with around 15,000 rooms. Meanwhile, it is estimated that there are between 18,000 to 20,000 short-term rental units.
Given the need for employees in the tourism market, the president of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA), Clarisa Jiménez, called on those interested in working in the sector to send their resumes to the organization so that they can be distributed to the human resources offices of the various partners they represent.
Among the employers that are part of PRHTA are hotels, casinos, restaurants, airlines, transportation companies, attractions, tour operators, suppliers of goods and services in the hospitality industry, among others.
“While it is true that tourism has grown a lot, it is also true that we have a lot of need and we are short in many areas because this is an industry that, unlike others, depends on the physical presence of the human factor. That’s why we want to get the message out that there are opportunities in different areas and around the island. These are good jobs with good pay,” Jiménez emphasized.
Uniform laundering, English classes and free meals are attractive employment opportunities
Among the employers that have 109 vacancies (part-time and full-time) available is the El Conquistador Resort hotel in Fajardo, where since 2019 they have been trying to recruit through job fairs held at the facilities or accepting applications on Tuesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. “There are opportunities in different areas ranging from the hotel to the hotel,” said Jiménez.
“There are opportunities in different areas ranging from food and beverage managers to office employees for sections such as human resources to waiters, bartenders, housekeeper or people for cleaning pools,” explained Olga Martinez spokeswoman for Human Resources of the hospedería, clarifying that speaking English and Spanish is required only in some positions so language is not a barrier to work in the company.
She said that one of the main challenges they face is that the potential employees they interview are discouraged, for example, if the job opportunity is at night. “But we have to understand that we are a company that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he emphasized.
As an attractive measure they have resorted to offering benefits such as medical plan (in full-time jobs), concession of some holidays and retirement plan, among others.
“We have many activities with the employees and there are other attractions, apart from the salary, such as a free meal a day in the cafeteria or discounts in hotels,” added Martínez.
The Wyndham Rio Mar (Río Grande) and Wyndham Palmas (Humacao) hotels have the same competitive recruitment scenario, according to Mariemma Sánchez, human resources spokeswoman for the hotels.
“The panorama is well aligned with all the crises that all industries are going through, especially those in services such as restaurants, food and beverages… there really aren’t enough personnel to meet the demand we have,” Sánchez explained.
He added that right now there are about 60 positions available in Rio Grande and another 10 in Humacao.
“To counteract the challenge we are very aggressive with recruiting by improving the offerings, not only with salaries and fringe benefits, but also with other extras such as, for example, we give free breakfast and lunch to employees. If you quantify that benefit it’s about $20 in daily savings.
In addition, we offer uniform laundering and provide computer and English classes. In terms of entertainment, we offer the use of tennis courts and the two golf courses, subject to availability. And all this is totally free of charge.
These are strategies we have used to attract candidates for these vacancies,” said Sanchez, indicating that the current work force consists of 760 in Rio Grande and 110 in Humacao.
Even so, the main problem is that job prospects do not show up for work when they are hired.
“Offers are made, interviews are conducted and people don’t show up. It’s what we call ghosting and we are seeing that a lot in these job scenarios… we have had to solve that situation with three to four job fairs we do during the year and we resort to hiring summer jobs for the summer to minors with their parents’ permission. We did it because we need people,” he said, noting that many of the prevailing positions are in the food and beverage area.
“Another strategy is bonuses. We have been giving bonuses to cooks for two years because it is a very difficult position. I give them $1,000 when they complete the first 30 days and if they complete six months they get $1,000 more,” he said, adding that available positions are on the website wyndhamriomar.com/careers.
Lear more about: Employment