Many of Miami's hotels not facing previous worker shortage issues
By Scott E. Pacheco
Last year at this time, Miami was in the midst of a hospitality worker shortage & one that saw many hotels having to bring help from overseas to meet their needs.
They may not have the same problem this year as the global economy is in recession and foreign currency has lost strength on the dollar. But the wildcard is whether a significant increase in inventory will eventually make it more difficult for hoteliers to fill their jobs.
"We are starting to feel the impact" of a tightening economy, said Joseph J. West, dean of the Florida International University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
"Everybody is trying to work on controllable costs, and one of your more controllable costs is labor," he said. "Fixed costs are fixed; vendors aren't cutting you any breaks — they are running into the same problems you are.
"The only place you can save is in labor."
But with 3,000 new hotel rooms coming online at the end of this year among the Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, Ocean Beach, Epic and Viceroy, it's going to be "hard to say" what the effect will be on the workforce situation, said Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association.
"Everybody seems to have filled their positions and are fully employed," he said. "If anything, the situation with new rooms coming on-board — this has never happened before... It hasn't really settled in yet."
No worker shortage problem is shaping up, at least for some, said Kimberly Wilson, area general manager with Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay.
"We did all see (a shortage) last year," she said. "I don't think we see that this year because the needs are different. For now we are staffed efficiently.
"Last year we were all having to go international and find associates. Now we've gotten most of our positions filled."
Meredith Becker, account executive with Harrison & Shriftman, which represents the W South Beach Hotel, agreed.
On Monday, the W South Beach opened its Talent Center on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach to a "constant stream" of potential employees, she said.
In all, W South Beach was looking to fill about 270 positions Monday, while three third-party operators like Italian restaurant Serafina will add an additional 200-250, according to Ms. Becker.
"At this point there are no signs of thatů as of now there is no real shortage," Ms. Becker said, adding that the hotel expects to fill all of its positions — from housekeepers to accountants to managers — for its expected opening in May.
Part of the reason hotels had to recruit overseas was that many South Florida workers were unwilling to fill in-demand hospitality positions, such as dishwashers, housekeepers and front-desk workers, which forced many hotels — most of the local chains — to seek international workers through temporary work programs.
FIU's Mr. West said the demand for those positions has softened this year.
"There's still a demand for that employee that brings a value to that organization — a concierge, a chef," he said. "The marginal employees, that's the ones we are going to be looking at closely. There's still a job if you are" a good value.
That's a sentiment shared by Richard P. Millard, chairman and chief executive officer of Tecton Hospitality and Desires Hotels, which operates eight area boutique hotels, including the Sagamore, The Betsy, Hotel Astor, The Strand, Hotel St. Augustine and Wave Hotel.
"We've never had that much trouble with the labor market," he said, adding that Tecton's hotels are "busy" but that "our biggest hotel has 90 suites — a little bit of a different game" than the larger hotels play.
"With the new product in this marketplace, it [could be] a little more difficult to get more experienced people."