Filling Manatee-Sarasota hotels with guests isn’t an issue. Manatee County just had a record-breaking visitation year that generated $12.4 million in bed taxes compared to $11.7 million in the previous year. But stocking hotels with dependable, enthusiastic employees isn’t as easy.
On Tuesday, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, the Sarasota Bradenton Hotel Committee and both county tourism agencies will team to host a job fair at USFSM from 2-5 p.m. In three hours, hoteliers from the area hope to drum up a new pool of hospitality employees at a critical time for the industry. The heaviest part of Florida’s tourist season, typically known as the period between January and May, is fast approaching.
And while demand is always high for hospitality workers at this time of year, hoteliers worry more this year because of the more than 1,000 hotel rooms coming online in Sarasota-Manatee within the next two years.
1900Hospitality jobs added in the Manatee-Sarasota area during the past year
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“It’s like the perfect storm,” said Rob Ferguson, director of corporate sales for Kinsman Hotel Associates in Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch. “Rather than all of the new hotels stealing from all of the old hotels, we thought it might be advantageous to have a job fair and get a new workforce into the hospitality industry.”
He estimates the new hotels, which include the Zota Beach Resort, the Waterline Marina Resort and Beach Club, a new Hyatt Hotel, a Homewood Suites next to The Mall at University Town Center and an Embassy Suites in downtown Sarasota, to name a few, will need to fill 500 to 800 positions.
“That might be shooting high,” he said. “But for a limited-service hotel, you need about 75 people. It adds up.”
The demand for dedicated hospitality talent makes for a competitive job market in all of Florida, where tourism is the top economic driver. The talent pool shortage has driven wages up and motivated workers to shop around for the best job deal. The wages were stagnant for a while, Ferguson said, but he’s had to raise wages to keep employees.
“When you came in as a typical housekeeper you were making $9 (hourly) and the front desk was making $10 (hourly) and now all of a sudden they’re getting bit up so we have to pay more to keep them,” he said.
Robyn Price, the regional director of sales for Ocean Properties Hotel Resorts & Affiliates, which owns the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Bradenton, said she’s seen employees move to states north of Florida for higher wages. It’s a generally accepted fact in the industry that wages in northern states are higher, though Florida has other benefits such as the lack of a state income tax.
“We are trying to drive that (wages) by keeping the hotel filled and keeping the banquet staff working,” Price said. “We want more business to come to the area.”
Anthony Gagliano, the director of business services at local job agency CareerSource Suncoast, said hospitality in the Manatee-Sarasota area is growing faster than the state sector. It’s also the third-fastest growing industry in the area.
“It’s certainly growing and that means there’s more competition and a shrinking labor pool,” Gagliano said.
Gagliano said education and health is the fastest growing industry in the area at 7.4 percent (3,700 jobs in the past year), followed by business services at 7.2 percent (3,000 jobs).
We could hire someone with a great skill set but if they can’t say hi to every person who walks by them or they can’t open a door for someone because they’re too busy, well, you know, we’re all really busy, but the guests always come first. The acknowledgment, the friendliness; that’s first.
Kelly Ann Dixon, the director of sales and marketing at the Hampton Inn & Suites downtown Bradenton
The fair is open to anyone in the hospitality industry, including a few Sarasota Manatee Originals restaurants. If the event is successful, it could become an annual event, Ferguson said.
While they’re competing with each other for potential employees, all area hoteliers agree they all work to help each other succeed.
“I don’t want a guest I had to turn away to go to another property and have a terrible experience, because it reflects on me,” said Kelly Ann Dixon, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Bradenton Hampton Inn & Suites. “So we all want everybody to be successful and it’s a friendly competition. When it comes to employees, we all work together and try to create a great atmosphere as a destination.”
If you go
What: Hospitality job fair for housekeeping, maintenance, front desk, cooks, servers and other hotel/restaurant positions
Where: University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail
When: Tuesday, 2-5 p.m.
Bring: Resumé, copy of state identification or driver’s license, wear professional attire