By Dale J. Venturini, President & CEO, RI Hospitality Association
It is really hard to believe that we are closing in on the two-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some are more comfortable that the virus is largely contained, others are still fearful, and we cannot ignore the lasting effects this public-health crisis has had on how we live our lives.
From continued mask-wearing and social-distancing, to avoiding crowded public places and being hyper-aware of every cough, sneeze and sniffle you hear, everyone is learning how to be “normal” again. The same can be said for the hospitality and tourism industries and their workers and patrons.
As restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions work to instill consumer confidence in the safety and enjoyment of their offerings, there is still a large contingent of consumers who have not returned to their pre-COVID rituals and routines in an effort to limit their potential exposure to the virus, and there are a host of additional factors that are making a robust sector return incredibly challenging.
Adequate staffing continues to affect nearly every industry, from hospitality and tourism, to retail, medical, law enforcement and more. People are quitting their jobs at higher rates than in any time in recent history, and despite attempts to incentivize and attract workers, the issue persists.
For a public-facing industry such as ours, the pandemic poses a particularly difficult problem to solve. We cannot make the virus go away, and despite our best attempts to curb its spread and ramp up our hygiene and sanitization efforts, we cannot quell the fears that many prospective and existing industry workers still have.
Coupled with staffing shortages is the concerning rate of inflation which has steadily risen in recent months. From disrupted supply chains to rising labor costs, rent and inventory pricing, business owners are spending money they do not have, just to stay open.
If costs continue to skyrocket, though, many of these businesses will find themselves in unsustainable business models. Loyal customers are thinking twice about what they deem to be “frivolous” spending, and operators are spending more money to run businesses that make less revenue than they did two years ago.
Our industry has a big challenge heading into 2022. After an exhausting two-year stretch, how will we lay the foundation to build a recovered hospitality industry despite not having the requisite building materials?
What is the barometer of success for the hospitality industry in 2022?
In my mind, it is first comprised of economic relief through the federal government that will allow restaurants, hotels and other industry businesses to stay afloat despite rising operating costs. Next, we need to solve the supply-chain issue; it is affecting every aspect of how we do business right now. Finally, bolstering our workforce through training, education and incentivization is vital to our industry’s success. With vaccination rates inching higher and higher, and the spread of the virus slowing down, it is my hope that jobseekers begin to turn to our industry again for meaningful, flexible and rewarding career opportunities.
While our profit margins may be lower than in years past, our morale should be higher than it has been at any point during the pandemic.
A new year is coming, and with it comes the opportunity to restore and strengthen our industry. 2021 was a learning year; there were points of progress and unexpected setbacks, but I hope we can leverage the lessons learned to 2022, the year we truly turn things around.
A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.