See You in September? Strategies for Staffing the Shoulder Seasons

While many tourism businesses operate year-round, others are seasonal by nature of what they offer: golf courses, ski resorts, beachside cafés, ice hotels. Entire communities can double in size over the summer or winter as visitors descend to enjoy the sun, surf, or snow.

As tourism grows worldwide and Canada seeks to boost its visitation, these seasonal businesses are looking for opportunities to extend their operations into the spring and fall. Some, however, find there are barriers to doing so. The biggest: people to work.

At its root, the issue is two-fold:

  1. Current seasonal labour consists primarily of students, who cannot work beyond Canada’s busiest season, summer.
  2. Labour that could work into the shoulder seasons is snapped up by year-round businesses.

Further complicating matters are factors such as:

  • Housing shortfalls
  • Off-season reductions in infrastructure and amenities to support staff: transportation, groceries, retail, etc.
  • Burnout after a busy peak season
  • Employment insurance or social assistance programs
  • Work permit limitations for international staff
  • Climate change making seasons more difficult to predict and causing disasters such as floods and forest fires

A key component of the Federal Tourism Growth Strategy, finding ways to extend the tourist season across Canada was also a main topic of discussion at Tourism HR Canada’s Labour Market Forum this year.

Tourism stakeholders presented a range of innovative ideas. The underlying themes were finding ways to keep students past Labour Day and attracting other sources of labour. Retirees, for example, may have plans to head south once the snow flies, but could be looking for casual employment in the spring and fall. Newcomers arrive year-round and are keen to acquire Canadian work experience.

Based on this national feedback, below are some strategies for seasonal staffing:

  • Adjust product offerings: Students may be able to work in the shoulder seasons if their tasks are reduced from the busier summer schedule. As the number of tourists lessens, look at keeping only a curated portfolio of products or services. Connect with those who study locally and see if arrangements can be made to keep them on a more limited schedule. Consider incentives for those who extend their seasonal employment: bonuses, benefits plans, training, discounts or freebies, etc.
  • Connect with area schools: Demand for hands-on learning continues to increase, leading to co-op programs at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Reach out to these schools to see if there are opportunities to link up. They may also have international students looking for Canadian work experience.
  • Communicate with serving agencies: Organizations that try to help specific demographic groups find employment have clients who are seeking a foot in the door to build skills and gain work experience. Tourism may not be top of mind off-season, so ensure they know there are jobs available in the spring and fall. They may even have programs that help to subsidize wages.
  • Partner with other businesses—tourism or beyond: Depending on location, on the mobility of staff, and on transferable skills, explore whether businesses needing staff in the opposite season wish to collaborate to turn seasonal work into full-year work. This predictability and security would help attract a different demographic of worker and lead to higher retention rates.
  • Network nationally or even internationally: Tourism offers the opportunity to work around the world. Building connections amongst who employ international staff such as those in the International Experience Canada program could lead to a partnership to make it easier for these working travellers to find jobs and for tourism employers to hire them. Reaching out to organizations that help these individuals apply for the program in their home countries could give employers a jump on incoming job seekers.
  • Establish a community tourism strategy: If a seasonal inn seeks to attract visitors for the fall colours, but the local museum, the outfitters, and many restaurants are closed as of Labour Day, it’s going to be difficult to ensure the full tourist experience. A coordinated, regional tourism plan that includes labour and housing considerations will make sure all the pieces are in place to provide a memorable visit.

Looking for more on seasonal staffing? Read on.