By Joe Baker, Tourism HR Canada Board Member
This article was originally published in STAY Magazine.
I was born into Canada’s hospitality industry. My grandfather was a hotelier and restaurateur. He owned and operated hotels and restaurants in Vancouver, B.C., in the early and formative years of my life. His was the generation that understood the intimate and interdependent relationship between hotels and restaurants. More pointedly, he understood the relationship between hoteliers and restaurateurs as collaborators in what he always described as the most exciting business in the world.
These days, from my vantage point, we are much more divided. We even argue over the identity of our broader industry: Are we hospitality? Are we tourism? Or are we merely businesses?
I believe we run the risk of creating greater divisions between those who own and those who operate.
But all is not lost.
To reflect on the present day is to feel and attempt to understand the anguish of labour-market pressure on the Canadian hotel sector. We’ve done studies, provided commentary and proposed solutions. But I’m not sure anyone has yet managed to gain enough perspective to understand the depth of the workforce crisis this industry is facing. And if we are being honest, this did not come as a surprise. Very much like climate change, we have all been witness to the slow depletion of one of our most essential and unrenewable resources—our people. This is not to paint an entire industry with the same brush. Many organizations and regions across Canada have done incredible work to recruit, retain and empower their talent. But we must consider human capital in our industry from a macro point of view. We have a problem. And it will not resolve itself.
In late September I was fortunate to attend the Ontario Snow Resorts Association annual conference. I spoke to three groups of resort leaders from varied levels and regions to help them cope with the recurring labour challenges affecting them all. I couldn’t come to the conference with a silver-bullet solution. I had no tricks or secret pools of talent they could rapidly tap into. Instead, I decided to help them develop their leadership practices in the hopes that they would build even more resilience—the strength and speed of their responses to adversity. What matters most is that leaders during times of disruption have the courage and capacity to stand tall, and the emotional intelligence to support the workers they already have as they rebuild their teams.
Reading the faces and hearing the sentiments from hotel industry professionals who remain engaged in their careers provided clarity on the impact this labour crisis is having on them from a mental health perspective, and a capped capacity perspective. But following the same approach with those hotel industry workers who—by their own volition or because of their employer—made an exit from the hotel workforce over the last 18 months, what is evident is that most of those who left the industry during the pandemic are deeply hurt.
No one should fault businesses that had to take drastic and evasive action to survive this global health crisis by laying off or terminating staff. Associations and industry leaders worked tirelessly to lobby governments for aid and sustainable support. But no amount of money or training, nor incentives, will reel a group of people back into an industry they feel they’ve been abandoned by. And, the recurring rhetoric suggesting that “affected workers would rather just stay home and collect government assistance than return to work” has only deepened the schism. This was, at our peak, a very hardworking workforce in a very demanding industry. Being accused of being lazy or entitled, with so little acknowledgment of systemic deficiencies and injustices in the industry, has only created more distance between workers and industry.
Where do we go from here?
We ought to think about the hotel industry labour crisis as akin to a very damaged relationship. We would be wise to recognize that there is no going back. Today, we are presented with the opportunity to not only build back better, but we must build back differently.
We need to get back to basics. Such as employing early talent strategies around making the hotel industry a destination for careers and career development; a more pronounced focus on people-first workplace cultures; developing our emotional intelligence and the emotional and social skills of our team members, such as empathy, which is a skill that we all need during this crisis.
For many at the top of the hotel industry, we arrived where we are because we started with an understanding of our passion. And we aligned that passion with opportunity. The industry needed passionate, career-minded hotel industry professionals then as much as we do now. Other industries have surpassed our value proposition for career decisions. Generally speaking, college and university enrolment in hospitality and tourism programs across Canada is in a state of steady decline. Even more so from the domestic student base. The alarm bells should be ringing. And the reimagining should be well underway. We need new solutions. We need new approaches.
I remain an optimist. I remain a big believer in the potential of building rich and rewarding careers in Canada’s hotel industry. Let’s learn from our recent past and grow towards a more positive, inclusive and diversity-rich future. Let’s learn from our long history. And let’s reinvent our workforce grounded as an industry of collaborators in what I’ve always described as “the most exciting business in the world.”
Tools and Resources
Human Capital and Early Talent Strategies
Tourism HR Canada is a pan-Canadian organization with a mandate aimed at building a world-leading tourism workforce. It facilitates, coordinates and enables human resource development activities that support a globally competitive and sustainable industry and foster the development of a dynamic and resilient workforce. The organization works with the industry to attract, train and retain valuable tourism professionals by giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed in their careers and entrepreneurial endeavours. They are a wealth of resources to help hotels with recruitment, retention and human capital strategies, including their newly launched Propel program. The Propel Student Work Placement Program offers tourism and hospitality employers access to up to $7,500 in wage subsidies when they hire a post-secondary student for work-integrated learning: an internship, a co-op placement, a work experience placement and more.
For more information visit:
Combining People and Profit Practices
Conscious Economics is a national not-for-profit organization and global social enterprise headquartered in Canada, with a 10-year history and proven track record in economic education, financial literacy programs, research, events and experiential learning. They have staged over 1,000 events that have gathered youth, business leaders, policymakers, change agents, educators, industry associations, charities and not-for-profits. While they engage with all communities, they maintain a specialized focus on vulnerable populations, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Women and Artists. They offer impactful programs focused both on people and profit.
For more information visit:
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is a global leader in the marketing and development of Indigenous tourism experiences. ITAC’s members are Indigenous-owned and controlled businesses from every province and territory in the country. Intentionally including Indigenous people as part of the hotel industry provides a wealth of leadership and growth potential.
For more information visit:
Joe Baker is a passionate leader within Canada’s tourism, hospitality and education sectors and a vocal advocate for a resilient, inclusive, future-forward industry. He is CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a human capital consultancy focused on strengthening hospitality and tourism organizations and people. Baker was dean at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts where he led the most significant transformation in the school’s over 50-year history. He serves on the board of directors at Tourism HR Canada, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario and is on the editorial advisory board for SUSTAIN Magazine.
Joe can be found everywhere @thejoebaker.