HR Practices

By Joe Baker, Tourism HR Canada Director

During critical moments in our personal and professional lives, there is tremendous value in becoming aware of exactly what’s unfolding in front of us so we can dial up a fitting response to adversity. This is a life lived through adaptability—a skill key we have all developed over the last couple of years, but also one built into our DNA as modern-day global wanderers.

The talent challenge presently facing Canada’s tourism and hospitality industry, including at the management and executive level, is a genuinely wicked problem. A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for many reasons including incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.

Complex Problems, Comprehensive Solutions

Crafting a single solution to a problem as complex and nuanced as our current talent crisis is unrealistic. The number of organizations at national, provincial, and regional levels working with government agencies to develop systemic solutions—such as Tourism HR Canada’s Propel Student Work Placement Program, Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association’s Passport to Hospitality program, and the many more active projects—is inspiring and provides the right amount of hope and tangible resources required to develop several active solutions to this wicked problem.

One aspect of solution co-creation that should not be overlooked is both simple and profound: understanding. Much has been said about the attrition of our workforce with many reasons cited for a relative mass exodus from our industry—lower than average wages, long hours, less than ideal workplace cultures being some of the most common. One of the reasons this is a wicked problem is that our “workforce” is not a homogenous group. And we run the risk of painting our 2019 industry stats of over 2 million people strong “workforce” with the same brush. This problem is wicked for a reason.

Perspective and Reinvention

There is a significant group within our workforce that is characterized as frontline or hourly. These individuals are elemental to our businesses’ value proposition, and many are focused on new recruitment and retention strategies to support this talent pipeline. But there is another influential segment of our workforce that gets less media and government attention: our managers and executives. They have also sacrificed and been sacrificed through the last couple of years. They have had to make the tough decisions and work double duty as conditions changed. So as we build comprehensive solutions, might it be worth checking in on the present state of our managers and executives? I think so.

If you have ever been in the process of trying to reinvent your career either of your own volition or because you were thrust into that position by circumstances beyond your control, you may recall that these become critical moments of vulnerability, reflection, and eventual renewal. So as we seek to understand how the present talent challenges are affecting our managers and executives, I believe it is beneficial to find wisdom from those actively going through the career search process, or even better, from someone who helps with the comings and goings of the People section in our trade magazines. Why? So we as employers can engage in proactive recruitment and retention strategies to improve our chances of success in the talent game.

Ask an Expert

Pre-pandemic life found businesses and operators seeking the services of talent recruiters for hard-to-fill roles. These days, talent recruiters have become one of the many solutions to hiring challenges.

Valerie Upfold is one of Canada’s unique recruiters focusing primarily on the hotel and restaurant industries. Having her own rich experience in the sector, she brings an understanding of people and process that makes talent connection meaningful and impactful for her clients and job seekers. She has spent more than 25 years in the hospitality and tourism industry, most notably with national brands within the Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality portfolio, both as a manager and with almost a decade as their director of HR. She reinvented her career and has spent the last 10 years as a recruiter, both with a larger firm and now with her own.

From her vantage point, while the number of active searches has increased dramatically, the number of candidates seeking new opportunities has actually declined over the last couple of years. With the high volume of managers and executives leaving the industry, many who have retained their jobs are wary of taking the risk of departing their current organizations for fear that if their new organizations face a downturn, new employees could be cut first. While the anecdotal evidence points to this being a job seeker’s market, if career mobility is less popular, those companies seeking new talent at the management and executive level may face additional challenges if potential job seekers are not motivated to take the leap of faith required to find new opportunities.

“We are seeing experienced managers and executives leaving one sector of the industry looking for another,” stated Upfold. “For example, many restaurant managers are looking for opportunities in private clubs because they’re motivated to find stability. Hotel managers and executives are looking for those corporate office jobs more and more.”

Upfold sees three kinds of managers and executives being sought after for new opportunities:

Group 1: Experienced managers who aren’t looking because they’re afraid of the “first-in-first-out” risk in a new job should conditions worsen for their new company.

Group 2: Managers and executives actively looking for jobs outside of the industry such as those in corporate roles within hotel and restaurant brands. Over the last two years, they have had to go back to what they were doing at the start of their careers because their team was laid off or let go. Teams are still not at same level as they were 2019. These managers and executives do not feel challenged and are burnt out. They want to change into a more stable industry where they believe this won’t happen again.

Group 3: This is the group who want to stay in tourism and hospitality, so they are looking at this as an opportunity to really decide where they want to go next in their career. They have adopted a YOLO (you only live once) attitude. They saw that the industry was unstable, they accepted it, and now they’re motivated to find their dream jobs.

“Candidates are choosing recruiters because we know what is happening in the market, especially around who is paying well and where the great places to work are. Also, unfortunately companies are not paying their current employees what they are paying new employees. They have to pay as much as 20 per cent more to get someone in the door, but they aren’t giving their employees this same increase,” shared Upfold.

“On the other side of things, companies are choosing recruiters now more than ever because they’re looking for solutions. Many have tried on their own via Indeed, company websites, etc.  They need a recruiter to get in touch with people who are working. We’ve always known that the best employees are working, not actively looking for jobs. I have had clients that didn’t want to use a recruiter pre-pandemic now dropping off retainer cheques at my house,” Upfold added.

New Lessons to Learn

While we understand salary is always an influential factor in any career decision at a management and executive level, the post-pandemic world of work has revealed some new components of seeking employment that are worth considering for organizations trying to find or keep managers and executives. Workplace culture, the ever-elusive work-life balance, and other benefits continue to surface as priorities for experienced job seekers at the management and executive level.

Upfold has found that management retention has become as important as recruitment.

“Employers need to do a better job at keeping their people, now more than ever. The companies that are doing the same things they were doing pre-pandemic are the ones that are losing even more talent now.”

She reflected that job seekers are looking for more vacation time, some flexibility, including working from home where possible, and above all else the sense of being valued by their employers. In a very tangible way.

“The companies that have changed what they’re doing from an HR perspective are keeping their employees. Some are giving current managers and executives the same pay bump being offered to new recruits. Companies should be proactive when it comes to salary, not just for the money, but to demonstrate to their managers and executives that they are valued.”

Behind-Closed-Doors Advice

Recruiters often have behind-closed-doors dialogue with both candidates and employers. There is a lot of wisdom and insight contained in those conversations that is rarely shared. When asked to identify what some of the most frequently present topics of conversation are, both from the job seeker and the employer, Upfold shared some valuable perspectives.

“Employers should know from the candidate perspective: money is not always a deal breaker, especially now. If you have no more salary room, offer more vacation days, extra days off in the summer or long weekends. We know these are not traditional in our business but it’s time to update our practices to succeed in this new world of work,” stated Upfold. “Offer work-from-home options even if it’s difficult to fit into your business model. Find a way to adapt.”

“And candidates should know from clients: even though it may not be a great HR practice, employers are checking “back door” references. Reputation still rules the job hunt, so being an intentional leader has never been so important. Business success and values go hand-in-hand in 2022 and in the future. Do the right things through your career and you will keep climbing the ladder. And if you have made mistakes along the way, own them and demonstrate that you have learned from them.”

These are challenging times indeed. But there is no shortage of ways to learn and adapt. We need an engaged management and executive cohort within our workforce. Finding ways to recruit them and retain them through value and values is one sure-fire solution to this wicked problem.

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 and Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

Joe can be found everywhere @thejoebaker.

A heartfelt congratulations from the Tourism HR Canada team to Sally MacInnis, Reservations Manager at Keltic Lodge, in Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia. Sally is this year’s recipient of the Tourism HR Canada Employee Appreciation Award.

The Honourable Randy Boissonnault, MP, and Tourism HR Canada President and CEO Philip Mondor presented the award in Ottawa last week at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC) Tourism Congress. Accepting the award on Sally’s behalf was Terry Smith, President & CEO, Destination Cape Breton, who nominated her.

Terry described Sally as one of Cape Breton Island’s most authentic and passionate ambassadors. Working with Keltic Lodge for the past 35+ years, Sally promotes Cape Breton Island and all its exceptional experiences to each and every visitor she welcomes. Her infectious spirit and dedication to Island tourism is renowned.

“Sally has a deep knowledge and understanding of Cape Breton’s history, culture, and experiences,” explained Terry. “She keeps up to date on the latest tourism offerings around the Island and cultivates exceptional travel itineraries for her guests, not as part of her duties, but to ensure happy and satisfied travellers. No matter who is on the phone line, or what employee she is dealing with, Sally treats everyone with respect, knowledge, and a caring nature. Her leadership has ensured Keltic Lodge is one of the leaders in Cape Breton Island hospitality and service excellence.”

Sally leads a team of reservation specialists, comprising seasonal and year-round staff, ensuring to mentor each and every one with Cape Breton Island travel knowledge and excellence in customer service.

“Visitors are thankful to have Sally’s personal help and knowledge when they call to book their accommodations,” Terry added. “In thousands of instances, she has turned a one-night stay into three or four, and even a week, just by spending the time to listen to and understand her guest, and then uses that information to customize their itinerary choices, educate them on travel times around the Island, and up-sell them on additional experiences based on their preferences. Sally’s dedication doesn’t only benefit Keltic Lodge, but rather the entire Island.”

Tourism HR Canada is honoured to acknowledge the incredible passion and professionalism demonstrated by Sally, and is delighted to share such a positive story amidst all that the pandemic has dealt to the tourism sector.

The team would also like to extend its congratulations to all this year’s recipients and finalists. Thanks to TIAC for celebrating the individuals and companies who go above and beyond to offer travellers superior tourism experiences in Canada. Watch all their stories here.

By Joe Baker, Tourism HR Canada Board Member

This article was originally published in STAY Magazine.

One of the greatest challenges the hospitality and tourism industry is grappling with is the present state of our workforce. Workforce can be an ambiguous term. When I use the term, I am speaking about a spectrum that includes every individual working in our industry—from frontline to senior executive.

The most pressing issue at hand requires us to focus on a core concept that should already be present in every business in this industry—real leadership.

In September of this year, Canada reached a milestone on our route to recovery. According to Statistics Canada, after four consecutive months of increase, the country added 157,000 new jobs. The gains in September brought employment back to the same level as in February 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic. A sampling of the headlines from major media outlets could lead an observer to believe all is well. To mention but a couple: “Canada’s labour market returns to pre-pandemic levels” (BNN Bloomberg), “Canada posts massive jobs gain; employment back to pre-pandemic levels” (Reuters). Looks good. Doesn’t it?

If you have been reading STAY Magazine then you know this is not the lived experience of employers across Canada’s hospitality and tourism industry. In late November of this year, through in-depth analysis, Tourism HR Canada reported an unprecedented 200,000 job vacancies. That is 200,000 jobs unfilled due to an insufficient supply of human capital.

These two data points create a challenging dilemma and conflicting narrative for our industry. On one hand, we run the risk that our government officials who may be looking at macro-level employment numbers are influenced to slow business relief programs assuming there is a healthy and robust workforce. This puts pressure on our associations and advocacy bodies who are tenacious in their push for continued support to our employers. And most immediately this puts pressure on our employers who feel beaten by the pandemic.

These seemingly divergent data points also put pressure on a narrative I hope we can begin to move away from. The idea that hospitality and tourism workers have traded their jobs for a steady supply of government subsidies and are staying at home rather than returning to work is both inaccurate and dangerously anecdotal.

It also casts our workforce in an extremely unflattering light and allows us to shift blame to them rather than wrestling with the idea that it is the industry that let them down. Take a moment to reflect on what the Stats Can data told us—the Canadians who left the overall workforce during the pandemic have now returned. But interpreting the data requires careful analysis. They may have returned to the workforce, but they did not return to our workforce. They left. And they likely aren’t choosing to come back.

Albert Einstein is famously quoted as having said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” The question to ask ourselves now looks more like this. Why did our workforce leave in the first place? What prompted that choice? Why did they then decide to re-join the labour market in a new industry? And what can we learn from this loss that can prevent another in the future?

As we look forward to solutions, we need to focus on new recruitment strategies in tandem with new retention plans. The cost of this correction in the labour market will be substantial. And anyone reading this who works in sales or human resources equally understands that the cost of recruiting new is far greater than investment in retaining those we have. If we want to make a difference, we need to accept that the path less travelled is one lined with empathy and growth leading to a new approach in human capital management that nurtures our workforce.

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.

Students can bring fresh perspectives and welcome enthusiasm to the organizations who hire them while helping to reduce the workload. Failure to prepare, however, can result in unmet expectations and wasted time for both student and employer. As Propel accepts applications from tourism sector businesses interested in participating in our winter Student Work Placement Program, we offer the following friendly advice for maximizing the experience.

Plan a List of Tasks Ahead of Time

Ideally, a work placement (internship, co-op, apprenticeship, or other paid work-integrated learning initiative) will be a win-win for both student and employer. In order to accomplish this, provide your student with real tasks, not just busy work. Brainstorm a list of duties and potential duties in advance. Start your student off with simpler, less crucial tasks, and allow them the opportunity to graduate to more difficult and consequential work. From the student’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a corner, ignored. They’ll fail to gain the experience they seek, and the resulting word of mouth may be damaging to your future recruitment efforts.

Communicate Your Objectives and Expectations on Day One

Greet your student with an open and honest conversation about the road ahead. Provide them with a job description and seek feedback. If you intend to provide special training, now’s the time to let them know. Part of their objective will be to receive a strong letter of recommendation at the conclusion of the work placement, so it’s helpful to spell out expectations and discuss how performance will impact the nature of your potential endorsement. Remember, a work placement is about gaining experience, so base your appraisal around attitudes such as willingness to learn, as opposed to perfect execution.

Provide Your Student with Valuable Exposure 

Think ahead: will there be meetings, conferences, or special events during your student’s term? Could they be included? If possible, expose them to multiple leaders in various roles. Bring them into the loop and give them an opportunity to make professional connections.

Designate Them an Enthusiastic Mentor 

A student can be a resource, but also requires an investment of time. The student’s experience will be enriched if they are mentored by an individual who makes an honest effort to interact in a meaningful way. Students who are tossed around the workplace like a hot potato will fail to gain needed career advice. While other staff members should be encouraged to interact and share perspectives with the student, they shouldn’t compete haphazardly for their time.

Ultimately, your company may wish to hire the student on a more permanent basis. A strong mentorship relationship will help your company gain a more complete understanding of their potential, and may encourage the student to stick around.

Invite Your Student to Share

Harness your student’s enthusiasm and fresh ideas. Ask them about their motivations and areas of interest. Encourage them to ask questions on an ongoing basis. They may have a hidden talent that benefits your business!

Maximize the Programs and Resources Available

The Propel Student Work Placement Program is now accepting applications from businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector that are interested in hiring a student for the winter term. Qualifying employers will be provided with a wage subsidy of up to $7,500 for each student hired through the program. For more information, or to sign up for a virtual info session, please visit

Additional tools and programs are offered in partnership with Tourism HR Canada. Emerit Tourism Training supports a wide range of tourism-related occupations with National Occupational Standards, online and paper-based training, and professional certification for tourism employers and students. Please visit for the full list.

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:

Indigenous Inclusion

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.

Workforce in Disarray

COVID-19 has caused significant disruption to the tourism labour market, much greater than the economy overall. Many workers are not going to return to jobs once they are restored, causing some of the greatest labour shortages ever seen and hampering recovery. The reasons for this are complex and solutions or ways to address the chronic shortfall require multiple strategies.

Where does one begin and what should the focus be?

Most workforce issues are attributed to three dimensions:

  1. The supply of workers: Do we have enough or too many workers?
  2. The alignment (or misalignment) of skills, i.e. the ‘skills mismatch’: Do the workers have the right skills for the job?
  3. Geographic and occupational mobility: Are learners and workers located in regions where they are needed?

Each of these dimensions helps diagnose and illustrate the tourism workforce challenges, most of which have been heightened or accelerated because of COVID-19.

Chronic Short Supply of Workers Hampers Recovery and Growth

The tourism sector was experiencing severe shortages of workers prior to COVID. As the sector recovers, the anticipated shortages will more acute and the difficulty to attract and retain workers is expected to be more difficult. Although there is currently a high level of unemployment, the longer the outlook for reopening, the more the sector is losing its workforce to other industries. Other factors such as the precarity of employment (e.g., uncertainty around job stability, worries about too few hours or suppressed wages), concerns about safety, changing job demands, inadequate childcare supports, and various other factors are creating the perfect storm. (You may also be interested in the Workforce Power Session webinar or Lost Momentum: Newly Released Data Shows the Rapid Tourism Job Growth COVID Interrupted.)

As stated in the Workforce Shortfall Report, a critical shortage of skilled labour hampers growth and recovery and contributes to higher operating costs and reduced profits. Without workers, businesses forego investments, lose their ability to compete, burn out staff, and ultimately anger and turn off customers. (This is clearly not the image we want for Canadian tourism.)

Skills for Sustained Economic Relaunch and Global Competitiveness

COVID-19 has significantly impacted the nature of tourism jobs and created an unparalleled shift in skill sets needed. Recovery, resiliency, and sustained competitiveness require new skills and lifelong learning, including a focus on digital transitions. All tourism workers (frontline, supervisory/operational, management) require the right skills to enable the sector to have a sustained economic relaunch and be globally competitive.

Training in many forms is needed to make sure people can acquire the skills they need for current and future job demands. Support for the development of new skills training content and new delivery modes, including addressing sub-sector and regional differences, is needed. Tourism HR Canada has previously reported that the tourism sector is going to rely heavily on accessible virtual learning that enables job seekers and workers to obtain micro-credentials and tailored learning products (i.e., just-in-time, cost-effective learning responsive to market and employer demands). One example of a program recently updated and relaunched in response to COVID is the Business Builders Series for operators and entrepreneurs. (Limited time offer: this program is available at no cost for anyone that signs up now.)

To get a glimpse at some emerging skills, check out Impact of Digitalization on Tourism Jobs.

Learner and Worker Mobility

Labour mobility is all about the ability of workers and learners to move around or relocate for employment. Mobility usually refers to both geographic and occupational concerns. Geographic mobility refers to the worker’s ability to relocate or change work location, while occupational mobility refers to changing of jobs. Learner mobility is most often associated with the rights to transfer credits or acquired learning to new educational pursuits.

Factors inhibiting mobility are often linked to outdated policies or resource constraints. Prohibitive costs associated with relocation, a lack of affordable housing, inadequate infrastructure, or institutional policies that prohibit mobility are all examples that prevent people from accessing employment opportunities.

Program and Policy Focus

Budget 2021 contains a lot of promising funding initiatives that have the potential to help address tourism workforce recovery efforts. The sector’s current focus is extended advocacy to help secure projects and funding for tourism workforce initiatives, anticipating the ability to tap into various new programs:

  • Canada Recovery Hiring Program
  • Skills for Success
  • Community Workforce Development Program
  • Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program
  • Canada Digital Adoption Plan

In addition, the sector may benefit from programs that have been extended or renewed. These include:

  • Student Work Placement Program
  • Helping Youth and Students Build Job Skills and Connect with Employers
  • Youth Employment and Skills Strategy
  • Canada Summer Jobs
  • Enhancing the Canada Workers Benefit

Other measures will contribute significantly to helping build the tourism workforce and meeting the needs of vulnerable and precarious workers in the sector. The Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care System, the National Mental Health Standards, and supports for businesses to pay for mandatory quarantine for Temporary Foreign Workers will be a great help to the sector.

What Employers Can Do Now

Checklist of Ten Practical HR Practices to Attract and Retain Workers

  1. Diversify recruitment strategy: go after new markets and ones that are best fit for the sector, e.g., New Canadians, Indigenous Peoples.
  2. Invest in professional development and value career progression: help workers grow professionally and personally; mentor and coach.
  3. Accommodate workers’ needs and personal work-life balance interests, e.g., flexible scheduling, providing workplace aids and tools.
  4. Enable increased flexibility in work duties: design the jobs to match workers’ interests.
  5. Prioritize safety and security, e.g., ensure there is sufficient and appropriate personal protective equipment (where applicable); provide taxi rides for safe transport late at night.
  6. Offer competitive compensation.
  7. Create a welcoming and inclusive workplace, e.g., enable employees to have input, share suggestions and ideas; be explicit on zero tolerance for anti-oppressive behaviours; communicate honestly and with fairness.
  8. Provide recognition and consistent feedback.
  9. Invest in HR practices: make human capital a business priority by ensuring managers have the skills and knowledge to motivate and manage productive teams.
  10. Be clear about company vision, corporate goals, and mission: establish a brand and reputation that is attractive and distinct to your competitors.

A few other important strategies that will help you build a competitive, inclusive, and resilient workforce:

  • Support the advocacy efforts of professional associations (e.g., Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Hotel Association of Canada), who are working on your behalf to align policies and programs that address workforce issues.
  • Let your MP know the challenges you are facing and the need for sector-specific programs and policies that address workforce needs.
  • Lead or be involved in community-led workforce planning. Tourism’s future workforce relies on community-led models (it’s beyond enterprises and must involve collaboration between employers, governments, workers, education providers, and various support services).



More than One Million Jobs at Stake

We’re into week seven and we still don’t understand the full extent of the pandemic. Tourism has been hit hard, with severe implications on the critical summer tourist season. Not all economic sectors will recover at the same rate or the same time. Tourism, which was impacted early (described as a “canary in the coal mine” by Charlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada), will be one of the last economic sectors to recover. It will require a gradual and measured response than spans months, if not years. More than one million tourism jobs have been affected, and numerous tourism businesses are not expected to survive.

Unlike many economic sectors, tourism is human capital intensive. Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, notes: “A crisis that hits the service side of the economy is one that hits labour the most.” Mandated shutdowns led to hundreds of thousands of laid-off or furloughed workers in the sector. Current data makes it difficult to tell what jobs will be available in six months or a year.

In March, Tourism HR Canada estimated that close to 780,000 jobs were affected by COVID-19 (approximately 43% of the tourism workforce, based on a metric of 70% revenue loss), and that no jobs would be available for the 230,000 students or casual labourers usually hired for the summer season. The following week, Destination Canada reported that 1.66 million tourism employees could be laid off, which accounts for 83% of the workers in the sector. Simply put, the impact was acute, immediate…and could get much worse. (We will have a better understanding on the impact of COVID-19 on jobs when Statistics Canada releases new figures on May 8.)

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC, March 15, 2020), up to 50 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector are at risk due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

There is increasing pressure and urgency to get the economy moving again. In recent weeks, several countries and now a few provinces in Canada have announced plans to start lifting some emergency measures. The anticipation of re-engaging the workforce has heightened the awareness and need for new protocols or guidelines on how to handle physical distancing and other safety measures to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. These measures go hand-in-hand with health officials stressing the need for increased testing to monitor the containment of the virus and warnings that we could quickly revert to earlier, more stringent measures if there is a resurgence of the virus.

Assumptions and Factors Contributing to Workforce Changes

Physical distancing will continue to be enforced for some time, perhaps for as many as 18-24 months. Various articles suggest that physical distancing measures will persist until a vaccine is readily available. Consumer/public behaviours and expectations have already changed to ensure safety is preserved, in response to public health advice or sanctioned restrictions. Subsequently, the tourism sector can anticipate changes in business models and service options.

Large gatherings and high-volume travel remain banned, given concerns for sustained or increased outbreaks of the virus. The lifting of restrictions will be gradual as economic recovery is realized. Re-opening of businesses will be staggered and spotty across the country and varied by tourism industry. Many tourism businesses will remain closed and forego the 2020 season, as it will be too late in the year to generate sufficient business. Seasonal tourism businesses and those operating in rural or remote locations will be most affected, as sustained efforts will limit travellers from entering these communities.

Domestic markets are expected to recover first, with a demand for different tourism products and services than those sought by international markets. Operators will adjust their offering to align with Canadian travel interests. Travellers are expected to be thrifty because of the downturn in the economy, austerity measures, and tighter budgets. For example, quick-service restaurants, take-out, and convenience foods will gain a larger share of the market. More road travel (and less air travel) is expected, along with shorter stays or holiday periods.

What This Could Mean in Terms of Jobs, Service Protocols

Increased workforce precarity, uncertainty; decreased ability to attract and retain workers

The slow recovery will mean fewer full-time/full-year jobs and more demand for casual or part-time labour. Workers may be reluctant to return to work until they can earn sufficient wages and benefits; the incentive to return to work is diminished if unemployment benefits are greater.

Timing on recovery is unknown, and with this comes uncertainty and prudence. Employers will rehire workers or bring back furloughed staff back gradually, and many workers will not keep their jobs. Even with attractive wage subsidy programs, employers are reluctant to bring back employees until they have confidence in recovery, i.e., when they start to earn revenue.

Studies from previous pandemic or catastrophic events, such as hurricanes, or from global economic depressions identify a common theme: during the early recovery period, the industry can expect reduced staff loyalty and a significant increase in the turnover of workers. Although this may seem paradoxical, the fact is workers seek new opportunities as the economy recovers. Generally, there are more jobs available and job seekers have greater choices. Some are seeking better-paid or more stable employment, others need increased flexibility to accommodate different lifestyle requirements (e.g., childcare, elder care, education). In aging populations like Canada, many decide not to re-enter the workforce and instead retire.

Many who earn their livelihoods in tourism will be afraid or reluctant to return to work unless strict safety measures are in place for themselves and guests. Many tourism jobs are inherently risky given the inability to practice physical distancing; subsequently, workers will seek alternative employment with fewer customer-facing demands.

Workers will require new and different skills, aligned with new business models and different product or service offerings. Hands-on, interactive experiences will be diminished. The industry is expected to be subject to increased regulations related to enhanced sanitation and cleaning, compliance with new health protocols, crowd control measures, managing quarantine situations, and more.

HR practices and policies will be overhauled. For example, self-isolation or quarantine requirements will mean that sick-leave policies will change, as will requirements for staff to report illness, and for employers to follow protocols to protect other staff and customers. Imagine for a moment the possibility of a group of visitors being exposed to a worker discovered to have the COVID-19 virus; what are the obligations and protocols to alert these visitors or health authorities?

Use of strict measures, new protocols, changing business practices

Once restrictions are gradually lifted, strict health and safety protocols will be expected of workers and these will vary by the type of operation and service offer. (Protocols unrelated to staff matters will also be required and may involve capital investments.) In Canada, each provincial and territorial health authority will set the guidelines, and the protocols may vary regionally. To follow are examples of the protocols identified in recent articles or guidelines specific to workers or business practices:

  • Workplaces introduce “Immunity Passports”, or a way in which staff are tested and obtain an official ‘good health’ standing before they can return to work. Employees’ temperature will be taken daily as they enter work.
  • Businesses will implement stringent hygienic and cleanliness standards to meet new health and safety requirements, along with increased frequency and thoroughness of cleaning, and inspection and verification of the cleaning regime.
  • Workers will routinely use masks and gloves.
  • Customers will be offered free masks. Disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizing stations will be readily available public spaces.
  • Customers need to have temperature taken upon arrival.
  • Customer capacity will be limited to allow for physical distancing requirements, e.g., dining rooms with staggered seating times and limited customers and size of groups; bus tours and flights with 30-50% capacity; a maximum number of gamers at casino tables.
  • No cash transactions will be permissible; purchases will strictly be electronic and online.
  • Foodservice industry will reduce dining room services and increase emphasis on convenience foods, take-out, delivery, and room service.
  • Meetings and business events will be limited to small groups, with constraints on the use of the physical space.
  • Screens, voice activation (touchless activation), and other forms of technology will limit close-contact interactions.
  • Larger companies may introduce Chief Safety Officers or persons responsible for managing staff and public health and security.

These possible new measures illustrate the need for tourism operators to rethink and redesign their business models and overhaul HR practices. The marketing and promotion of services will feature the public safety and security standards of practice, to provide assurances or establish confidence. Brand messaging will promote safety and security and demonstrate a ‘clean bill of health’.

Retaining a Productive and Resilient Tourism Workforce

In these unprecedented times, what should and can be done to help retain a productive and resilient tourism workforce? Tourism HR Canada has identified eight strategic initiatives that will help the industry rebound more effectively and remain competitive.

  1. Skills Upgrading and Cross-Training: Training on how to prevent, mitigate, and recover from COVID-19 is an absolute and immediate concern. This involves new skills for frontline, mid-level/supervisory, and executive functions—everything from elevated sanitation to creating new business models and designing new products and services. Investments are needed in new program development and alternative delivery modes. The industry will also benefit from a comprehensive inventory of qualified programs and a trusted referral system to avoid duplication and increase overall quality and capacity.
  2. Community Labour Force Development Plans and Related Strategies to Engage Community Stakeholders: An all-of-community approach with an emphasis on public-private partnerships and greater community collaboration will benefit a range of stakeholders.
  3. Awareness/Image Campaign: This would help increase the visibility of job opportunities and promote safe and healthy work environments. The campaign would promote tourism as a ‘destination for employment’ and be highly visible in preeminent tourism marketing campaigns to help change the image of the sector for both the consumer (e.g., promote recovery confidence and service standards, and the revival of economy for communities) and job-seeker (e.g., promote job attainment/career opportunities).
  4. Business and Human Capital Plans: Businesses must design new models and stage recovery and continuity strategies.
  5. Human Capital/Human Resource Plans: Operators/businesses need to adjust their HR practices to accommodate situations where staff and business practices are impacted by COVID-19.
  6. Strategies Dedicated to Specific Target Populations and Special Circumstances: It’s vital to address vulnerable and essential tourism workers, such as Indigenous peoples, international students, temporary foreign workers, and casual or freelance workers.
  7. Continued, Comprehensive Labour Market Research and Analysis
  8. Effective National Facilitation, Coordination, Governance: This includes leveraging the role and mandate of Tourism HR Canada to ensure that strategies and resources are optimized.

This article contains excerpts from Tourism HR Canada’s Retention, Recovery, Resilience: Managing Talent During and Post COVID-19 Employer Playbook, to be released in May. Subscribe to Tourism HR Insider to be notified of its publication. Also check out for additional information and tools to help employers cope with staffing and workforce issues related to COVID-19.

As the competition for staff increases amidst a tightening labour market, employers are looking for novel and creative solutions to attract and retain top talent.

Job seekers, meanwhile, are looking for a more rounded work experience—a workplace that aligns with their values, encourages development and growth, and offers the flexibility to balance competing priorities in their work and personal lives.

To help, we’ve explored 12 ways employers can set themselves apart and entice the skilled staff they need to build a thriving business that meets the expectations of today’s discerning traveller.

Bonus: a handy checklist for quick reference to make your business an employer of choice!

Download the full PDF to delve into how to:

  1. Include Alternative Work Arrangements as Part of Your HR Strategy
  2. Update and Expand Your Recruitment Strategies
  3. Overhaul and Tailor Your Work Arrangements
  4. Use Technology to Enhance Experiences
  5. Manage HR Risk and Reduce Volatility
  6. Work on Retention Strategies
  7. Invest in Your HR/Employer Brand
  8. Be a Centre of Meaningful Learning
  9. Make Smart Training Investments
  10. Cultivate Meaningful Community Relations
  11. Provide Stability Through Predictable Employment
  12. Increase Your HR IQ

Download 12 Practical, Insightful Ways to Find and Keep Workers in a Tight Labour Market

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.

With record low unemployment rates, labour shortages are being widely felt across Canada, impacting businesses in multiple sectors and escalating competition for workers. Programming designed to attract workers to a specific industry unrelated to tourism may appear to offer solutions only to other employers, but details within these programs can also benefit tourism businesses desperate for staff.

While designed to address labour shortages in agriculture and agri-food businesses, the recently announced three-year federal Agri-Food Immigration Pilot Program is expected to attract close to 16,000 applicants—and their families.

Much like tourism, food processing businesses are located right across Canada, in urban and rural locations. Much like tourism, Food Processing Skills Canada reports that these businesses are having difficulty attracting and retaining staff, particularly in smaller or rural communities. So when a processor in Kings County, Nova Scotia, or Levis, Quebec, or Brooks, Alberta, is able to employ a newcomer to Canada and offer them a pathway to permanent residency, the hotel, restaurant, or attraction down the road is afforded a chance to connect with a spouse or teenage dependant seeking work opportunities.

Meat Processors Across Canada
Meat Processors Across Canada (Source: Food Processing Skills Canada)

Newcomers are much more likely to stay in a community where they are able to quickly and easily establish ties and feel welcomed and supported by locals. To secure new staff, tourism employers may wish to collaborate on a cross-sectoral attraction and retention plan, whether this is by one employer reaching out to another or by building a wider, community-based initiative. All parties stand to benefit from a collaborative effort across businesses:

  • Multiple employers attract much-needed staff
  • The family settles in more quickly and gains additional financial and community support
  • The local tourism sector gains cross-cultural knowledge and possibly new language skills
  • The community is more likely to see the family establish roots, rather than losing them to a large urban centre
  • Employers are more likely to retain the workers over the long-term
  • The newcomers may encourage extended family and friends struggling to settle elsewhere to consider moving to the community, thus attracting additional labour

Looking to connect? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a list of federally registered meat establishments and their licensed operators.

Tourism employers may also want to explore other recently announced pilots that provide workers with the opportunity to bring their family members, such as the Home Child Care Provider Pilot and the Home Support Worker Pilot.