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In-Depth: Employment numbers slowest to recover in hospitality industry

Employment remains down 25% compared to pre-pandemic
In-Depth: Employment numbers slowest to recover in hospitality industry
Posted at 6:18 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 19:02:10-05

CLEVELAND — As businesses continue to recover and return to their pre-pandemic staffing levels, one industry remains behind the rest: hospitality services.

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of employed hospitality workers in the Cleveland area down 25% compared to a year ago. That percentage stands out as the largest drop for any industry.

Bureau of Labor Statistics chart showing the leisure and hospitality employment in the Cleveland area from Jan. 2010 to Jan. 2021

Jan Freitag serves as National Director of Hospitality Analytics for the Costar Group, which owns the global hospitality research company STR.

Despite the holiday weekend, new data from STR shows hotel occupancy in the Cleveland area from February 9-15 at about 40%, which is down nearly 27% compared to one year ago.

“This is still very much a work in progress,” he explained. “A lot of it has to do with hotels that temporarily closed or some hotels just closed floors 10-20. They say ‘look we don’t have enough demand, so we don’t need housekeepers, we don’t need as many people checking people in and out. All those jobs are gone for now and the question is will they come back? We hope so.”

Freitag told News 5 how many hotels continue to operate at limited capacity as a cost-cutting measure, while the industry waits for more public confidence in traveling to return once more people are vaccinated.

However, Freitag points to a new set of challenges for the industry, including how to handle those who do not get the vaccine, as well as what to do with conference area spaces that will likely continue to be underutilized.

“This will get better, there’s no doubt about it,” Freitag said. “It’s just a question of the timing of the recovery.”

In the meantime, support for hospitality workers continues to pop up in certain places.

Saucy Brew Works and Sysco hosted a COVID-19 relief food giveaway Thursday meant to help serve 200 hospitality workers.

Rico Manley stopped by to grab a box of food; he works as a maintenance worker at a nearby apartment complex. Manley was offered the job several months into the pandemic after he was forced to move in with his brother.

“2020 was, to say the least, probably my worst year,” he said.

Manley feels optimistic that 2021 will bring more stability. But if it doesn’t, he told News 5 that he’s ready.

“I won’t put myself in the position I was in 2020,” he said. “It’s been tough. Just take my licks and keep moving.”