Employment Issues Impacting the Outdoor Hospitality Industry as Interest in Camping Surges

ben quiggle Jun 02, 2021
Man blowing leaves

It is all over the news. Labor shortages are everywhere.

Perhaps no one is being hit harder than the restaurant and tourism industries, with some restaurants being forced to shut their doors permanently due to an inability to attract workers.

Others have had to limit capacity.

The tourism industry is seeing similar results, with some major theme parks limiting the number of days per week they are open. 

While some will point to the $300-a-week in extra unemployment benefits that individuals without a job are receiving due to the COVID crisis, experts say there are other factors at play too.

One factor is the increasing availability of other high-paying jobs. Many hospitality workers that were let go last year moved onto other high-paying positions.

A survey of 4,000 travel and tourism workers earlier this year showed that many found jobs with higher pay and predictable schedules and more plan on leaving the industry soon, said Peter Ricci, director of Florida Atlantic University’s hospitality and tourism management program, in an article for the Associated Press.

This leaves hospitality and tourism-focused businesses looking for new ways to attract talent, including offering higher wages, sign-on bonuses, job perks and more.

Many RV park and campground owners are grappling with having fewer workers, with many owners finding that they have todo more themselves, according to a story from WOODALLSCM.com

“Right now, it’s kind of a perfect storm, ”said Jeremy Welch, vice president of human resources for Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA). “We have the (COVID-19) pandemic ongoing, which drove a large segment of the population out of the workforce. But the pandemic also drove an increase in demand for camping. So, you have an increase in demand (for camping) and a decrease in the ability to find staff.”

Brent Gasser, who co-owns and operates the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort location in the Wisconsin Dells, utilizes a large contingent of foreign students at his park, but questions remain as to how many students will be able to make the trip this year as many foreign embassies remain closed.

“I’m projecting we’ll be 40% short of our labor needs,” Gasser said, adding that he’ll have to pay more money and offer more benefits to compete for college-aged employees during the peak summer camping season.

“Our average wage last year was around $11 or $12 an hour. We’re in the $12 to $15 range this year, so $2 to $3 an hour more,” he said, adding, “We will have to pay more and offer more benefits.”

Workamper News, which runs job boards for work campers seeking places of employment, has seen an uptick in the number of postings on its social media pages from park owners looking for employees.

In the face of this challenge, park owners/operators are taking a look at what they offer and tweaking benefit packages to attract and retain employees.

Castle Rock, Colo.-based Horizon Outdoor Hospitality, which manages 250 employees across 27 RV parks in nine states, has re-tooled its employment offerings to include certain benefits, such as vision, dental and life insurance or 401(k) accounts at no cost to its RV park clients.

The labor shortage has also helped broaden the labor pool. As more campers work on the road, they are beginning to see the benefits of the outdoors and pursuing a career in the outdoor hospitality industry.

Some of these folks are now exploring employment opportunities in the campground industry because it combines the RV lifestyle with more freedom than traditional corporate jobs.

“With the pandemic, there have been some silver linings as far as the workforce goes,” Welch said. “We’re seeing a whole new world of folks that want to be work campers, including younger couples and families with children.”

KOA is also seeing people from a wide variety of industries who are now transitioning to the RV lifestyle and are exploring ways to develop careers in campground management.

“There is a great base of people that are looking for that right now,” he said. “We’re seeing that they want the lifestyle. They want the ability to be outdoors, have a secure position and have the whole aspect of the camping lifestyle. It’s a very attractive place to be. (Interest in this kind of career) is across the board, generationally.”

The bottom line is that fewer workers are looking for jobs and for the outdoor hospitality industry to compete it is important to offer attractive wages and benefits that make it hard for future or current employees to turn down.

As more campers head out to parks this summer the industry must give them an experience they won't forget.

Building a team that can deliver that experience is key.