NB tourism industry faces labor shortage as it prepares for summer recovery

Anne-Marie Seguin is getting ready for a summer where we will go from checking in at the reception to putting on scrubs and cleaning the rooms.

The co-owner of the Fundy Highlands Motel and Chalets near Alma has been busy looking for staff to help clean and change linens at 43 units. But despite running online recruiting campaigns, attending job fairs and running paid ads, applications are scarce, Seguin said.

“We may refuse bookings because we don’t want to burn out our staff,” she said. “We don’t want them to burn out or feel like in the middle of summer they just can’t.”

In the seaside village of Alma, about 70 kilometers south of Moncton, seasonal business owners are scrambling to find staff as summer approaches. Help-seeking signs are posted in the windows of shops, restaurants and hostels.

WATCH / These seasonal business owners struggle to find staff

New Brunswick’s tourism industry faces labor shortages

Restaurants and hotels are scrambling for cooks, servers and cleaners as summer approaches. 2:12

Finding staff in the rural area, which borders Fundy National Park, has long been a challenge.

With an ongoing labor shortage in the service industry outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t get any easier.

The number of vacancies for waiters, cooks, cleaners and retail salespersons has in some cases more than doubled, according to Statistics Canada.

Busier summer

New Brunswick’s tourism industry is welcoming what could be a busy year after two summers of COVID-19 restrictions that have slowed travel.

But if the labor shortage continues with service workers, it could mean reduced hours and income for many operations.

At the Octopus Café in Alma, owner Joel Cadieux is desperately looking for cooks. The restaurant needs three more to open six days a week.

Help-seeking posters are displayed in shop windows along Alma’s main street. (Alexander Silberman/CBC)

It takes a total of 14 or 15 employees to keep the doors open seven days a week, which Cadieux says is the goal.

“Otherwise, we’re open five days a week, like we were last year and the year before,” he said. “So there’s a lot of revenue lost in two days.”

Further down Main Street, the Tipsy Tail restaurant is also looking for more staff.

Jeremy Wilbur owns the Tipsy Tail restaurant. It offers subsidized housing in Alma as part of its staff recruitment strategy. (Alexander Silberman/CBC)

Owner Jeremy Wilbur said last year he had to cut his working hours so staff weren’t overworked, cutting back on what he could offer diners.

“We would like to organize a breakfast service. The city has no breakfast places or very few options for our customers,” he said.

Housing a barrier

The village of Alma has just over 230 year-round residents, which forces companies to bring in staff from outside the region and from across Canada.

But there is often no place for them to live during the summer.

Cadieux said he’s rented houses for employees before, but many have turned into more profitable Airbnbs and short-term rentals. The restaurant sometimes loses potential employees when they cannot find housing.

“We’ve paid people a lot more than an hour in order to hold them and we’re trying again this year. But there’s just no places to really put them, so we’re looking for help in the area. , ” he said.

Joël Cadieux, owner of the Octopus Café in Alma, is desperately looking for cooks. (Alexander Silberman/CBC)

“It’s very frustrating. And it’s something that’s been brought up over and over again that even if we had temporary foreign aid, it wouldn’t matter if there was a line of expecting 50 people if you can’t accommodate them.”

Wilbur tried to solve this problem by buying a five-bedroom staff house, where employees can stay with subsidized rent.

“It will always come down to two or three things,” he said. “It will depend on salaries as well as a place to live.”

Before the pandemic, Alma’s seasonal merchants received unsolicited applications. (Alexander Silberman/CBC)

Up the hill in the national park, Seguin said she also sees the impact of housing when trying to recruit. As a last resort, staff have sometimes been housed in motel units, but this means a potential impact on income from a short-term seasonal activity.

Prior to the pandemic, the motel and cabins received unsolicited applications from job seekers. Now, Seguin said, his best luck was at a local job fair when he searched for a dozen employees.

“At some point, you run out of ideas,” she said. “But we could recruit from outside the province at this point if we can’t find people locally.”