While the tourism industry is looking ahead to eased border restrictions and increased capacities under the provincial passport system, staffing remains a significant challenge.
Staffing levels are still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels and labour concerns continue to plague the tourism industry, Aidan Kelly, Sun Peaks Resort LLP’s (SPR) chief marketing officer, told SPIN in an email.
Last winter season, many international workers at Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) were finishing their two-year working holiday visas, choosing to stay in Canada after the first wave of the pandemic due to the logistical challenges of returning home.
However, many of those staff have now returned to their home countries andow, SPR and other village businesses are looking to fill those roles.
“Last season, we fared somewhat decent on the staffing front for a variety of reasons,” he explained.
“When COVID initially hit, there were lots of folks already in the country. With all the challenges getting back home, many just stayed in Canada to complete their second year and Sun Peaks became a natural attraction due to positive word of mouth throughout the industry on the experience we offer.”
SPR and other Sun Peaks businesses are instead leaning on eased international travel restrictions and domestic workers as they recruit for the upcoming winter.
As well as difficulties related to border restrictions and obtaining working holiday visas, housing is an additional crux for incoming workers.
“Tourism and resort communities everywhere are facing significant staff housing challenges,” Kelly said.
“Sun Peaks is in a somewhat better position than many locations, but it’s still a primary issue within the community. There are many complex factors that all contribute to [housing] and COVID has introduced some new dynamics, which further impact the availability of housing for employees.”
Kelly told SPIN SPR has entered into a long-term lease agreement with The Burfield to house some of their incoming staff, sharing the building with staff from another local business.
“The driving force behind this initiative is the growing demand for employee housing in the community due to a combination of less beds available in the free market and more staff needed for growing business needs in all areas,” said Kelly.
Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) Mayor Al Raine, recently addressed the issue during meetings with the provincial minister of municipal affairs.
“Ninety per cent of the [Sun Peaks] economy is driven by tourism,” said Raine. “Tourism has taken a 70 per cent hit, that affects all of the businesses and employment here.”
“I’m trying to get the message out to the provincial government that the tourism industry is going to need some help and support if we’re going to bounce back.”
Raine said he believes marketing support and affordable housing are two things that will help the community eventually return to its pre-pandemic tourism levels.
“We’re not going to bounce back overnight and if we don’t wrestle with affordable housing pretty quick, I think it’s going to be more and more difficult to find employees because none of them can afford to stay.”
Kelly added the issue impacts both the resort and their hotel property, The Sun Peaks Grand Hotel, as well as other private businesses in the community.
“Overall we’re somewhat optimistic [about this winter], but staffing challenges and shortages are very real in the tourism sector as a whole and we will feel this burden in Sun Peaks.”
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) will be organizing a free virtual job fair for Sun Peaks employers who are looking to fill their staffing roles.
The event will be hosted through Zoom on Oct. 20 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and all TRU students and alumni will be able to access the virtual job fair.
To join, email Jessi Guercio, Employer Liaison Coordinator with the Career & Experiential Learning Department at TRU, at [email protected]