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Local Hotelier: It's Never Been Harder To Hire Workers

hotel room
Andrew Neel

Local hotels are struggling to hire enough workers to keep up with rebounding travel and tourism.

Bimal Patel, board member for the Hamilton County Convention Facilities Authority, says it's never been harder to find housekeeping workers in hotels.

"You know, you just can't keep raising wages because the next company or the next industry's going to do the same thing," Patel said. "So we have to figure out a way to operate where at least we're somewhat profitable and we can still survive as a business."

Patel says his hotels have already increased wages as much as they can, and they're losing workers to other industries.

"Fifth-Third Bank — great company locally and we love them — but they pay $18 an hour for a teller," Patel said. "Well, there's really no hotel in the region that's going to pay $18 an hour for the front desk."

Hamilton County had the highest hotel occupancy since before the pandemic last week. Patel says that's only exacerbated the worker shortage.

"It was tough enough to operate a hotel at 15% occupancy last year with four people in the hotel, but it's even harder now to operate that same hotel at 75% because you don't have anybody to clean rooms and what-not," he said.

Northern Kentucky University economist Janet Harrah says hotels are operating with small profit margins right now, but that excuse doesn't hold water across the board.

"Clearly, given the profits that Amazon has had the last five years, if they wanted to raise wages, they have the capacity to raise wages and maintain a profit margin," she said. "How much profit margin should a company have? That is not an economic question, that's a public policy question. And from a business perspective, you're not going to raise wages as long as you can get the employees you need to run your business and maintain a larger profit margin."

Harrah says other factors are at play, too – like lack of childcare or transportation making it difficult for some people to work even if they wanted to.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.