Editor’s Note: Rhonda Sideris and her daughter Heleena Sideris are the owners of Park City Lodging, a vacation rental and property management company in Park City, Utah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
Like many other businesses, we’ve been through our fair share of challenges running our Park City, Utah vacation rental company during the pandemic. We’ve sacrificed millions of dollars in revenue by honoring generous cancellation policies for guests and keeping properties vacant for a day between bookings to ensure proper cleaning.
But this year, we’re facing our toughest challenges yet amid the Omicron wave: labor shortages.
It’s peak ski season in Park City, and given that we’ve seen an overall surge in people seeking safe outdoor activities, the area is busier than ever before. But our employees are getting sick, as are workers at other businesses, which is creating a massive domino effect in the city, impacting everything from ski resorts and restaurants to snow removal and trash pickup.
These kinds of shutdowns have a huge impact on our guests, and therefore our business. The ski resorts don’t have enough workers to maintain the ski runs, which means guests have been forced to wait in long lines and ski limited terrain. Some have decided to skip the skiing altogether and just end their vacation early. Through our concierge service, which helps guests plan activities during their stay, we’ve seen the demand for dining out exceed any previous year on record, but restaurants are frequently closing due to staffing shortages and outbreaks. Still, the onus falls on us to make it right for the guest, which typically entails a last-minute scramble to place them at an open restaurant with availability, or giving them a gift certificate.
The staffing shortages have also reached into municipal operations, and we have found ourselves removing snow and trash when city and county workers are out sick, which adds to our own labor costs. We were hoping we’d see some financial relief with the Sundance Film Festival, which is Park City’s largest annual event and a cornerstone of the local economy. But it shifted to an all-virtual event. With our properties 98% occupied during this time, this was a major hit to business as guests cancel their bookings.
Overall, our guests’ experience with us has been impacted, and when that happens, we’re on the receiving end of the complaint. That’s nothing new for us — it comes with the territory in this industry. But this time, we’re doing it while covering laundry shifts and cleaning properties. Some of our employees live together in multi-generation households, so if one person is sick, suddenly five employees are out.
And our employees who aren’t out sick are completely strained. As business owners, we find ourselves doing a lot of cheerleading to keep spirits up for our 79 outstanding employees, many of whom are working extra hours and taking on more work.
There are solutions: The US Chamber of Commerce has called for doubling the number of legal immigrants, making it easier for DACA recipients to pursue a path to permanent citizenship, and eliminating barriers to employment like access to affordable childcare for working parents, broadband for rural populations, and equality of opportunity for overlooked talent pools like veterans and formerly incarcerated individuals. These are exactly the types of the solutions we need to be able to hire more workers and run our business at its full potential while riding out the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The nation’s broader labor shortage is impacting us, too. Utah’s unemployment rate is 1.9%. We’ve been trying to fill an upper management position (and about 10 other openings), but despite offering competitive wages, bonuses, tickets to NBA games, ski pass reimbursement, 401(k) plans, vacation time and a company culture we are so proud of, new hires are few and far between. In addition, our payroll has increased by 175% this year to keep up with rising wages.
We’re doing everything we can, but we need help with this labor crisis. To continue to navigate the pandemic and grow, we need to be able to hire workers that can help take our business to the next level. Until we can hire the necessary team, we are at a standstill.
We are grateful to be part of an exceptionally resilient industry. We look forward to the day that this is all behind us — and a strong workforce is standing with us.