Hospitality industry copes with unprecedented times, massive layoffs
Monday, March 30, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought life and business to a grinding halt. Schools and offices have closed, public transport is no longer functional and life as we know it has changed. Among the hardest-hit sectors are travel and hospitality.
As the virus spread rapidly across the world in February and March, millions scrambled to cancel their travel plans. Hotels and airlines were besieged by customer calls — all demanding cancellations and refunds.
I was one of them, and I admire how they have handled the crisis patiently and politely. Despite the initial setbacks, like the inability to connect with an agent or websites crashing, I did manage to speak with online agents who worked diligently to help cancel bookings that could no longer be done online.
Brands I had booked with like Qatar Airways and Hyatt Hotels went ahead and gave 100% refunds to all. In times like these, when the sector is facing unprecedented business losses, it is professionalism that will keep some businesses afloat. However, things are going to be tough for some time, as approximately 15 million hospitality jobs in the U.S. have been affected.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a Bloomberg News analysis covered 40 occupations critical to America’s hospitality, travel, and gaming industries to provide some grim statistics. Restrictions and closures put in place to deal with the spread of COVID-19 will affect big and small businesses alike. With bars and restaurants closing down or restricted to takeout and delivery, daily wage earners like waitresses, bartenders, housekeeping staff, hotel desk clerks, and casino dealers are the hardest hit.
In New York, now the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., 1 million hospitality workers are facing the possibility of losing their livelihoods. Many have already been laid off and see no respite in sight. A CNN report states that despite trying for days, they could not even file for unemployment insurance since the website crashed due to overload.
The Los Angeles area, with its 800,000 hospitality workers, is especially hard hit as well. The Los Angeles Times reported that California might be the hardest hit, and COVID-19 may cost the state 125,000 hotel jobs. Data from the trade group American Hotel and Lodging Association show that 414,000 jobs in related industries will be affected, too.
Hospitality labor unions are working hard to contain the sudden severe unemployment crisis that the coronavirus is causing. Unite Here International, a leading labor union for hospitality workers, fears that almost 90% of its 300,000 members could be unemployed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Workers are losing wages along with healthcare benefits. They face not just food and housing insecurity but massive health insecurity as well. These unions are calling upon the U.S. government to center relief efforts around hospitality workers.
The recently signed CARES Act will deliver an infusion of financial aid to help impacted American workers and families. Big and small businesses will benefit, including in travel and hospitality.
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