Most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in Germany just in time for the Easter vacations.
This has presumably inspired even more people to go on holiday and finally enjoy restaurants and hotels without having to wear a mask. After more than two years of the pandemic, this is an understandable desire.
For the German hotel and restaurant industry it is a ray of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, the managing director of the umbrella organization DEHOGA, Ingrid Hartges, confirmed to DW. "Almost two thirds of the businesses we surveyed have rated the booking situation over the upcoming holidays as satisfactory or better" she said. After a long period of doing without, people have a strong desire to relax and enjoy themselves again.
Brighter prospects — and an old problem
The hospitality sector throughout Germany is therefore once again setting up chairs and tables, while hotels are preparing their rooms to welcome guests. But this expected surge of tourists is bringing to light a problem that has long been causing concern in the industry, says Ingrid Hartges: "Due to the lack of demand during the pandemic, the industry experienced a drop in employment, despite all efforts to retain employees. Without the COVID-related reduced working hours benefits, the loss of staff would have been much higher." A sign outside a restaurant advertising jobs as the hospitality sector in Germany faces staff shortages.
In Germany, more than 130,000 jobs have been eliminated in the past two years, in addition to more than 217,000 mini-jobs, as short-term employment is called in Germany.
Many of the mini-jobbers from hotels and restaurants took other jobs in the retail sector, which was allowed to stay open during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Such workers are difficult or impossible to win back because they have become accustomed to regular working hours and weekends off.
"There are just no applicants"
In the Berlin-Brandenburg region alone, 20% of employees have left the industry, according to the Seenland Oder-Spree tourism association. The market has been drained, managing director Ellen Russig told local media, "because every tourism establishment is on the lookout for cooks and serving staff."
And hotel boss Jörn Peters from Bad Saarow adds: " You can't even tell anyone what a great job it is. You don't even get the chance because there's no one to talk to about it — there are just no applicants."
Smaller companies are trying to bridge the shortages with stopgap solutions: In owner-operated establishments, bosses are pitching in even more than usual, and many are reducing menu options or shortening opening hours.
For some catering businesses, digital solutions could help bridge the staff shortage. Several companies are offering ordering and checkout systems that allow customers to place their orders with the kitchen or bar directly from their tables.
Many companies are already using these or similar systems to reduce their workforce needs. Staff must be trained in the new technology and sales must be high enough to warrant the cost of implementation.
Help from abroad
The catering and hotel industry is now pinning its hopes on foreign workers. DEHOGA manager Hartges sums it up this way: "The hospitality industry is an attractive, international industry that is quite uncomplicated to get into. According to the Federal Employment Agency, around 35% of our employees are foreign nationals — in no other industry is the proportion higher."
Hartges said he was pleased that refugees from Ukraine had also found work in the industry. In addition, DEHOGA is trying to attract and train more workers for the local market by expanding its programs for young talent.
Brighter prospects, but dark clouds on the horizon
The sector now faces the effects of the Ukraine war which has led to a rapid increase in energy costs. This means that travel will become more expensive, which could ultimately keep many vacationers at home. In addition, the operating costs of hotels and restaurants will increase due to high energy and food prices, so the expected and long anticipated additional income from more guests after the pandemic lull might not materialize.
According to a DEHOGA survey, the main challenges cited by businesses are skyrocketing energy costs (85.5%), followed by rising food prices (84.9%), the economic consequences of the COVID-19 health crisis (67.6%), and rising personel costs (65.8%).
The extent to which these increased costs will lead to higher prices for consumers is entirely up to individual establishments to decide, says Hartges. "A good entrepreneur will, firstly, consider their guests, and then consider their business needs," she says, "and responsibly determine the range of products and prices and, if necessary, adjust them."
She says that attractive offers must continue to be made available to guests with limited budgets. As long as the balance between cost and value is right, and the reason for any price increase is understandable, then guests will generally accept them.
Author Martin Koch
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