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Kingston, Ont.’s hospitality sector forced to adapt due to labour shortage

Across the country, a labour shortage that started during the pandemic is still impacting businesses trying to emerge from the impact of COVID shutdowns and Kingston, Ont., is no exception.

The city’s hospitality sector is struggling to find workers as the tourism season kicks into high gear.

“I’ve been in the hospitality industry my whole life, and I’ve never seen it like this,” said Downtown BIA Executive Director Marijo Cuerrier.

The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt across the hospitality sector, where some local businesses are having a hard time finding staff to fill the gaps.

The shortage has become so prevalent that some hotels are closing down floors, restaurants are closing sections of their dining, and service times are longer than usual.

“It’s probably our top priority right now, coming into tourist season. It’s hospitality, restaurants, culinary, retail, it’s across the board,” added Cuerrier.

One local business that is looking for some extra staff is Mesa Fresca, a Mexican restaurant in the west end.

They are hiring a few extra people to fill the gaps, and although they say the worst shortage they faced was earlier on in the pandemic, they are still facing issues getting to full staff.

“As our capacity increases and lockdowns kind of end, we’re not seeing that help coming through the door as much as we did previously,” said Andrew Scahill, owner of Mesa Fresca.

The labour shortage has forced businesses to get creative in recruiting and retaining employees.

“We’ve increased our benefits and access to benefits. We also try to pay as much of a living wage as we possibly can here, without it affecting the price structure of our business as well,” he added.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to fixing the labour shortage issue partly fuelled by workers going back to school, or finding work in another field during the pandemic.

However, there are a number of ideas being rolled out at every level to try and solve the problem and fill those vacant positions.

“People in immigration situations, people who are here on visas that can work. Students that are here and looking for part-time work. Putting some training programs into place. Anything we can do to get the system moving again,” said Cuerrier.

The Downtown Kingston BIA hopes the situation will improve before the summer tourism season ramps up.

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