CLEARWATER, Fla. — Whether catching waves in the warm water, cruising the coast, or simply taking off their mask while in public, people from all over are heading to the white sand beaches of Pinellas County.
“We saw a resurgence of travel back to our communities in mid-spring, really about mid-March, where we were actually beating our numbers, not from 2020 but from 2019,” explained Visit St. Pete Clearwater President and CEO Steve Hayes.
ABC Action News met tourist Beth Poole walking on Clearwater beach. She and her husband were visiting from Springdale, Arkansas for the first time in a few years.
“We probably come here every two to three years. With COVID we didn't come last year, but now since that, with Governor De Santis making this state a free state again, it was the perfect choice for a place to come,” Poole said excitedly in her sun visor.
Tens of thousands of people seem to have the same idea.
Looking at May alone, Pinellas hotels brought in slightly more guests and even more revenue this year than in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
- May 2021
- Occupancy: 77%
- RevPAR (New revenue per available room): $139.32
- May 2020
- Occupancy: 43%
- ADR: $112.48
- RevPAR: $51.40
- May 2019
- Occupancy: 75%
- RevPAR: $112.39
But the reality is, hotels are struggling to keep up.
Walking to a few hotels around 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, ABC Action News witnessed front desks inundated with more people than they could help. Lobbies had suitcases piled up and shoved as far off behind the desk as possible. Phones rang and employees would answer and respond, “Sorry, we don’t have any availability.”
“We’re probably at a 95% occupancy here for, have been for over a month anyways, a couple months,” Mike Shippee exclaimed. He manages Pelican Pointe Resort on Clearwater Beach.
“It's been really hard because there's no help around anywhere, I cannot find help,” he added.
Forget early check-in, these hotels are struggling to get people in rooms on time. We met a group of tourists from Chicago standing outside.
"I'm coming from the suburbs of Chicago, and I’m staying at the Pelican Pointe and we still haven’t gotten our room yet,” Mike Lilly said around 3 p.m. check-in.
The group was still in high spirits, excited to be at the beach, mask-free, adding that they understood and would wait however long necessary.
But anyone who’s traveled anywhere recently has likely noticed the typical hotel stay looks and feels a lot different too.
“If you request it, they will deliver towels to your room, but you do have to request it,” Poole, who was staying at SpringHill Suites off the beach, described. “They'll come get your trash if you request it. They will clean your room, if you give them a 24-hour notice the breakfast bar, which is listed as an amenity is really a go down there, pick up some microwavable things and take it to your room.”
Shippee said it’s discouraging to not be able to live up to their reputation of getting people off their feet and into rooms early. He said this as he was rushing off to clean rooms himself.
“I'm pretty much looking for help-- I say, ‘You got housekeeping experience? You're hired! And I give them the paperwork, so just fill all this out and come back on this day.’ I say, ‘Okay, thank you very much,’ and I never hear from or see them again,” he explained.
It’s not just housekeeping, Shippee said this location and the two other Sunsational Beach Rental properties on Treasure Island are short on front desk, grounds, and maintenance workers too. Even after raising his pay scale to a position already with benefits, workers aren’t showing up.
The owners are now offering a $750 dollar 60-day sign-on bonus that Shippee hopes will make a difference.
However, next to his listing on Indeed.com are more than 1,300 similar hotel positions around the county-- offering four to five dollars above minimum wage, with sign-on bonuses, and hiring now.
When asked what happens when even incentives don’t work, Visit St. Pete Clearwater’s president said if he knew the answer, he would probably be the most highly-paid consultant.
“I think part of it is, you know, there's got to be an appeal that people want to go back to work and then, and get people back to this industry which is exciting,” Hayes suggested.
On June 26, the Florida Department of Economic (DEO) opportunity will end the extra $300 weekly benefits under the Federal Unemployment Weekly Compensation Program with the goal of getting more people back to work.
The DEO press secretary, Andrew Nixon, told ABC Action News in a statement:
“The Department does not have data to support reasons for labor shortages throughout the state.
On May 12, 2021, the Department launched Florida’s ‘Return to Work’ initiative. This initiative is focused on encouraging Floridians to return to the workforce, helping employers attract job seekers, and continuing to fuel the state’s economic growth post-pandemic. As part of DEO’s ‘Return to Work’ initiative and another key step the Department has taken to encourage Floridians to return to work, Florida will end its participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, the $300 per week supplemental FPUC payment, effective June 26, 2021.
DEO is also encouraging Floridians who are interested in a new career path or need assistance looking for employment, to turn to CareerSource Florida for assistance. CareerSource Florida can help job seekers explore new employment opportunities, provide workforce and job-training skills, and provide career advancement assistance.”
When asked if they’re ready for the summer, Shippee replied, “As ready as we’re gonna be, yes.”
If you’d like to apply for a position at Pelican Pointe, you can apply here on Indeed.com, under Sunsational Beach Rentals Clearwater location. You can also find hundreds of other positions at hotels on Indeed as well.