Saturday, December 9, 2023

Local Tourism Industry Still Struggling With Staffing Issues

WILLIAMSBURG-The local hospitality industry, particularly the food and beverage sector, continues to grapple with labor shortages.

The issue was discussed during the first meeting of the year for the Williamsburg Tourism Council, which was held Tuesday, January 17 at Williamsburg Lodge.

Michael Claar with Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association (WARA) told those in attendance during a roundtable discussion that local restaurants remain on par with the national trend of a continued lack of staff.

“I think we will be talking about labor shortage for a while,” he said.

While some restaurants on a national level may be forced to close due to the shortage, in Greater Williamsburg, “a lot of restaurants are adapting.”

Claar added that restaurant sales in 2023 are forecasted to be at pre-pandemic levels, though profits will be down in part to inflation.

Local restaurants aren’t the only ones being impacted by the labor shortage. Kevin Lemke, president of Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, said Busch Gardens is also feeling the effects too and will be focusing on recruitment during the current off-season.

“It is still a challenging environment,” Lemke said.

Despite the difficulties with finding enough staff, local attractions are coming off a successful holiday season for tourism.

Lemke noted that while inclement weather affected certain days of Busch Gardens Christmas Town, “we ended strong.”

James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, said Historic Jamestowne also attracted a lot of tourists during the holidays.

“We had a good holiday season with good visitation, though now it is slow,” he said.

January and February are typically slow months for the local tourism industry. WARA offers Restaurant Week specials each January to draw crowds. This year, Restaurant Week in Williamsburg is running January 19-January 29.

As 2023 begins, Visit Williamsburg, the local tourism organization, will continue to ramp up its marketing initiatives. The organization recently won multiple awards for its “Life. At Your Pace.” campaign. According to reports, advertising in 2022 not only influenced people to visit Greater Williamsburg, but it also provided tourists with ideas of things to see and do, which led to longer stays and more spending. Most travelers came from the New York area.

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