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Golden's busy summer made even busier with labour shortage

Many tourism-based businesses in town have had trouble finding staff to keep up with the increase in tourism this summer.
Golden has had a busy summer tourism season

The "No Vacancy" signs you're seeing on some of Golden's many hotels and lodges this summer may be a bit misleading. Some accommodators in town are saying that the busy tourism season has them turning people away, not only because they're full, but because they are too short staffed to keep up with the demand.

"This is the busiest summer we've seen," said Amy Fegyverneki, office manager with Lush Accommodations. Lush is the largest independent property management company in town, and looks after 32 properties ranging from one to seven bedrooms each.

Operating below 100 per cent staffing levels is not new for Lush, especially in the summer, but Fegyverneki says this year has gotten even worse.

"This summer we've definitely seen a shift," she said. "But I have to say, our staff have really saved us. Everyone has been taking on more to help out, we're really lucky."

Fegyverneki along with owner John Lush have also been logging plenty of overtime to keep up with the busy season.

But that still hasn't stopped them from occasionally blocking off properties from their availability list because they don't have enough staff to "flip" or clean them in time.

"Long weekends are the hardest, and yes we have had to block off some properties because we can't flip them fast enough," said Fegyverneki.

Ideally Lush would have two more full time housekeepers, but attempts to get new hires have been difficult. They have advertised the positions, with a competitive wage of $14 and hour, with no luck.

"There just doesn't seem to be anyone looking for work."

Lush is certainly not alone with this problem. Kicking Horse Lodging (owned by Bellstar), Golden and area's largest accommodator with 150 rentals in multiple lodges at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, is operating in their busiest summer yet with 25 per cent fewer staff than they would like.

"If we were fully staffed we would have 40 employees. Right now we have 30," said Lori Baxendale, Rooms Division Manager with Kicking Horse Lodging.

"It is amazing that so many people want to come to Golden and stay with us, it's really an honour. But it's definitely frustrating when we have to turn guests away, even though we technically have capacity, just because we are short people."

Being situated at the ski hill, Bellstar sees higher visitation during the winter…until this year. This past July is not only the highest summer month they have ever seen, it has actually surpassed some of their winter months from this year (February, which has BC and Alberta Family Day still remains their busiest month of the year).

"And that is short staffed," said Baxendale. "Can you imagine what we could have done if we had 10 more bodies."

Just like Lush, Bellstar is grateful for the staff they do have, who have stepped up during this busy time. All employees, including management and maintenance staff, have been helping out house keeping. This has helped keep as many rooms as possible open, but Bellstar still prioritizes quality over quantity, and would rather block off rooms than provide subpar rooms.

"Reviews are huge in this industry, one bad review online can really have an impact. So we need to make sure that everyone who stays with us is happy," said Brandy Beliveau, Hotel Manager for Kicking Horse Lodging. "Sometimes that means saying we have no availability because we can't get a room ready for our check-in time."

The food and beverage industry is also having difficulty this summer. Help wanted signs can be seen on most windows, and some establishments have had to change their hours due to staffing issues.

So why is Golden all of a sudden struggling to find enough staff to support the tourism industry?

British Columbia does currently have the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 5.6 per cent (July number from Statistics Canada). And it is the only province in the country that saw a drop in unemployment from June to July.

But Baxendale and Lush think there are other factors contributing to the current situation.

"Tourism Golden has done such an amazing job promoting this community, and drawing in tourists. They truly have. We're all seeing record numbers this year," said Baxendale. "But our population is not increasing at the same rate, and we just don't have enough people living here to fill all these jobs. The fact that Golden has been without an economic development body for four years is having an impact."

Golden Area  Initiatives, the last economic development body to serve the community, marketed Golden as a community to live in, aiming to draw new residents to the area.

"There is still economic development in Golden. Businesses like Heemskirk who restarted operations in Moberly, and the new brewery, they are bringing jobs to our community," said Area A Director Karen Cathcart.

However she did agree that an economic development organization to help build our population is important, and that it continues to be a priority.

"There will be a sit-down between myself and the Town of Golden to discuss shared services soon, and economic development will be part of that discussion," she said. "It is definitely on both our priority lists."

Mayor Ron Oszust says that even though he has not been approached by any local businesses regarding a struggle to find workers, he will be facilitating discussions soon where business owners can bring up any issue they may have.

"We are planning on doing a Business Walk in September and this would be an opportune time for these discussions," he said.

Lush, on the other hand, believes that long-term accommodation is also having an impact on the local labour force.

"A lot of people are starting to take advantage of the airBNB rentals, and that is taking away long-term rentals for people who live here," said Lush. "We're starting to see it already, and I think it's only going to become a bigger problem. People who want to live and work here won't be able to find anywhere to live."

Golden is not the only place feeling the squeeze. Beliveau says her colleagues within the Bellstar company are having similar problems.

"I know that Canmore is feeling it too," she said.

The summer is almost over, and they have managed to keep everything running at a level of service they are comfortable with. But Kicking Horse Lodging is looking ahead, and have already decided to increase wages for next season.

"Right now we pay $14 an hour as a starting wage for house keeping, and we've already decided to bump that up to $15 for our next budget," said Beliveau. "Hopefully that helps."