Tourism Boom on the Brink: Ireland’s Staff Shortages Pose a Major Threat

"Tourism Boom in Jeopardy as Irish Hospitality Industry Struggles with Staff Shortages"

Ireland’s hospitality industry is bracing itself for a tourism boom this summer, but the sector is facing a staffing crisis. The country’s largest indigenous industry may not have enough people to serve the number of holidaymakers expected in the coming months. According to a report published earlier this year by risk and financial advisory solutions provider Kroll, the skills shortage and inflationary pressures have led to increased salary expectations in the sector. The report surveyed 133 restaurants and hospitality businesses across Ireland, with the majority of respondents stating that it will be difficult to recruit and retain staff this year.

Jim McCarthy, proprietor of the 26-year-old Chart House restaurant in Dingle, Kerry, said he interviewed one man who requested to be paid €20 an hour, cash in hand. “That’s not how this works,” said Mr McCarthy. He added that the fallout of COVID-19 and the rental crisis has created a “perfect storm” for restaurants looking to hire staff. Meanwhile, Mr O’Sullivan, who runs the Greenwich cafe in Cork, said he needs two more staff members heading into the next few months. He believes that there should be incentives to entice more people to look at working in the sector as a career instead of a job.

The staffing crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rental crisis. Many people left the industry during the pandemic to earn a wage and reskilled during that time. The housing crisis is also driving away talent, making it difficult for people to find an affordable place to live in the city. The cost of living is for sure eating into the skills market, according to Mr O’Sullivan. He had two skilled employees working at his cafe last year who had to leave because they could not find an affordable place to live in the city. Even finding a place is a disaster, but then paying rent in a place is sky-high.

The staffing crisis is taking its toll on restaurants across Ireland, with many owners having to turn away potential diners because they don’t have enough staff to serve them. Mr McCarthy said that recently, in what is supposed to be Ireland’s off-season for tourism, he has had to turn away potential diners because it was not possible to serve them. He added that no one is coming with a hunger and passion to learn in this business. The Corkman bought the café, which used to be known as Idaho, around 18 months ago in an off-market deal from its previous owners Richard and Mairéad Jacobs. However, he has been in the service industry long before opening Greenwich.

Mr O’Sullivan’s culinary background has helped him through the current staff shortages as he can work in his cafe’s kitchen. But he said other restaurant owners may not be able to do this, which could lead to them reducing their opening hours. “I could see restaurants probably going down to four days a week as a way of coping with it,” he said.

Despite the staffing crisis, travellers continue to flock to Ireland post-pandemic. In March, 181,000 passengers travelled through Cork airport, according to the Dublin Airport Authority (daa). Cork Airport recorded a 10.4% increase in passenger numbers on the same period last year and a 4.6% increase on March 2019, pre-pandemic. The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) estimates that 7m international tourists came to Ireland in 2022, a 73% recovery compared to the pre-pandemic peak of 2019. However, the ITIC expects the sector will not reach full recovery until 2026.

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