A total of seven businesses from the tourism and hospitality industry joined our third roundtable discussion with Mayor Brigette Peterson, team members of Gilbert’s Office of Economic Development, the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, and JW Rayhons of Joshua Development.
Our goal was to hear from business who were impacted by the decline in tourism and travel due to pandemic related restrictions and to learn what challenges they are currently facing to gain insight into their expectations in the year ahead.
When asked to share what goals they have set for their business this year all responses included goals to stay on budget and to catch up on plans they had in place for their business the previous year. One business mentioned planning for renovations and struggling to find the right timing to complete those. Businesses mentioned comparing budget numbers to either 2018 or 2019 numbers instead of comparing to their performance in 2020.
Businesses shared the biggest challenge they are currently facing; attendees expressed the following concerns:
- Similarly, to previous roundtable events, recruiting and retaining employees continues to be a struggle across industries.
- One business mentioned they struggle to recruit enough staff to fully reopen the retail stores and concession areas on their property.
- Another common issue among this industry was the difficulty in obtain rental cars for travelers.
Looking to the year ahead, businesses were asked how their priorities may have shifted:
- One business owner mentioned shifting to more website-based offerings in order to stay in front of their customer base.
- Another commented they have shifted from a focus on the health and safety of customers and staff to a focus on obtaining supplies to keep their business running (this is in regard to supplies for day-to-day operations as well as for hotel renovations- beds, furniture, etc).
- Others mentioned a shift from customer focus to staffing for all roles to help maintain high quality customer service.
Next, attendees discussed how their customer base had changed and whether they felt this change would be permanent:
- Many area hotels had to lower their room rates to attract customers which they felt brought in a different type of client than they generally have. This has led to a change in customer expectations, expecting higher quality for cheaper pricing.
- Other customers have grown accustomed to expecting shuttle service at hotels and one hotel in attendance mentioned recently having to remove that service.
- A growing number of guests want digital options/digital menus and expect a smart home experience within the hotel.
- The Town of Gilbert has a focus on technology infrastructure and transportation in the coming years. The Town of Gilbert plans to partner with providers to bring technology and broadband services to the community including both residents and businesses.
Since staffing continues to be an issue across different industries, the roundtable focused attention on how attendees have tried to attract and retain talent at their business:
- Attendees agreed it would be beneficial to organize an ongoing meeting for businesses in the tourism/hospitality industry.
- One business mentioned it was difficult to increase employee pay when they have not yet returned to 2019 numbers. They have tried other motivators that have not been successful.
- Another business suggested building partnerships with local schools to bring awareness to the industry. This would provide work experience and grow skills that can be included on a resume even if the hospitality industry is not your main career goal.
- Others encouraged hiring managers to consider applicants coming in with no hotel experience. It may be worthwhile to look outside the box – what about those making a career change?
- A representative from the Town of Gilbert mentioned the Tourism Action Group that meets quarterly to discuss issues related to the tourism/hospitality industry.
Businesses then shared their most immediate needs within the next 6 months:
- Many answers were echoed among the group to include obtaining products/supplies, hiring and retaining talented staff, and securing volunteers.
- One mentioned it would be helpful to receive new partnership connections. They mentioned having a great relationship with a local restaurant where they can refer their guests. They are looking to increase their current partnerships.
- Another mentioned it would be helpful to have a visitors’ center where visitor and residents new to the area can obtain information on the local businesses and things to do in Gilbert.
- One business mentioned the increased issue of parking availability. Town representatives mentioned the placement of two parking structures in downtown Gilbert and the addition of designated rideshare drop off/pick up areas.
In closing, businesses shared final comments and thoughts for Town leaders:
- Attendees asked about upcoming tourism projects – Town representatives confirmed plans for the surf park are back on track and discussed future plans involving the Gilbert Regional Park.
- With all the new apartment buildings going up, how will we as a community provide information to the new residents? It was suggested to invite apartment managers to attend the hospitality/tourism group meetings.