Haley Howard hands her résumé to a hotel manager Wednesday during Visit Santa Barbara’s job fair.
Haley Howard hands her résumé to a hotel manager Wednesday during Visit Santa Barbara’s job fair. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The tourists are back, but the workers are not.

Visit Santa Barbara held a job fair Wednesday at the Hilton on Santa Barbara’s waterfront. The mood and the message were clear: There are job opportunities everywhere in the hospitality industry.

“There’s just not as many applicants as you would normally see over the course of a month,” said Warren Nocon, general manager of the Hotel Californian. “I am not sure where they all are.”

He’s hiring for all positions — servers, bussers, housekeepers, guest reception agents, and spa and management positions. The Hotel Californian was just one of dozens of hospitality companies trying to recruit employees at the event, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

With the COVID-19 pandemic nearing its end and most mask requirements lifted, the economy is slowly returning to normal. Finding employees, however, has emerged as an industry challenge.

The reason for the hiring challenges remains a mystery, but there’s plenty of speculation. Hotel employees suspect that the pandemic sparked an exodus of workers and forced them into other industries where they wouldn’t have to worry about layoffs should the virus return. Others may have found jobs where they could work remotely permanently.

The good news is that anyone looking for job, or even a career, might find one in the hospitality industry.

“One of the issues we are facing right now is labor shortages,” Visit Santa Barbara President/CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes said. “As we continue to welcome back visitors to the Santa Barbara region, we need to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to provide those customer services experiences that they are accustomed to.”

She said that Wednesday’s career and job fair was the first but not the last of several events planned to create a pipeline of workers. She said it’s one of several focused on workplace development for both current staffing needs and long-term career opportunities. She looks to build better relationships with Santa Barbara City College and UCSB to develop career opportunities.

“This is an opportunity to really take a look at our industry and see how we can adapt to what people are seeking right now, too,” Janega-Dykes said.

Robert Glock, general manager of Hotel Milo on Cabrillo Boulevard, said it’s an exciting time to be in Santa Barbara.

“There are so many great opportunities in this industry for someone who doesn’t know what they want to do,” Glock said. “Or maybe they do know. Maybe they want to climb the corporate chain.”

He said the environment right now is such that a person could start out at the front desk and then become a front desk supervisor, then a manager and even a general manager. A housekeeper can quickly rise the ranks to supervisor, he said.

Among those looking for a job on Wednesday was Haley Howard, an Alabama resident originally from the Central Coast. She heard about the event and visited all of the tables, handing out her résumé to the hotels that interested her.

She said she’s looking for a hospitality job for the summer. She’s a student majoring in hospitality management at Auburn University. She took the spring semester off and is trying to line up a job.

“I love the interaction with people,” Howard said. “I love hearing their stories and making someone smile and bringing out some happiness.”

She’s worked many jobs in the industry, and she’s hoping to line up the perfect job.

“I think it’s great,” Howard said of the job fair. “Everyone has been really receptive and talkative and open. I love this experience.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.