Bold moves needed so East’s tourism firms can attract ‘brightest and best’

Jordan Wones, head chef, cooking in the kitchen at Trio's restaurant in St Peter's Hall, Bungay

More people are needed to work in the hospitality and tourism sector, which is facing a recruitment crisis - Credit: Danielle Booden

A tourism academy for East Anglia could be part of the solution to a nationwide shortage of hospitality workers, a tourism chief has suggested.

The regional industry has not been immune from chronic recruitment problems which have beset the economy following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Tourism bosses cite unsocial hours and a reassessment of priorities among furloughed workers, perceptions of the industry as simply “seasonal work” which is not well paid — and the lure of other types of employment as reasons for the shortfall.

Andrew Hird, park general manager at Woodland Holiday Park at Trimingham, near Norwich, said at the moment there was a huge national hospitality recruitment and retention challenge.  

But with chefs able to earn up to £40k to £50k the issue wasn’t necessarily one of pay but how working in the industry is valued as well as workers’ own priorities, he suggested.

“It’s been talked about for a number of years — the fact is young people don’t necessarily see tourism as a career.”

Setting up a tourism academy here would be a real “feather in the cap” for the region, he suggested, but the training must be meaningful. 

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“To capture young people you have really got to engage with them.  They have got to see it’s hard work but the rewards are there — it’s a good career,” he said.

Post-pandemic the park, which is a few people short of its full complement, had to be flexible. Despite the impression that tourist jobs were seasonal, the park needed staff during close to 11 months as marketing work on the shoulder months provides a wider calendar spread of holidaymakers. This was key to seeing the work as full-time, he said.

Philip Turner, founder of the Chestnut Group — which currently owns 12 pubs across the region and continues to expand — called for a joined up approach between colleges, businesses and government.

Recruitment continued to be one of the hardest challenges facing the tourism sector, he said.

“Solving this is going to take strong collective effort from the sector, education institutions and government —  as tourism remains a key part of the economic regional recovery,” he said. 

“Within our business we are actively looking at ways of supporting and rewarding team for their commitment and passion over the last 18 months, which is why we made the bold move to shut our properties on Christmas Day this year to give everyone the time off to spend with their families and friends. 

“It isn’t simply about us only supporting our own teams though, as we need to encourage the next generation of school and college leavers into the hospitality sector to start their careers in what is a fast-paced and rewarding sector. 

“This is why we are looking to forge links directly with colleges to help provide first-hand industry support and advice to the chefs and front of house teams of the future. Finally, we need government to continue to support the sector, where growth and high skills are very much part of our thinking. 

“Ultimately the regional tourism industry needs the brightest and best wanting to work within the sector, and if we can achieve this the East of England will become a destination that’s both successful and synonymous with outstanding holiday experiences," he added.