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Bhavesh Patel, chairman of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association

“We need help. We need help right away.”

That was the plea from Bhavesh Patel, president of ADM Hotels and chairman of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, who presented during a recent New Jersey Business Coalition town hall about the hiring crisis that has left countless hotel rooms across the state unnecessarily vacant.

“We have been hit the hardest throughout this whole pandemic,” Patel said. “Last year… hotels were considered essential, and we kept our doors open, but many, throughout the course of last year and this year, had to shut their doors because we just couldn’t find the staff to man our properties.”

Patel said incentives are needed if workers currently enjoying expanded unemployment benefits are going to be coaxed back to work.

“Whether it’s tax credits, whether it’s incentives from them coming off unemployment, whatever it may be. I mean, we’re paying higher than minimum wage right now, we’re paying $18, $19, $20 (an hour) for even housekeeping,” he said. “(For the) front desk, we’re paying close to $25 (an hour) and we still can’t get workers to come in to man our buildings.”

But it’s not just the hospitality industry that will suffer. With the summer season already underway, Patel said he fears the inability to staff hotels will have a dramatic impact on New Jersey’s tourism as well.

“People are not traveling overseas, where are they going to travel? They’re going to travel to the shore points, they’re going to travel to our neighboring states,” he said. “I’m hearing from hotel members we just don’t have staff to clean these rooms. The rooms are staying empty. We just can’t take the reservations because we just don’t have workers.”

More than 150 people attended the New Jersey Business Coalition’s May 11 town hall, including about 20 federal and state legislators or their staffs. Go here to watch Patel’s entire presentation.