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Hotel Hiring Rebounds

Jobless Americans are using increased tourism as a pathway back to employment, finding jobs at hotels and motels as those facilities step up hiring to meet growing demand. "With more people on the road, we'll need more people working in hotels," said Jan Freitag, a senior vice president at Smith Travel Research Inc. He cited a 4.1 percent increase in first-quarter hotel bookings from a year ago as a "very positive sign" that U.S. tourism is rebounding.

A rise in leisure and business travel is "creating employment opportunities all across the country in the travel industry that is helping in the job recovery and benefiting the economy," said David Huether, senior vice president of economics and research at the U.S. Travel Association in Washington.

About 7.6 million people, or 5.7 percent of the U.S. workforce, held tourism-related jobs in March, the association estimates. According to the United States Department of Labor, "The median annual wage of maids and housekeeping cleaners was $19,300 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,980, and the top 10 percent earned more than $29,510."

The United States Department of Labor indicated "Maids and housekeeping cleaners typically do the following: Clean rooms, hallways, and other living or work areas, change sheets and towels; make beds; wash, fold, and iron clothes, empty wastebaskets and take trash to disposal areas, replenish supplies, such as soap and toilet paper, dust and polish furniture and equipment, sweep, wax, or polish floors using brooms, mops, or other floor-cleaning equipment, vacuum rugs, carpets, and upholstered furniture, clean or polish windows, walls, and woodwork, and lift and move lightweight objects and equipment

Marriott International Inc. (MAR) (MAR), the largest publicly traded U.S. hotel chain, has forecast that its U.S. staff will rise 6 percent this year to 212,000 from about 200,000 as of Dec. 31, Laura Paugh, senior vice president of investor relations, said in a telephone interview. Marriott operates hotels in all 50 states, and bookings nationwide have been "quite strong," with growth driven by leisure, foreign and business travelers.

The "good news" is that Marriott is "filling jobs when they become vacant," a change from the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, when the Bethesda, Maryland-based company was reducing hours, Paugh said. "Occupancy is high enough that most people are working a full shift again."

After years as a care giver, Angela Cook found work at a hotel in 2010, when the 43-year-old Los Angeles resident participated in a five-day training program to place jobless black workers in union hospitality positions. She says she needed a "boost of confidence" to jumpstart her career; she was on welfare and "looking for work was very discouraging."

The program made Cook "more employable," she says, and upon completion, she was hired as a cocktail server at the Wilshire Grand Hotel. While she was laid off when the hotel closed for renovations in December, she got a job last month with the Sheraton Universal in Universal City, California, where she's a banquet server for events including weddings, parties and business meetings.

The high-end market has "come back the quickest," and this probably will trickle down to road-side and economy motels, which also may add to their staffs, said Simkins, who maintains an "outperform" recommendation on Marriott and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

U.S. lodging operators booked 1.07 billion rooms in the 12 months ended March 31, up 4.4 percent from a year earlier, based on data from Smith Travel Research. This "unprecedented demand" comes as construction of new rooms is at a 20-year low, so the increase is accommodated almost exclusively at existing locations, Freitag said.

Foreigners account for 14 percent of travel spending, and about half of last year's increase in industry employment was driven by these tourists, Huether said, citing association estimates. That's because they're likely to stay in hotels and eat out regularly while vacationing, he said.

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Source: Business Week, Anna-Louise Jackson and Anthony Feld, 4/24/12