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Staffing Shortages May Counteract Tourism Growth

A new forecast by Isavia projects that 5.7 million passengers will pass through Keflavík Airport in 2022. According to the Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, the tourism industry must hire between seven and nine thousand foreign workers to meet demand.

A shortage of waiters and chefs

On Wednesday, Isavia – a company that handles the operation and development of all airports in Iceland – released its 2022 passenger forecast. The forecast, the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, projects that the total number of passengers passing through Keflavík Airport will be 5.7 million.

Following the report’s publication, RÚV interviewed the Director of the Association of Companies in Hotel and Accommodation Services (FHG), Kristófer Óliversson, who stated that staffing shortages in the sector would mean that hotels and guesthouses would be unable to meet demand in some areas of the country. “There are always regions that are difficult and have been difficult, but we’ve seen improvement year on year. Continued development means a greater likelihood of available rooms.”

According to Kristófer, a shortage of waiters and chefs is common among associated companies, given that many have abandoned their jobs during the pandemic. Although a few have returned, new hires account for ca. 70-80% of staff today. Kristófer also observed that the tourism industry would need time to recover after the pandemic. Despite improving forecasts, the sector had been hit hardest by the pandemic.

A shortage of seven to nine thousand employees

Addressing the near future of the tourism sector, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, told RÚV that improving prospects were certainly good; nevertheless, conditions could arise wherein fewer travelers could secure desired services, with staffing shortages playing a significant role.

“In general, I’d say that a great many who worked in tourism before the pandemic have now left the industry: ca. 9 thousand people were gone at the end of 2021 when compared to 2019, half of them Icelandic and the other half of foreign extraction,” Jóhannes Þór observed.

Aside from a staff shortage in the restaurant sector, there are not enough guides to meet demand. As noted by RÚV, data from Statistics Iceland indicates that there were over 33 thousand employees in the tourism industry before the pandemic. This number plummeted with the onset of COVID-19, and unemployment rose. According to Jóhannes Þór, these workers have not returned to these jobs, especially Icelanders, which means more foreign employees would need to be hired with the concomitant training costs.

“If we take a broad view, I would say that to meet demand, this year and the next, we’re short between seven to nine thousand foreign workers, and that’s about two thousand more than before the pandemic.”

As noted by RÚV, the high season may also see a shortage of rental cars. Data from the Icelandic Transport Authority indicates that there are fewer rental cars in the country today when compared to before the pandemic. As dealerships have not imported enough cars, some rental companies, like Bílaleiga Akureyrar, e.g., have begun importing cars themselves to meet demand.

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