I enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation with Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi this week as he spoke about the organization and some of the alterations in mission that have occurred as a result of not only the Pandemic, but the consequence of success and record visitation. As he said succinctly, “Our messaging for summer is: When you come to Mammoth Lakes, don’t be an asshole.”
I’ll address the bulk of that conversation next week because I want to focus particuarly on a trend/concern Urdi brought up: the labor pool.
He alluded to the fact that several lodging properties have continued to maintain the 24-hour gap between stays (even though they are permitted to book at 100%). The reason: They don’t really have the housekeeping staff to service their properties at 100%.
He also said that he knew of 3-4 properties which planned to charge winter rates come summer. The focus is no longer on 100% capacity so much as yield, he said.
Lunch: Are you suggesting an imminent bidding war for housekeepers?
Urdi smartly dodged that question. He did say, “The #1 missing piece for us is, where will our housekeepers [and out workforce] live?”
I then followed up with Meghan Stevens, owner of Sierra Employment Services. She said that until lodging properties return to 100% occupancy, that will tamp down the labor shortage somewhat, but, “I believe it’s gonna be crazy here,” she said. “And very hard [for lodging operators].”
She said that pre-pandemic, there were already some labor issues and she was getting ready to pay $18/hour for housekeepers.
“I believe the new normal will be there at $21 or $22 [dollars per hour],” she said. Vacasa, she added, is already paying $23.
As lodging clients have been gearing up, Stevens said she finds herself going through her list to check and see where potential employees might be.
A whole lot of ‘em are no longer in Mammoth.
On more than one occasion, she’s received a terse three-word response to her queries. “I’m in Mexico.” Not, “I’m in Mexico and I can’t wait to get back, what have you got?” Just, “I’m in Mexico.”
“I don’t know the true measure of the damage [caused by the labor exodus], and it won’t be an easy fix,” added Stevens. “Look soon for the job-hopping to start” – folks jumping from one place to the next, lured by promises of better pay and hours.
Good cleaning people, especially those who own their own vehicles, can make $300-400/day if they’re motivated.
Stevens says she’s even having trouble filling the white-collar jobs, and “The people we are getting are unqualified and require training … and some may get trained.” A lot of operators are stuck with the unenviable choice of taking a chance on a wildcard or just continuing to work hard and hope something better shows up later.
A final observation: “I haven’t had a non-Hispanic person come to clean rooms in a long time.”
Stacy and Kirk Schaubmayer of the Alpenhof Lodge said they are keeping back-to-back stays at a minimum (less than 10%), primarily keeping the 24-hour gap between stays.
They currently have just three housekeepers.
“We’re limited based on help,” said Stacy, adding “Reality is, a lot of people have left town … We don’t know what to expect, and may keep the 24-hour gap between stays through the summer.”
“We’re at a crossroads for our community,” she added. “We need to bring more people in at fair wages.”
Kirk added that the next article should be on restaurants, which are facing a similar plight.
A final observation: As things have opened up, guests are not as understanding. “They’re either really nice … or they’re really not,” said Stacy diplomatically.
Finally, I spoke to John Morris of Snowcreek Resort.
Morris said Snowcreek continues to keep the 24-hour gap between stays for a few reasons.
1. He’d first like to get his staff fully vaccinated
2. Owners/guests have expressed some desire to maintain the gaps.
3. The cleaning protocols require more work, and staffing levels are just 60-70% of what they were pre-pandemic.
Both Snowcreek and Alpenhof have instituted minimum-stay requirements to alleviate the turnover in rooms. Snowcreek requires three-0night stays; the Alpenhof requires two nights.
Snowcreek has also suspended all discounts until after Easter.
What this has done is boosted margins to compensate for the decrease in room nights. Snowcreek’s rack rates remain unchanged from last year.
“It’s a good market for labor,” Morris observed, who said he’d heard some housekeepers were getting as much as $25/hour.
And from Page’s desk …
Judge Evelio Grillo, of Alameda County, ruled this week that the Los Angeles Department of Water Power must continue to provide irrigation water to lessees in Long Valley, rejecting the utility’s claim that climate change has made the area’s watershed unreliable.
The case was filed by Mono County and the Sierra Club in response to LADWP’s proposed leases in 2018 that Long Valley ranchers should expect little to no water for irrigation when they renew.
The lessees argued that altering the lease agreement without undergoing an environmental review was a violation of the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Assurance Act.
Grillo ruled that LADWP continue providing water, to the tune of about 3.2 acre-feet of water per acre, until such an environmental review can be completed.
LADWP followed up with a statement outlining it’s concern that the ruling would be setting a precedent that all water agencies must tangle with when navigating water allocations and environmental needs. The worry being that CEQA could now be utilized as a tool to disrupt development or change around the state, possibly to the detriment of residents.