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Business / Local hospitality businesses speak up about staffing ‘crisis’

Busta and the St Magnus Bay Hotel are stopping lunches as a temporary measure

Busta House Hotel. Photo: HIE

LOCAL hospitality businesses say they are being hampered by a national “staffing crisis” in the industry, with two hotels temporarily stopping lunches as a result.

Busta House Hotel manager Grant O’Neil said struggles with staffing availability in hospitality has had a “large impact” on the business.

It means that unless things change Busta will not be serving lunches until the end of July.

O’Neil said the situation is mainly down to the Covid pandemic as well as Brexit, with the business previously relying on EU nationals to top-up the workforce over the summer.

Asked how long the situation is been ongoing, he said: “It’s pretty much been this whole summer since it’s started off.”

O’Neil added that the hotel would need between four and six full-time members of staff to reach its full complement for the summer.

He also said that the Covid situation has also caused some people who have worked in hospitality to revaluate their work/life balance.

Despite the staffing worries, generally for Busta “things are quite positive at the moment” – with plenty of tourists in Shetland, while locals are also visiting the hotel too.

People meanwhile are asked to get in touch via joel@bustahouse.com if they fancy a career in hospitality, or a part-time or summer job at Busta.

The hotel will still be open for evening dinners.

St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick said it was similarly “short of staff and exhausted”.

While it could not pinpoint exact reasons, it also highlighted Covid and Brexit.

The St Magnus Bay Hotel.

From Monday the hotel not be serving lunch, with the exception of private functions, and instead the doors will open at 4pm each day for evening meals. It hopes it will be a short term measure until more staff are recruited.

The Hillswick hotel is currently looking for front of house staff.

It comes as tourism continues to grow following the relaxation of Covid travel restrictions in late April.

Robert Smith of Brudolff Hotels Group, which owns the Shetland, Lerwick and Kvesldro hotels, reiterated it was an issue for the country as a whole.

He added that the Covid pandemic, which has shut the hospitality sector for periods, has “masked” the problem.

The hotelier also called for more government support for the industry.

“Since 2004 when we had freedom of movement with the EU, as everyone knows a significant number of extra staff in various industries, including hospitality, were made up from these countries,” Smith said.

“As time has gone on some have settled here, married here, and moved on employment wise, but there is still a need, and Brexit doesn’t allow anyone to come to work here, except in very limited circumstances, which are not relevant to this industry.”

He cited a government scheme to allow extra seasonal workers for the fruit picking industry, which would be “decimated” without workers from the EU.

Shetland Hotel. Photo © Mike Pennington (cc-by-sa/2.0)

“Unless or until the government have a similar scheme for hospitality this will be an ongoing issue,” Smith said.

“Clearly Covid hasn’t helped; it masked the problem as we were all shut or severely restricted, so didn’t need more staff. Now that we do, there are none to be had.”

Smith added that locally there seems to be “little availability of staff”.

While transport to and from Shetland has reopened, a recent study highlighted that many hospitality and tourism businesses in the Highlands and Islands are struggling.

Only four in ten Shetland respondents to a Federation of Small Businesses survey said they were doing ‘okay or better’.

Across the Highlands and Islands 40 per cent of businesses are said to be struggling to generate sales and profits.