ReboundGetting Back To Work


Tourism industry desperate for workers: 'We need help'

Todd 'Parney' Parnell: 'A lot of people other than me are losing sleep over this'
Busch Gardens
Posted at 6:47 PM, May 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-16 22:01:25-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As COVID-19 restrictions are set to expire soon, experts say tourism is expected to boom this summer.

While industry professionals welcome the changes, many are struggling to keep up with an increased demand due to a lack of workers.

"I'm here to tell you, employee wise, we need help," said Todd "Parney" Parnell, COO of the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

That same plea echoes across every industry impacted by COVID-19, especially sports and entertainment.

"We didn't have a 2020 season, so part-time employees, if they were seeking employment elsewhere during the summer, they went and got it," Parney said.

Richmond Flying Squirrels
Richmond Flying Squirrels

He said the organization is currently struggling to fill part-time positions, particularly in the food and beverage department.

This comes as the Diamond welcomes back fans since coronavirus canceled baseball.

"For our first homestand, it was quite evident that people had not been to the Diamond in over a year because they were spending money like MC Hammer in the 90s," Parney joked.

Governor Northam recently announced that all COVID restrictions will be lifted in less than two weeks which has heightened Parney's concerns over staffing.

"How are we going to be staffed for the 10,000 people that are going to be there on July 3rd and July 4th," Parney asked. "A lot of people other than me are losing sleep over this."

Busch Gardens

A few dozen miles down I-64, a similar scenario is playing out in Williamsburg.

"We've certainly seen some challenges, but we're making good progress as well," said Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens and Water Country USA.

He said a worker shortage has limited some operations, but it hasn't taken away from the guest experience.

"We've had to adjust the business based on the resources we have and what the demand is in the park," Lembke said. "But the good news is we've continued to grow the experience of the rides, and shows, and culinary offerings, or food and wine event, all the things that guests come to expect and love, we've been able to offer."

In Doswell, Kings Dominion is delaying the reopening of its water park, Soak City, by weeks due to a lack of lifeguards and other employees.

"When the pandemic hit, 40% of the jobs lost were associated with travel and tourism," said Jack Berry, president of Richmond Region Tourism. "Many of those people have found other positions or other careers. Some are still on unemployment," Berry said.

He said it's a race for business owners to fill the some of the gaps before social distancing and capacity limits go away Memorial Day Weekend.

"We just think the doors are going to break down, and travelers are going to flood not only Central Virginia, but Virginia and nationwide," Berry explained.

Berry hopes relief is in sight as students graduate from college and look for jobs, but he mentioned it will be a gradual return to normal.

If you're looking for a job, Lembke and Parney offer these messages:

"It's a fun environment," Lemke said about Busch Gardens. "We're a very unique business, a guest facing business, a lot of interaction with the public and ability to really influence a guest day. You're around roller coasters and shows and all the fun things that people love about Busch Gardens."

"We're not in the baseball business," Parney said about The Flying Squirrels. "We're not in the entertainment business. We're in the memory making business. And whether you're a ticket taker, whether you're a food and beverage employee, whether you're an usher, you're all part of the memory making business."

Both Lembke and Parney said they offer competitive wages and fun perks along with other incentives.

Busch Gardens hosts in-person job fairs twice a week at the theme park. Hiring managers also accept online applications. Click here for more information.

And interested candidates can click here to contact The Flying Squirrels.

Virginians age 12+ eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Register on the Vaccinate Virginia website or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343). You can search for specific vaccines as well as which are available near you via the Vaccine Finder website.

Virginia Together: The Rebound Richmond campaign is here to help. Find information on who is hiring, investigations into unemployment payment issues, financial advice on making ends meet, and mental health advice on managing the pressures. These stories will be featured often on CBS 6 News and can be found by clicking this link.