Summer travel is rebounding, but employment in Denver hasn’t kept up

The city is on track with national trends as hotels recover from the pandemic.

A man stands in a hotel in Centennial. Oct. 6, 2020.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

For the first time since the pandemic began, people are flocking back to hotels. But hospitality companies in the Denver metropolitan area may not be prepared for that.

Staffing at local hotels reached record highs right before the pandemic. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, the number of jobs in the Denver hotel industry has been trending upward since 2012, peaking at 181,000 filled jobs in July 2019.

There was a huge increase in the number of unfilled jobs during the early months of the pandemic, due in part to layoffs and public health restrictions. In April 2020, when Colorado’s stay-at-home order was still relatively new, employment reached a record low of 87,800 filled jobs.

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Source: US Department of Labor Statistice

Despite recovering somewhat from that low, hotel staffing has yet to reach its pre-pandemic heights. The most recent data show that about 141,700 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry were filled in May 2021 — about 30,000 jobs short of pre-pandemic figures.

That workforce gap will be tested over the coming months. More people are spending their money on lodging again, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. In fact, Denverites are just spending more in general. About $58 million was spent on room and board in April, encompassing everything from fancy hotel rooms to RV camps. While that figure seems impressive, it’s about 50 percent shy of the pre-pandemic average.

The data puts Denver on track with national trends, as hotels across the country attempt to recuperate and prepare for summer travel. Nationally, there are about 14 million jobs in the hospitality industry, according to recent BLS statistics.