Looking ahead to the 2017 summer tourist season, hotelier Ashish Tari sees a serious labor shortage.
Tari, who came to the United States from India in 2007, is the general manager of the Georgian Lakeside Resort, in Lake George, New York. During the busy summer months, he says, international students and teachers set aside their studies and travel to America to work at the hotels, restaurants, and other attractions in the resort town.
“These are students and professors working in high positions in their respective countries, but they are willing to work as dishwashers and as chamber maids in the United States,” he says.
We have tried in different ways, but local residents don’t want to work seasonal jobs.
The scholars, who comprise about 70 percent of the Georgian’s 120-person staff, travel to the U.S. on exchange visitor visas — temporary, non-immigrant visas typically used by students. But Tari is worried that anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States and a possible curtailment of the program could prevent these valuable workers from returning this season, leaving many positions at the resort unfilled.
Such a scenario would hurt the $3.8 million business and, in turn, impair the job stability of the 36 Americans who work for the resort.
“Without a doubt, all the hoteliers in Lake George are blessed to have this program. We have tried in different ways, but local residents don’t want to work seasonal jobs,” Tari says.
Foreign-born workers are vital to the nation’s $700 billion tourism and hospitality industry. In 2015, foreign-born workers made up more than one out of every five workers in the hospitality sector nationally, and the percentages were significantly higher in states with large tourism industries, such as New York.
In New York’s Adirondack region, which encompasses Lake George, the entertainment and recreation industry is the fifth-largest workforce sector. But the seasonal nature of much of the work makes it difficult for businesses to find U.S.-born employees; one recent local job fair netted only 15 applications for the jobs.
Tari says hiring international students works well for both sides: Businesses are able to secure workers for the short season, which typically runs only from May to September; and international scholars, who often work two or three jobs at a time, can save money to complete their education.
“They have good work attitudes. They come from a background where the government doesn’t pay for unemployment, where if you don’t deliver, someone else will,” he says.
For his part, Tari never expected to move to the United States. In India, he had studied to be an engineer. But after his family purchased a hotel and began acquiring additional properties, Tari found he preferred managing hotels. After working at hotels in India and New Zealand, he came to the United States on a short-term work visa in 2007. The following year, he moved to Lake George to work for his uncle, who owns the Georgian, and quickly began modernizing the hotel’s booking system, coordinating it with portals like Expedia and Orbitz, and developing a comprehensive system to examine customer feedback.
Tari is proud of his team, and of the fact that a core group of international staffers return every year. “The majority of people come back year after year to work for us,” he says. He hopes to see them this summer, if immigration policy doesn’t stand in the way.