Silver-Haired and Shameless About Perks: Retirees Take Part-Time Work in the Travel Industry

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The couple is not rich. They live in Upland, Calif., a city about 40 miles inland from Los Angeles, and admit that their new reality — where they can head to an airport and casually wait for standby tickets to any city in the world — continues to make them want to pinch themselves.

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The travel industry is facing significant labor shortages. In June, domestic employment in the leisure and hospitality sectors was down nearly 8 percent since February 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, leaving hotels, airlines and other travel operators ill-equipped to contend with surging demand. That crunch — playing out in widespread flight cancellations, terminal halls filled with lost suitcases and diminished room service and daily housekeeping — is prompting companies to recruit at job fairs and sweeten their benefits with bonuses and same-day pay. It’s also pushing them to consider senior citizens for positions that are far from senior.

“We’re open to anything,” said Dan Bienstock, chief people officer for EOS Hospitality, a hotel management company. “We have more job openings across the company than ever before, and we’re thinking outside the box on how to retain talent.”

More than half of the 38 properties in EOS’s portfolio, which includes Red Jacket Resorts on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, and Cape Arundel Inn in Kennebunk, Maine, rely heavily on seasonal guests — and seasonal hiring. The company is not actively targeting older workers for summer jobs, he said, but they are focusing recruiting efforts on their hotels’ local communities to supplement the summer work force long filled by international workers on H-2B visas.

“The labor pool for the hotel industry has been hit very hard, and these entry-level jobs have become harder to fill since the pandemic,” said Eric Rubino, chief development officer for Extreme Hospitality, an asset management company working with more than 300 hotels. “For senior citizens, who maybe don’t mind working so hard, they can say, ‘I don’t need the money, but that travel benefit means a lot.’”

Even those who don’t need the money might now see the appeal of a little extra cash, however. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of hospitality workers over the age of 65 has outpaced that sector’s population growth since 2012, rising to 590,000 from 418,000. The increase comes as inflation hits record highs, a phenomenon that hits retirees and those on a fixed income the hardest.

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