Last updated on September 3rd, 2021 at 11:25 am
The pro golf competition between American and European teams, which will be held Sept. 21-26 at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan County, has driven significant demand for hotels in the Milwaukee area, and for hotels stretching north to Green Bay and west to Fond du Lac.
Potawatomi – the second largest hotel in Milwaukee, with 500 rooms – is fully booked for the event. But like much of the region’s hospitality sector, it hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic employment levels, hampering its ability to fully reopen.
“Potawatomi is in transition. We’re struggling to attract the labor market, as you see with most businesses in the city,” said Dominic Ortiz, general manager and chief executive officer of Potawatomi.
Going into a career fair Tuesday, the hotel and casino was seeking to onboard hundreds of employees across several departments, including casino cashiers, entertainment, environmental sciences, facilities, food and beverage, hotel housekeeping, hotel operations, security and sales.
“We’re maxed out here completely (for Ryder Cup), so it’s late in the game here, but we’re trying to get some new hires in the door to alleviate some of that stress,” Ortiz said.
A spokesman said Wednesday that Potawatomi made about 75 job offers that were accepted on the spot at Tuesday’s career fair.
Potawatomi is offering $1,000 sign-on bonuses for new full-time employees, and $500 for part-time employees. It also recently began offering a $200 COVID-19 vaccination incentive to employees.
Ortiz, who took over as GM and CEO of Potawatomi in July, said the company plans to continue hosting job fairs and evaluate its incentives as it looks to scale up its workforce. Its next job fair is scheduled for Sept. 14.
“I don’t think there’s any rocket science to it,” he said. “We’re going to keep our finger on the heartbeat and see if we get some traction and continue to boost up our efforts that make sense for us here at Potawatomi.”
The workforce challenges come at an inopportune time. Following a “soft” summer for leisure travel, Ortiz said he’s hoping for stronger occupancy rates in the fall and winter months that would bring the hotel back to pre-COVID levels. But its staffing levels hinder its ability to serve more guests.
In addition to the Ryder Cup, Summerfest’s new three-weekend format this month could drive more bookings at area hotels.
“We’re excited to see if Summerfest will draw some additional traffic for us as well,” Ortiz said. “They normally see a higher level of transient guests (than hotel guests), but we’re somewhat limited on our capacity as we transition into getting fully reopened.”
And, looking to the winter months, the hotel and casino will need all hands on deck for its next major event.
“It may be September, but we’re already planning for MKE New Year’s Eve here at Potawatomi,” Ortiz said.