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Updated: January 8, 2024 Economic Outlook

2024 Forecast: ‘Strong, vibrant’ hospitality sector faces staffing, cost headwinds

Provided Photo Becky Jacobson, executive director of HospitalityMaine

Becky Jacobson, executive director of HospitalityMaine, is bullish on Maine hotel and restaurant businesses in 2024 despite staffing challenges and rising costs.

“Maine’s hospitality sector continues to prove its resiliency,” she says. “Even as some businesses have chosen to close, others continue to open and prove that the industry is strong and vibrant. I don’t see any reason to think that 2024 won’t be as strong as 2023 — especially if the weather isn’t as rainy as much of the spring and summer season was last year.”

She also sings the praises of technological innovations from touchless hotel check-ins to QR codes for scanning menus.

As for headwinds, she expects staffing to remain a hurdle despite an increase in the number of H-2B visas for temporary workers from abroad.

“The majority of employers looking to hire won’t be trying to access those visas, but are trying to hire locally,” she says, adding that “there are still more jobs than workers.” She also notes that rising operations costs must be absorbed somewhere, often through menu prices and room costs.

“If costs associated with utilities, raw materials and regulatory compliance do not improve,” she warns, “it likely means higher menu prices and more expensive lodging stays would remain in place through at least the beginning of 2024.”

On the opportunity side, she says that “this is a great time for restaurants and hotels to introduce comfort from around the world — whether it be in lodging concepts or menu additions.”

Her outlook for Maine’s economy as a whole: “Cautious optimism.”

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