April 14, 2021

The Seacoast hospitality industry is ready to come roaring back, and Great Bay Community College is ready to help.

The college offers an associate degree and short-term certificate options in Hotel, Restaurant and Event Management. These programs are expecting a surge in interest, as the industry begins to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic. More than 18,000 jobs in New Hampshire restaurants and bars were lost to the pandemic, and another 5,400 lodging-related jobs vanished.

But they are coming back, and Great Bay is training the workforce for the post-pandemic world, said Dawn Comito, who chairs the program and is its lead professor. “If anyone is interested in hospitality or event management, now is a great time to get into it. A lot of people left the industry last year, particularly in management. Those people need to be replaced, and their replacements need to be groomed,” she said.

With many positions open now at record-high wages, people seeking employment could begin working in hotels, resorts and restaurants while building their resume with academic credentials specific to their field, along with a suite of soft skills easily transferrable to any career.

Comito expects the industry to boom again, and there are indications that boom is already happening with more people becoming vaccinated, the reopening of restaurants and bars to larger numbers, and easing of travel restrictions. Among those in the industry, the months and years ahead are being anticipated as the “Roaring 20s 2.0,” a reference to the decade of the 1920s a century ago, which was marked by a boom in culture following a worldwide pandemic.

“There is a huge pent-up demand among consumers, who want to get out and go to a restaurant, have a seat at the bar, attend an event. We’ve all been cooped up for a year, sort of in hibernation. People are ready to get out and have some fun and connect with one another again,” she said.

At the same time, Comito is fielding calls from Seacoast employers seeking qualified, trained employees to fill positions already open and those that will be open soon. One hotel management company in Portsmouth asked if Comito could recommend candidates for 23 positions, from bartender to lobby attendant to catering coordinator.

Those employers say it is nearly impossible to fill openings for chefs, bartenders, dishwashers and other positions, and Jason Bartlett, general manager at Wentworth by the Sea, a Marriott Hotel and Spa

in Portsmouth, said wages “across the board are at an all-time high. The industry is competing for talent. That is great for everybody looking to be employed and start a career in hospitality. It’s a great time to get in the industry.”

Carolyn Patton, Human Resources Director at Wentworth by the Sea, a Marriott Hotel and Spa and an advisory board member to Great Bay’s hospitality program, said the hotel is gearing up for a busy summer and has positions open in every department, from entry-level to management. Great Bay students and graduates can help fill those roles, she said.

“There are great opportunities for students or new graduates who are looking for leadership roles, as well as entry-level positions,” she said, noting the hotel’s long partnership with the college. “We have recruited lots of students, who have joined our team while working through school. Great Bay has always been very easy to work with as an industry partner. They prepare the students to walk right into the positions that are available, and that is something we really appreciate about them.”

Bartlett predicts a banner season with leisure travel, family gatherings, weddings, and other social events. By fall, business travel will begin coming back. “There has been a year of missed meetings. Corporate events will resume later but will eventually come roaring back — and when they do, they will be big for a long time. There is just a ton of opportunity right now.”

Statewide, there could be tens of thousands of jobs to fill in the months ahead.

“Hospitality jobs are coming back, and they are coming back fast,” Comito said, predicting a “major hiring challenge” during summer tourism season and echoing Bartlett’s prediction that a boost in wages will bring opportunity for those seeking to work in a thriving industry. “I think employers are going to find they will have to pay people more money to get them,” she said.

Great Bay’s hospitality program operates with a rolling admissions policy, so students can enroll anytime. “They can turn a short-term certificate or a two-year Associate degree into a sustainable and rewarding career in the hospitality industry,” Comito said, with opportunities in hotels, resorts, country clubs, restaurants and with travel and tourism organizations.

Great Bay offers several pathways for people who want to be in the workforce on or before they graduate; or to transfer on seamlessly to a four-year college or university.  The one-year certificates provide a fast track to specializing in hotel, restaurant, event and spa management.

Bartlett loves his career. He’s worked in hospitality for 22 years. “You can do anything in this career – sales, banquets and events, wedding planning, working with the public, running audio and visual, working in IT. There are many opportunities, and lots of opportunity for growth,” he said.

“And it’s a lot of fun. You work in beautiful places delivering services to happy people.”

Sarah DeWitt, 21, also loves making people happy. She works as Event Coordinator at Flag Hill Distillery & Winery in Lee, helping clients plan weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, fundraisers and all manner of celebrations. “It’s such a rewarding career. The biggest reason I am in the event-management field is because I love making people happy, and this career is all about making people happy.”

DeWitt earned four certificates from Great Bay — in Event and Meeting Planning, Leadership and Management, Sales and Digital Marketing, and Hotel and Restaurant Management. She attributes her career success to her education at Great Bay. “The teachers all have real-life experiences, and they share their experiences with students,” DeWitt said.

Last year was overwhelming for the hospitality industry with everything going on in the world because of Covid, DeWitt said. “But things are coming back, and people are ready to start gathering again.”