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Siesta Key hotel and lodging managers adapt to staffing challenges

While staffing shortages continue to impact the hospitality industry, some hotels on Siesta Key find ways to keep the island a thriving destination.

Owner Paige Hartmann has assumed some of the responsibility for cleaning The Inn on Siesta Key, amid staffing shortages.
Owner Paige Hartmann has assumed some of the responsibility for cleaning The Inn on Siesta Key, amid staffing shortages.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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Siesta Key remains high on tourists' lists thanks to its white sands and sunny resorts, meaning continued demand for lodging, but that popularity presents challenges at a time when many businesses, including hotels, struggle to fully staff.

According to Visit Sarasota, fiscal year 2022 saw a total of 3,255,230 room nights spent in Sarasota County, an increase over 2,945,020 in 2021.

At the same time, 82% of hoteliers reported staffing shortages in a June survey of nearly 500 hotels conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. That's up from the 79% experiencing staff shortages in January 2023, but an improvement over the 97% that experienced staffing issues in May 2022.

Siesta Key lodging managers are pursuing different solutions to deal with the ongoing staffing challenges, but what they all have in common is an attempt to put their best effort forward to welcome guests and ensure their satisfaction. 

Inviting the community

Drawing potential employees from the city can be a challenge, said Eric Simonsen, assistant general manager at Siesta Key Beach Resort & Suites.

That was part of the reason why the hotel established The Big Tiki Lounge in September, and also added an adjoining food truck, The Porthole Grille.

“When you have something cool, people want to come,” he said. 

He said the hotel has increased the amount it will pay staff by $1 or $1.50. However, he said it does receive a break from high-season staffing needs after spring, with occupancy decreasing from about 100% to 70%.

Bartender Jamall Jenkins pours a few drinks at The Big Tiki Lounge.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Simonsen said he isn’t sure why hotels are having difficulty attracting new staff.

“Honestly, I think it’s just the commute," he said. "Maybe people are worried about getting caught in congestion.”

However, he thinks that the tiki bar can help by creating a new local hangout. Featuring live music, it is open seven days a week and is open to the public.

Lodgings with hospitality

Gertrude Rentals owner Daniel Jones said that as staff became scarcer during the COVID-19 pandemic, hotel management grew more adept at handling the shortage. 

“Service at a vacation rental is really, really, really important,” he said. “The service has to deliver what you promise to deliver.”

Staff have revamped their approach at his locations, which include a series of cottages known as Siesta Key Bungalows, along with Gertrude’s Village House, Hoppy's Beach-View Siesta Key, and others.

Although guests are now responsible for changing batteries and lightbulbs, Jones will reimburse them for their expenses. Paper products are no longer resupplied, while some services will be cut if he determines they do not interest guests.

Yet Jones sees better times on the horizon.

For about two years since the pandemic, his Indeed listing received no response, he said, but this is no longer the case. 

“It feels like maybe it’s getting better. There’s a sense of eagerness with some people,” he said.

Although guests at some vacation rentals may have complaints about deficiencies in service, he said his business is defined by the attempt to show guests the opposite of those experiences.

“Our business model is built on exploiting that shortcoming," he said.

A clean getaway

Although a “now hiring” sign hangs outside the Inn on Siesta Key, that hasn’t stopped owner Paige Hartmann from keeping the same priorities in mind, not the least of which is the cleanliness of the establishment. 

“One person can’t keep up with all the turns we have,” she said. “We’ve had to step in.”

However, it helps that she found a cleaning staff member, Rhonda Glowniak, about a year ago.

“We were really grateful when she walked through the door to interview, and we hired her on the spot,” she said. 

For quality control, Hartmann even has laundry washed in-house, to make sure the bed coverings do not become stiff, and that she doesn’t lose any of the boutique linens.

However, the consequence is an extra workload, which she wishes to avoid placing on Glowniak. Hartmann and her son Gabe Hartmann manage the front desk and other tasks such as accounting, in addition to some cleaning. 

At the same time, she said, the days are currently growing busier, with shorter stays. Year-round, she said, the inn has 80-90% occupancy.

“If we’re doing laundry or cleaning rooms, it doesn’t allow us to expand our business or sell our units,” she said, noting that check-in may now need to take place at 4 p.m. rather than earlier in the day.

However, she said most people who schedule an interview do not show up, while even when they do, they may not meet the rigorous standards.

“We love what we do, we love the business, and we’re very particular about the cleanliness part of it, so it’s really hard for us to hire just anyone,” she said.

“We get excellent reviews,” said Hartmann. “I don’t know if it’s one property pulling it all down, or property management companies not looking after their property.”

“I would say we match expectations; sometimes we blow expectations out of the water,” she said. “Guests that stay at the Hyatt or the Ritz say, why would I ever stay at a hotel again?”

A family effort

Office manager at Sea Club V, El Rateni, said it is difficult for people to be unhappy whilst working in the environment of Siesta Key, which results in helpful customer service. 

“Everybody’s just very happy to work where they work, especially if they work on the beach or with palm trees,” she said. 

Although during the COVID-19 pandemic, the resort went through what she called “a very rough time," she said it received plenty of support, with family members of management pitching in to help, and with Aaron Ayers, the son of owner Mark Ayers, joining the team.

Responses to postings on were rare, she said, with candidates expecting $20 to $25 for a starting salary, higher than what was proposed.

“They would say I can make that much money on unemployment, or that much money staying home," she said.

She also said the resort, which is usually close to 100% occupied, remains well-equipped to deal with hiring difficulties thanks to its loyal longtime staff members. 

“Right now, we are staffed beautifully," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen in six months. We’re going to try to keep the people that we have happy, so we continue to have longevity.”

She said it is easy for resorts to maintain staff if they “treat people well and pay them decently — more than you would have five years ago.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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