Union leaders have called on hospitality and tourism businesses in the North-east of England to improve their employment practices.
A report into the sector, by the Northern TUC, reveals that the tourism and hospitality sector in the region employs almost 90,000 people, contributing more than £1bn to the local economy.
But it warns that approximately 15% of the workforce has no qualifications, the average wage in the sector is almost half the average wage for all industries in the North-east and the average wage for female workers in hotels and restaurants is only 60% of the equivalent male wage.
In 2005, the average rate of pay for part-time workers in the hotel and restaurant sector was £5.31. In October, the National Minimum Wage will rise to £5.35 an hour for workers aged 22 and over.
One in five of hospitality and tourism firms say they cannot fill vacancies, and almost half of unfilled posts are attributed to skills shortages.
Northern TUC regional secretary, Kevin Rowan, said: "The tourism and hospitality sector is an important sector for the North-east, both in terms of its contribution to employment and the economy overall.
"The challenge is to make tourism and hospitality a career of choice, and not a last option destination. Placing greater added value upon the individuals who work in the sector is vital, and it involves investment in training, improvement to wages and conditions, and ensuring that the work on offer in the sector presents an attractive proposition," he added.
David Hunter, director and general manager of the Matfen Hall hotel near Newcastle, agreed that looking after your staff is the fastest route to success.
The hotel achieved just 8% staff turnover last year, against an industry average of 26%, which Hunter attributed to its progressive employment practices.
"Employing a full-time HR manager to look after the staff and the benefits such as use of golf and leisure facilities all helps," he said.
By Daniel Thomas