Red Carnation hotels' managing director Jonathan Raggett has said Brexit staff shortages are threatening to bring "carnage to the industry".
Speaking at the Tourism Society conference Raggett (pictured, centre) confirmed the group would be paying the £65 settled status application fee for its staff. He predicted the total cost would be £75,000, which he described as "cheap to keep these people".
Raggett painted a bleak picture of the industry's staffing prospects. He explained: "In London I'm responsible for six properties and about 1,000 employees, 800 of those employees are non-British passport holders, which is the norm across London. In the last year we have seen the number of applications coming in fall to almost next to nothing and to create the perfect storm we have also had more than 60 of our outstanding European employees return to their home countries."
The group boss cited the weakening pound, strengthening EU economies and a feeling of unwelcome following the Brexit vote as reasons for staff leaving Britain.
His concern was not simply for hotels, he predicted that the quality of London's food offer would also suffer.
He said: "The choice we enjoy here in London in restaurants is extraordinary, we were a laughing stock 20-30 years ago, today we are one of the best in the world for choice. But it's in jeopardy if we cannot bring people in - hopefully we won't fall off the perch, but I think we will slip."
The conference discussed the opportunities for technology to streamline staffing costs, but Raggett said there would always be an expectation of personal service in the luxury sector. He explained: "At the luxury end there's an expectation that people will be there to serve you.
"We may see less of people standing behind a desk and more of attractive people in the lobby saying can they assist."
One attendee asked about the availability of British staff to fill vacancies. Raggett said that work was being undertaken with schools and colleges to promote hospitality as a career but that changing perceptions was proving to be a "slow turn".
The staffing crisis is threatening to hit and a time when the weakened pound sees more travel to the UK and Raggett is confident of a successful 2019, but he added: "We will have a fantastic year and be very busy, I'm just not sure everybody is going to be able serve all those people."
The Tourism Society's conference was held at Expedia UK's headquarters in north London.Get The Caterer every week on your smartphone, tablet, or even in good old-fashioned hard copy (or all three!).