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Staff file photo by Doug Strickland / In this 2017 file photo, Ruby Falls president Hugh Morrow is shown in front of the falls beneath Lookout Mountain.

For the second consecutive year, Tennessee tourism leaders are spending their marketing dollars to try to recruit not just visitors but workers to help staff the attractions, accommodations and food services in the state's $22 billion-a-year hospitality industry.

Both the state-funded Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and the locally funded Chattanooga Tourism Co. are relaunching campaigns this spring to help fill vacant jobs in Tennessee's second-biggest industry.

With unemployment near historic lows, filling the 150,000 hospitality jobs across Tennessee is proving difficult this year. Among the 457,323 job openings listed Tuesday at Tennessee Career Centers, there are nearly 28,000 in food service and hospitality-related jobs that are still vacant on the state's job listing website, jobs4tn.gov.

"The job market is still a very difficult challenge for us, and the number of candidates to fill those jobs is still fairly thin," Hugh Morrow, president of Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain and chairman of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said in a phone interview. "There is still a lot of job hiring to be done, and any students or persons looking for a seasonal or a part-time job, there are lots of opportunities."

Morrow said Ruby Falls could probably use nearly 25% more workers than what it now has as it prepares for the traditionally busy summer travel season ahead.

Statewide, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and the state's biggest industry trade group, HospitalityTN, are joining a campaign to recruit more job seekers to work in hospitality jobs. Last year, for the first time ever, the state agency allocated over $150,000 to fund its "Come Here, Work Here" campaign to try to convince people not only to visit Tennessee but to stay and work in the hospitality industry.

The state campaign urged prospective employees from across the country to come to Tennessee for a friendlier climate of outdoor, music-oriented and fun-based work and play.

With unemployment even lower this year than last, the program is being resurrected to help fill many vacancies as well as the projected 14.2% increase, or more than 42,000 additional jobs, that the state projects will be added in the food and accommodations industries between 2018 and 2028.

On the local level, Chattanooga Tourism Co. has compiled openings from its tourism partners like restaurants, accommodations, attractions and other hospitality-related businesses and posted them to VisitChattanooga.com/Careers. Three dozen local employers had more than 100 jobs openings posted on the website as it was launched this week.

"Careers in Chattanooga's travel and tourism industry allow employees to shape visitor experiences and be part of the action as travelers come to Chattanooga this summer and beyond," Hannah Hammond, communications director for the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said in a news release. "Job opportunities range from all levels and span various interests, from attraction ride operators and hotel management to baristas and tour guides."

According to U.S. Travel Association estimates, Hamilton County welcomes an average of 43,000 visitors a day who collectively spend $4.1 million a day, or $1.5 billion a year.

In 2020, amid the worst of the pandemic, Chattanooga's travel and tourism industry lost a third of its hospitality jobs and has yet to fully recover all of them.

To find open hospitality career opportunities in Chattanooga, visit VisitChattanooga.com/Careers.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

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