With Memorial Day’s unofficial start to the summer tourism season still more than three weeks away, Cape Cod is already starting to welcome visitors and seasonal residents, though workforce challenges lay ahead, Sen. Julian Cyr said Thursday.

Cyr, on a call with other members of Cape Cod’s COVID-19 response task force, voiced confidence that the Cape will be a safe place to visit this summer. While a year ago many were wondering how big a hit the region’s tourist economy would take, Cyr said the region’s workforce shortage now “has reached a crisis level.”

He encouraged potential tourists to be patient and “tap into that kindness that was so evident at the beginning of the pandemic,” cautioning that a limited number of workers means it may take “a little more time to get that ice cream cone, a little more time to get that fish sandwich.”

With pandemic restrictions gradually easing, some businesses have reported difficulty staffing back up as they reopen, and a shortage of restaurant workers in particular has made national headlines.

“Everyone has got the help wanted sign out,” said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “It’s actually a good time to be a prospective employee, and you’re sort of in the driver’s seat now.”

Cyr said there’s uncertainty about the availability of temporary foreign workers, who have become mainstays of the seasonal economy, because of factors like slow embassy reopenings in eastern Europe and Jamaica.

The Beach Breeze Inn in Falmouth is already booked solid for much of the summer, but like many other Cape businesses, the pandemic has sharply cut the supply of foreign students who come here to work during the summer.

“Between the imitations at the embassies in their home countries and also to the red tape they have to get through to get into the states,” he said. “There are a lot of them that aren’t able to come and the ones that are getting scooped up immediately.”

Cyr said a lack of workforce housing on Cape Cod was a problem before COVID-19 and has been exacerbated by the pandemic, calling for housing production to be “the number-one priority in the region.”

“This was a place that was unaffordable for most working people before the pandemic, and now we are becoming just profoundly unaffordable,” he said.

There’s some concern the shortage of workers could mean slower service at restaurants and shops.

“Our office has been calling it the summer of apologies,” said Sarah Chace of Mashpee Commons. “Apologizing for your wait. Apologizing for being out of things. Apologizing for…you, know, just the fact that some places may seem slightly overwhelmed but everyone’s just kind of doing their best and just trying to get through it.”

(Copyright (c) 2021 State House News Service.

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