Mississippi River Cruises Trying to Staff up for Summer Offer Incentives

click to enlarge Gateway Arch Riverboats are ready to go, but will they find enough people to work? - The Gateway Arch Riverboats
The Gateway Arch Riverboats
Gateway Arch Riverboats are ready to go, but will they find enough people to work?

Riverboats at the Gateway Arch are heading into the busy summer season. Passengers are flocking to the docks, eager to break the pandemic monotony with a day on the Mississippi River.

But one issue remains — the riverboats are severely understaffed.

“The problem now is that we’re having to push back opening certain things like our café and certain specialty cruises,” says Robert Hopkins, director of operations. "We don’t have the staff to do it.”

A few months after opening their season, the riverboat team still hasn’t opened some of their amenities because they don’t have staff to run them. They created an open hiring event in hopes of staffing up. 

The riverboat crew is hosting the event from April 27 to May 1 from 1 to 4 p.m. on the Becky Thatcher riverboat, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Both seasonal and full-time positions are available. Visitors can meet riverboat staff, apply and interview directly at the event. 

The cruise line is hoping to fill openings for line cooks, general kitchen staff, servers, cashiers, cruise coordinators, bartenders, and deckhands for the 2021 season. Along with competitive pay, they’re offering a $300 hiring incentive for all new employees.

Hopkins blames the pandemic for their unusually low number of employees, as the riverboats are typically well staffed heading into the summer months.

“Some people left the workforce in general to go to other vocations. With a lot of the monetary assistance that has come out of the pandemic from the federal government has hurt us as well,” Hopkins says.

The riverboats were closed for a few months after the initial St. Louis lockdown in March 2020. Prior to the pandemic, there were record-breaking floods in 2019 that kept the riverboats from operating.

After submitting plans to the city on how the riverboat staff would enforce COVID-19 protocol on their boats, they were approved to head back out on the water for the season. They initially operated at 25 percent capacity, and are now at 50 percent, as the restrictions have loosened.

Even at half-capacity last year, the riverboats only saw about a quarter of their normal visitors. In 2021, as COVID-19 cases declined and more people have been vaccinated, the riverboats’ crowds have gradually increased. Attendance is currently up 35 percent from 2018, says Hopkins. Now, however, they’re facing the effects of being understaffed.

Hopkins says they’re offering competitive rates to incoming employees that are above minimum wage for each of the various positions. The $300 bonus, which will be spread across three different paychecks, is meant to sweeten the deal.

“We’re hoping that the incentive will give people the extra encouragement to come on out and get back to work,” he says.

Hopkins assures that they’re hoping to hire some “quality individuals,” through the event — no experience required.

“Whether it’s serving or bartending or cashier, we’re more than happy to have someone with no experience,” he says. "We actually like that a lot of the time so we can train them how we like things to be done.”

Hopkins hopes that his team can hire a dedicated staff soon. Demand is already picking up.

click to enlarge Mississippi River Cruises Trying to Staff up for Summer Offer Incentives (3)
The Gateway Arch Riverboats

“I think cabin fever built up for everyone,” Hopkins says. He intends to supply the riverboats’ visitors with an outlet to “see some great scenery, enjoy the lure of Missouri, see the Arch from the waterway — a place they don’t normally get to see it from — just escape for a little bit.”

Hopkins guarantees that employees will have a one-of-a-kind experience while working with the riverboat team. “We have a really fun, creative environment down here,” he says. "People get to do something that they don’t get to do anywhere else, where they’re working on a place that moves.”

Although the low employment has caused a strain on the St. Louis Riverboats, Hopkins says it’s a good problem to have — they are now able to hire more residents because there’s such a demand for experiences on the historic boats.

“It’s a great feeling seeing activity down on the riverfront again,” he says.
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