House keeping staff may have to develop additional skills. (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on pexel.com)
Working in a hotel used to be considered an attractive career as not only was the job itself interesting but the monthly salary was relatively decent and there were other benefits too. But the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that and now hotel operators are having to work harder than ever before to recruit staff as tourists start coming back to Thailand.
Operators of hotels with fewer than 5 stars are facing the biggest headaches. Experienced staff who are returning to the industry have mostly moved to work at the top hotels where the pay is higher. As thing stands now, many hotels in the provinces want to resume full operations but can’t because they don’t have enough staff.
Bill Barnett, Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks, organiser of the 12th annual Thailand Tourism Forum (TTF 2023), said at a recent meeting in Bangkok that people, or rather the lack of them, wanting to return to hospitality industry post-Covid was a challenge for all operators.
“Where’s our pipeline of people? This is what will create success for the next generation. Thais no longer want to work in hotels so our mission must be on innovating to bring the best and brightest people back to the industry. We have to pay higher wages. Now is the time for Thailand’s hotels to change,” said Barnett.
Higher wage bills certainly increase the cost of operations but that should be the least concern. He points out that hotel room rates in Thailand are still relatively low compared to the industry standard.
“Now the room rates of hotels in key destinations like Hua Hin and Phuket are higher and not because the hotels have increased them, but because the pandemic has ended wholesale-driven sales,” said Proudputh Liptapanlop, Executive Director of Proud Real Estate Plc.
Proudputh, whose company owns the Intercontinental Hua Hin among others, told Thai PBS World on the sidelines of the meeting that she was well aware that the new generation may not see hotel work as a desirable career. To attract them, she thinks hotel owners have to give staff a chance to take part in decision-making so the staff could gain entrepreneurial skills. “We’ve to give them a voice and let them help shape the future of the hotel too.”
As for the new recruitment policy, Proudputh believes the hospitality sector is now looking for great flexibility. “The operation needs to be more encompassing. Single-role staff may be a thing of the past. We have to train them to have more skills. For example, F&B staff may have to learn marketing too. By so doing, staff would find the job exciting and not boring,” she said.
But she admits that at the end of the day, operators need to find people who love the service industry otherwise the turnover will be ridiculously high. From the owner’s point of view, Covid was a real wake-up call about how to take care of their people.
The hotel industry is now facing a shortage like never before. They have lost skilled workers as many of these have opted to find new careers. Pay has failed to keep up with the cost of living and potential workers have doubts about job security.
“Many staff have their own land, maybe a rubber plantation. When they lost their jobs, they went back home and found life enjoyable without a boss and stress. Some have become entrepreneurs, opening small businesses like a coffee shop or a restaurant at home. They don’t have any thoughts about coming back. We’ve lost many people like that,” said an executive chef at one of the leading hotels in Phuket.
For Phuket, it is also difficult to draw people from other places to work as it has a higher cost of living. The key destination still has to fill around 20,000 jobs to fully restart tourism, according to the Thai Hotels Association (THA). The 50,000-strong workforce in Phuket left the Social Security system 2 years ago.
THA realises the problem and there are temporary measures in place to solve the problem. One is to ask staff to multitask or to work longer hours with overtime pay, another is to hire temporary staff. The last option is a quick fix that requires higher pay. It is reported that housekeeping staff today are being paid Bt1,000 to Bt1,200 a day, double than before Covid, and a bell boy is getting Bt1,000 a day with two meals.
One of the long-term measures is to contact local educational institutions and sign an MoU or directly recruit new graduates. Another option suggested by THA is that the government reconsiders allowing foreign staff such as those from the Philippines or Indonesia to come and work in the hospitality business.
By Veena Thoopkrajae
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