The toll on employment


IT is not easy finding the exact number of people employed in the hotel industry but industry experts put the figure at around 200,000 prior to the pandemic.

Due to the impact that Covid-19 and the subsequent movement restrictions had on the industry, that number has dwindled to around 160,000 and is steadily falling, some industry experts say.

Job losses in the hotel industry has been a global phenomenon since the pandemic hit.

For example, according to American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), about half a million people are expected to lose their jobs in the United States hotel industry from 2020 to 2021.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, hotels here have started to embark on manpower rationalisation exercises. This has included sending employees on unpaid leave, pay-cuts and retrenchments.

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It has been painful to make such decisions, says one experienced hotelier.

Datuk Naresh Mohan who manages most of the American-owned Ramada hotels in Malaysia recalls “Tough painful decisions have had to be made. We took the step to halve the salaries of staff rather than retrenching them,” he says. His group employs 300 people currently, working in five hotels spread across the country.

A good gauge of the situation can be seen by a recently published survey of 320 hotels by the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH).

Based on survey results, MAH points out that around 30% of hotels in Malaysia have reduced their manpower by half. It is likely that these were done through retrenchments. Two clear examples of where this had taken place was when two well known hotels had shut down, namely Hotel Istana Kuala Lumpur and Hotel Equatorial Penang.

In the MAH survey, 51% of respondents declared that they have reduced their manpower through “one way or another” without specifying.

Meanwhile, 63% of respondents said that they have to make staff take unpaid leave while 14% admitted that they have embarked on retrenchment exercises.

Many more have had to get their employees to do multiple tasks, which means doing more work compared with pre-pandemic times.

The government should extend the wage subsidy programme (WSP) for a longer period rather than for a limited duration, says Mohan.

Last month, it was announced that employers can apply for the subsidy of RM600 per month for all local workers with no salary limit, limited to 500 employees per enterprise.

MAH has pointed out that hotels are facing various hurdles from obtaining approval to receive the funds by the government for the wage subsidy programme.

According to its survey, only 42% received approval for the extended WSP, with 5% being rejected and the remainder still waiting for approval.

“This needs to be addressed urgently, failing which it would defeat the purpose of the WSP,” says MAH.

Many who have left the industry may have found jobs in other industries. One problem when resuming business, hotels may find it hard to find workers.

One good news is that hotels have gotten to be innovative in trying to keep their business afloat amid the persistent pandemic.

For example, getting their food and beverage (F&B) section to do food deliveries. Another option the hotels in the country took was to run work-from-home promotions, allowing weary workers to rejuvenate while working from the hotel.

Some workers liked the idea of checking-in the hotel and treating their family as well.

Meanwhile, around 50 hotels have been running as quarantine centres. However, it isn’t clear if these moves are going to be sufficient.

Perhaps hotels need to get even more innovative in order to get through this crisis and keep their staff employed.

However, in the long run, the future of the hotel industry is expected to be more tech-driven by providing contactless check-in anda room service robots, says Mohan.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, he foresees hotels in Malaysia to be widely using contactless check-in to vending machine meals and high-tech housekeeping solutions in the next three years.

“The pandemic has pushed the hotel industry in Malaysia to think beyond and bring in technologies that would allow contact to be at a minimum level between the hotel staff and the guests,” noted Mohan.

Besides vending machines, guests can also pre-order their food through an app which would be delivered directly to your room.

This would eventually be part of the new normal in the country’s hotel industry.

For instance, Henn-na Hotel in Japan became the world’s first robot-staffed hotel in 2015.

Despite the technological innovation, luxury hotels would not be using robots to replace jobs, but these tech-solutions would support the future of the hotel industry, said the industry expert.

“If you take the human-touch experience out of the equation for luxury hotels, it will be the end of the high-end hotels. Luxury hotels cant afford to entirely replace experience with robotic solutions as guests are looking to have the experience in high-end hotels” noted the expert.

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Hotels , manpower , Naresh Mohan , F&B , employees , Ramada hotels

   

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