Tourism industry still facing worker shortage

KUALA LUMPUR: While the hospitality and tourism industry is seeing a recovery, it continues to face issues, especially staffing.

Industry players want the government to actively work with the sector to address structural issues and offer aid to them.

Of particular concern is the knock-on effects the shortage of workers has on the interconnected sectors of transportation, accommodation, food and beverage, and travel services.

Malaysian Association of Hotels president Datin Christina Toh said while staff shortage was not something new in the tourism sector, the pandemic had greatly exacerbated the situation.

“Even with higher salaries and better benefits, hotel operators are still unable to hire more local people to meet the workload,” she said, adding that the problem was widespread among hotels in Malaysia.

“When you don’t have enough workers in a hotel, bar or restaurant, you must limit supply. We are forced to resize the restaurant menu and shut the restaurant on some nights of the week.”

Toh said the operators were looking into solutions to increase manpower to serve an expected influx of visitors after March.

“We hope more local people will consider working in hotels. We are not just short of housekeeping staff but restaurant chefs and front desk staff as well,” she said in an interview.

Toh estimated that hotels in Malaysia currently faced a 20% shortfall in staff.

She hoped the government would relax some conditions to make it easier for the hotel industry to recruit foreign workers as soon as possible.

She believed that it would take the hotel industry another two years to recover.

“And Malaysians can’t expect lower room rates because of inflation and operating costs that have gone up by 20% to 30%. Still, Malaysia’s hotel room rates are among the lowest in this region,” said Toh.

Meanwhile, former tour bus drivers are not rushing to return to their old jobs for now despite the reopening of the borders and more tourist arrivals as the number has not reached a high level as anticipated.

Peninsular Malaysia Tour Bus Operators’ Association president Steven Chong said tour bus companies were still finding it hard to get drivers while travel agents were hesitant to hire drivers at high salaries.

As for the drivers, many are adopting a wait-and-see attitude and staying in their present jobs for now.

He revealed that during the Covid-19 pandemic, some 6,000 buses were hauled away by creditors but owners were now back to servicing their bank loans.

“There are now at least 3,000 tour buses on the roads, clearly much lower than pre-pandemic times,” he said.

Chong said it cost at least RM15,000 to RM20,000 to repair and maintain a bus, including sprucing up the vehicle, replacing tyres and batteries, and renewing the insurance.

Pointing out that the tour bus rental fee had also gone up from RM1,000 to RM1,200 per day, he called on the government to help subsidise the cost of repairing buses.

Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association president Paul Paw said for major travel agencies, which used to manage over 100 inbound tours a month, they now take only eight to 10 tours a month.

“Furthermore, our operating cost has increased by 20%. We can only offer low salaries for drivers now unless we see a spike in inbound tours,” he said.

Malaysia United Tourist Guides’ Association deputy president Lim Bam Soon said many tour guides were also reluctant to resume full-time guiding.

“They prefer to work part-time because there is still much uncertainty out there. And many of them have since found secure employment elsewhere,” he said.

On the bright side, he noted that a majority of them continue to renew their tour guide licence.

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