More hotels facing closure on persisting labour crunch

Labour shortage is very much a pressing issue as hotels struggle to maintain their services amid the growing domestic and international demands 


TRAVEL agencies and hotels are still struggling to keep their businesses afloat due to the perpetual issue of labour shortage. 

Despite the country having entered the endemic phase of Covid-19 earlier this year, insufficient manpower in the hospitality sector means that travel agencies and hoteliers cannot work at full capacity. 

Consequently, the recovery of the industry is moving agonisingly slow although demand is increasing. 

More hotels are expected to be ultimately closed down or greatly limit their offerings if the labour crunch continues to persist and it will be the main stumbling block to hospitality recovery, the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) said. 

The lack of manpower in the hospitality sector could also mean that hotels may not be able to fully capitalise on the influx of tourists, says Toh

President Christina Toh told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that the labour shortage is very much a pressing issue as hotels struggle to maintain their services amid the growing domestic and international demands. 

“With the tourism sector still struggling to recover from the pandemic fallout, a large percentage of hotels are still affected by the labour issue and hotels that are facing a shortage now, may not be able to weather through the many months it takes for applications to be approved, much less to wait until the foreign workers arrive. 

“These might translate to a worse overall tourism experience and might even damage Malaysia’s efforts to be the destination of choice, especially in South-East Asia. 

“We hope this issue can be resolved before such an event comes to pass,” she said. 

Toh added that although many hoteliers have applied for foreign workers, the process they have now is far too time-consuming and one of the measures that could be done to remedy the labour shortage issue is to expedite the hiring process. 

MAH had also run an initiative pecifically to attract new talents to the hospitality industry. 

“The industry has implemented a new minimum wage to attract and retain workers. 

“There are also a variety of programmes and initiatives by the Human Resource Ministry to aid the industry such as organising reskilling and upskilling seminars to resolve the declining number of skilled workers in the industry. 

“Recently, the government has given its approval to bring in some 34,000 workers from Indonesia and the Philippines to work for a variety of services in the hospitality industry,” Toh said. 

As such, MAH hoped that the government could expedite the approvals for foreign workers to meet the urgent need for manpower in the hospitality sector. 

Hoteliers warned that if the issue is not addressed, it would only get worse, as it is a longstanding problem that stretched back a decade. 

Toh said the lack of manpower in the hospitality sector could also mean that hotels may not be able to fully capitalise on the influx of tourists. 

“Even though salaries have been increased, we are having problems attracting local workers and the government needs to regard this seriously and immediately approve the recruitment of foreign workers, including in sectors related to hospitality such as food preparations and more,” she added. 

Similarly, Malaysian Association Hotel Owner ED Shaharuddin M Saaid said most of the higher-star rated hotels that have more than 300 rooms have a critical shortage of manpower, especially for the housekeeping as well as food and beverage departments. 

“Peak seasons are the most critical when many guests are checking in, less staff at the reception counter, and rooms are not ready since housekeeping needs more time. 

“On top of that, we have new Covid-19 prevention measures to fulfil,” he told TMR. 

He said speeding up the process of hiring foreign workers would certainly be helpful, however, hoteliers will still prioritise local workers. 

“Thus, bringing foreign workers is the last resort since employing them is not cheap for hoteliers and this will affect their expenses. 

“Hotels will continue to employ hospitality college graduates and are now also looking at recruiting single parents, retirees, the Orang Asli community as well as parolees,” he added. 

Shaharuddin said the Tourism and Culture Ministry (Motac) and Human Resource Ministry have been helpful by jointly doing job and career fairs. 

“However, the result has been poor as Generations Y and Z are not keen on hospitality jobs now that the gig economy is highly popular. 

“If this issue continues, hospitality and people-oriented services will suffer greatly because there is not much scope for automation. 

“Schools and educational institutions must put more effort into creating interest and producing talents for the hospitality sector,” he said. 

Shaharuddin also suggested for the government help hoteliers by reducing licence and permit fees, and by giving incentives to those taking up jobs at hotels for a certain number of years. 

Meanwhile, Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said foreign tourists play a big role in keeping hotels alive. 

He said most tourist arrivals are from Asean countries, followed by China, India, Europe and the Middle East, although the China market remains closed and this hurts companies that rely heavily on arrivals from there. 

Tan said while tourism is picking up, the high cost of long-distance travel and uncertain economic situation has resulted in lower arrivals of tourists from far-off destinations. 

“The government needs to emphasise domestic tourism by providing incentives to travel locally as the industry slowly recovers from the pandemic. 

“The private sector must also ensure it has the right tools and ensure its products meet the standards of local tourists as well as employ enough staff to cater to any surge in demand,” TMR was told. 

Additionally, Malaysia Association Travel Agency President Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun said travel agencies and tour operators are still having problems getting new staff. 

He said it is a common issue and that Motac had been aware of it since the pre-pandemic era as it had been raised many times by industry players. 

“By and large, working in the travel business is not the first option among employable graduates despite being from a tourism academic background. 

“Job opportunities are there. Hopefully, graduates will fill up the spots as we cannot depend too much on foreigners,” Mohd Khalid added. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition