Tourists are back, but not workers

 Monday, June 13, 2022

A shortage of skilled workers in the hospitality sector is hitting the tourism sector at a time when it is seeing an upswing in business, and is threatening to get worse by the year end.

As local and foreign visitors rush back to hotspots such as Langkawi, Penang, Port Dickson, Ipoh and Melaka, tourism players find themselves frustratingly short-handed.

Tourism is a major revenue earner for Malaysia, contributing RM86.14bil to the country’s economy with 26.1 million tourists in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, according to Tourism Malaysia.

In Penang, nearly all hotels are publishing their job vacancies on social media and employment portals every week, with more than 10 positions available – from guest services managers to engineers and technicians.

Our previous colleagues left between 2020 and last year – either because of retrenchment or they couldn’t stand the months of pay cuts or compulsory unpaid leave during the various movement control orders, said the director of a five-star resort, who declined to be named.

He said nearly all hotels nationwide were facing shortage of manpower. The deadline to resolve the workforce vacuum, he added, was before November.

Our long-stay guests from Europe and the Middle East would have started booking from November onwards. They must be ready with a full workforce to give five-star service, he said.

The sector is also grappling with the pull of foreign workers by sectors like construction and plantation, which do not require skilled employees.

Penang Conventions and Exhibitions Bureau Chief Executive Officer, Ashwin Gunasekaran, said, up to 45 international MICE events (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions), which were postponed when the pandemic hit in 2020, were now fixing new dates.

In addition, over 30 MICE events that the state agency is in the final stages of bidding will also happen in Penang. In total, more than 75 events are getting slots to take place here until 2026.

These MICE events, added Ashwin, involved congregations of between 200 and 5,000 people from around the world.

On top of filling tourist buses and hotels, such events also bring revenue to a large segment of the service economy in Penang.

Tourism-related businesses may have been among the first to be forced to fully shut down during a calamity like a pandemic, but when they come back, it is tourism-related demand that will bring the biggest benefit to local economies, he said.


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