Shortage of rooms, skilled labour dents tourism prospects


By Harischandra Gunaratna,
in London

Phillippe Rossiter, Chief Executive of the Institute of Hospitality, said that two of the key challenges faced by Sri Lanka’s burgeoning tourism industry were the shortage of both accommodation and a trained labour force.

He said that Sri Lanka was very well positioned as a tracel destination and the natural friendliness, pleasant smile and hospitability of the people would go a long way, but these alone were not enough to sustain or meet the challenges ahead.

In an interview with The Island Finnacial Review on the sidelines of the World Travel Market in London, Rossiter said that customers paid a lot of money and expected high  and efficient  standards and that could only be achieved by having a well trained staff and investing in skills development was critical in the hospitality industry.

The training should be imparted constantly to both in the management level as well as to craft (technical) staff, he said.

Asked whether the country possessed competent trainers at the highest level, Rossiter said that there had been a shift in the trend during the last five years and more and more Sri Lankans who sought greener pastures elsewhere were returning home. And majority of them would be employed by the top hotels in the country. Their years of international experience would enable them to provide the necessary training to the newcomers and those who have not had international exposure, he added. 

"Being a manager means not just managing people, but managing and developing people which is an important aspect in any industry." he said.

The immediate problem faced by the hospitality industry in Sri |Lanka with top international brands investing was to find trained personnel in the short term and the hotels would have to implement best practices, Rossiter said and added that it was not a problem common to Sri Lanka only.

"If you invest in training your staff it will bring you better returns. One could have the most sophisticated machines and best designs in a hotel, but if its software is not up to required standards,  one wouldn’t be able to make the best use  of  the     the hadware," he pointed out.

The top international brands such as Shangri-La, Hyatt, Raffles and many others who had already invested in properties in Colombo and outstations would have very high standards and catering to the very high end market  and they needed to the raise the bar where human resources were concerned, he pointed out . In this respect the traditional labour forces had not been exposed to such high levels of international experience required to work in such properties and here they need to raise the bar, Rossiter emphasised.

Asked whether Sri Lanka was geared to meet the demand, he said that the authorities would have taken strong and positive steps in that direction and implemented them.

"We also need to retain the trained staff by providing them with better remuneration, incentives and perks since training new hands to replace those who leave would have a great burden on the hotels financially and otherwise, he said.

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