By Paneetha Ameresekere – Business Editor
Last week these pages carried a seemingly controversial statement from a hotelierwho said that according to a study, Sri Lanka would need four hotel employees for every single guest.
Ms. Arnila Thambiayah, Joint Managing Director Renuka Hotels PLC, a city hotel, made this statement, in the context that the Government has had allegedly asked the industry to gear up to receive 2.5 million tourists by 2016, and therefore the need to build the country’s human capital base (her emphasis) to meet this requirement.
According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), Sri Lanka received a total of 447,890 tourists last year and Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority statistics said that tourist arrival figures in the first eight months of the year was 397,889; a 46.7% year on year increase, giving an indication that cumulatively last year’s figures may be equalled or even surpassed by the month end, ie on the eve of the island’s peak tourism season which begins next month, coinciding with the advent of winter in the northern hemisphere, Sri Lanka’s biggest tourism generating market.
According to CBSL, as of last year, the industry provided 124,456 with employment, of whom 51,857 were direct employees and the balance 72, 599 indirect employees.
If the study quoted by Thambiyah, ie the need to have four hotel employees to every one guest is to be believed, that may entail the need to employ a larger workforce in Sri Lanka’s hotel sector, in the context of the Government’s 2016 tourism target, the required industry employment figure then? Which figure however Thambiayah herself appeared to be not in a position to give.
Putting aside the equation quoted by her, If for a mere 447,890 visitors Sri Lanka needed 51,857 hotel employees, then for a 2.5 million figure, on a pro rata basis, the industry may require a near 300,000 employee figure, ie employed only as direct employees in the hotel sector.
If however the envisaged 2.5 million tourist arrival figure is prorated on a day by day basis, that may mean the presence of some 6,849 tourists a day the year round, and the need to have only a mere 28,000 hotel employees to cater to that figure on the basis of the ratio touted by Thambiayah.
But it is not as simplistic as that, as there are both high and low seasons for tourism, and if CBSL statistics are to be believed, if for only a 447,890 tourism arrival figure the industry employed nearly twice that number of 28,000 as direct hotel employees, ie a figure of 51,857; then, on a rule of thumb, for a 2.5 million tourism figure, the industry will have to employ several times more than the current 51,857 figure.Vasantha Leelananda who heads John Keells Holdings’ inbound leisure sector, speaking at a seminar recently said that Sri Lanka may get a record 650,000 arrivals this year. If that be so, that works out to an expected 250,000 arrival figure in the last four months of the year alone, or 38% of the total envisaged tourist arrival figure of 650,000 for this year. Assuming that 38% of Sri Lanka’s total tourist arrivals come in the last four months of the year, based on the said aforesaid assumption, and presuming that Sri Lanka meets the target of 2.5 million tourists by 2016 as set forth by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, then that figure for 2016 works out to a tourist arrival figure of 950,000 in the last four months of 2016 alone.
Prorating that number on a daily basis, it will then generate a number of some 7,800 visitors per day in the last four months of the year, or the need to have in place 31,200 hotel employees to meet the ratio quoted by Thambiyah, much less than the current direct employment figure of 51,857 by the industry.
But overseas visitors to the island, particularly from the West, other than those who may come here on business, stay more than a day in Sri Lanka, with the beaches, wildlife, the hill county and the cultural triangle being some of the main attractions, sites that cannot be covered in a day overland.
So, on some days there may be more than 7,800 visitors to the island in a day during that period, and on other days less than 7,800; in the aforesaid parameters defined.
Nevertheless, the point is, that, other than the need for the building up Sri Lanka’s hotel infrastructure, especially increasing the number of hotel rooms to cater to the envisaged, increased tourist arrivals, there is also a pressing need to build the country’s human capital base to meet this need, emphasized by no lesser person than hotelier Thambiyah herself, a requirement that sometimes may get overlooked.
With markets operating on the basis of demand and supply, this aspect too is seemingly now being attended to, with private sector hotel schools such as Cross-Border Academy, opened only last year, catering to this “new” market, which virtually remained stagnant for 26 years since 1983, but now having had obtained a new lease of life with the war end.And another important aspect is training. Thambiyah said that they are on the lookout for quality staff. This reporter was in Kandy on work on Thursday. At a top class hotel there, when I asked for some ice cubes for my drink, the steward was taking a month of Sundays to bring me the same. When I went inside to find out what was the cause of the delay, I saw him bashing the bag containing the ice in an inside wall of the hotel.He may have had been doing it because he was finding it difficult to break the ice and place it in a container. But then the hotel should have had been ready for such a situation and not be doing such things only after the guests have had arrived.
The industry needs to pull up its socks and be ready to take advantage of the new opportunities that have opened up to them with the war end and not be doing things the way they have had been used to for the past 27 years.
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