Hotel occupancy increases but shortage of manpower


Joniston (fourth from left) and Datuk Wong Khen Thau (fifth from left), the CEO of ATIC together with representatives from the hotel industry players at the ceremony.

KOTA KINABALU (July 12): The occupancy rate of hotels has improved steadily with a current average occupancy rate of 41 percent and workers returning to the hotel industry.

Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said that this data was obtained from the MAH Sabah Chapter following the resumption of tourism activities in the state.

“We have seen a steady increase in both domestic and international visitors since the relaxation of entry requirements to Sabah late last year and the opening of the country’s borders in April this year,” he said at the Asian Tourism International College (ATIC) and Industry Partnership collaboration signing ceremony and presentation of certificate of appreciation at the Hilton Hotel on Tuesday.

He also said that the Sabah Tourism Board was putting a lot of efforts to increase Sabah’s visibility to the world and to develop new tourism-related offerings.

“Certainly, new tourism products like Sabah’s longest rainforest canopy walk (at the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sepilok), which was completed in February of this year, is expected to be a popular tourist attraction,” he said.

Joniston also said that new hotels were also being built, which was encouraging to see.

“The upcoming Hyatt Centric, for example, will soon open its doors to the public. All of these indicate that the industry is beginning to emerge from its long slumber, and we expect the industry to bounce back within the next three years, if not sooner,” he said.

He also mentioned that while the state government worked to revive the tourism and hospitality industry, key players should also prepare for the bounce.

“I understand that many hotels are experiencing trouble finding the right people or are short on qualified manpower.

“I was also made to understand that quite a good number of long-serving hotel staff have decided to become entrepreneurs or change careers during the pandemic. By now, many of these ex-hoteliers may be happy where they are and not keen to return to this industry.

“This may have forced hotels to rebuild their workforce from scratch. I understand that there will be a lot of work and time involved in trying to find qualified people with the right personality to fill the many vacant positions in the hotel,” he said.

Hence, ATIC’s partnership with hotels to jointly run the Diploma in Hotel Operations programme was timely, he said.

“I am sure the hybrid and work-based learning under this programme will have a direct bearing on the calibre of graduates that Sabah will produce. This, I hope, will attract interest, and encourage participation of young people in the industry.

He added that although the world, and Malaysia in particular, is racing to embrace and adopt the use of Artificial Intelligence or A.I technology in day-to-day tasks, he believed this cannot be fully implemented for the tourism and hospitality industries.

“No technology will ever be able to replace a human’s touch, and this is what this industry is all about: providing people-centered service.

“It is undeniable that many industries are adopting A.I technology and I believe it is for the purpose of improving the customer experience. But the quality of service ultimately depends on how well the employees treat customers with their personal touch. This is the only industry remaining in this world that continuously needs people to power it up,” he said.

He also said that if Sabah was to maintain its reputation as a tourist destination known for its high-quality hospitality services, it is important to sit down and figure out the best way to produce high-skilled and quality workers.

“You are not only competing for skilled and quality manpower with the existing and future hospitality providers in Sabah, but with others from around Malaysia, as well with countries like Singapore,” he said.

On the joint collaboration between ATIC and industry partnership, Joniston said that it was hoped that it will benefit all parties involved and address the shortage of skilled and high-quality labour within the next year or so.