Travellers from East and West that once commended Sri Lankan hospitality have today raised concerns over the indifferent attitude of local hotel staff. In the post war era the industry is faced with a grave issue of inexperienced and untrained hotel staf set to wait on unsuspecting travelers.
Service levels of hotel staff around the country have become a cause for concern due to either lack of confidence, inadequate language and communication skills or inability to comprehend the travelers’ requirements. While the industry’s 40% manned by the top conglomerates’ with a manpower that is well trained continuously the rest were likely to undergo ad hoc or on-the-job training.
However, this has set a bad precedent as those hoteliers unlikely to train their staff do so in order to retain them fearing possibility of anyone leaving, Aitken Spence Hotel Sector Training General Manager Amal Nanayakkara told the Business Times. He pointed out that most in the industry were unlikely to recognize this issue as a problem in the first place as they were able to manage the number of guests coming in.
In this respect, competing with India, Thailand and Malaysia has become tough as service levels in these countries were higher, he said.
In contrast at home the local staff were used to serving tourists as they would in their home environment lacking professionalism, he pointed out.
Delivery of service is a requirement and once a promise is made it must be kept as well without making excuses, Mr. Nanayakkara explained. Organization is a necessity in local hotels, he said stating that when once visiting a hotel and upon asking where room 120 was, he was told that it was in front of 150.
“Sri Lankans have a hospitable nature but the technical and PR skills have gone down,” Sri Lanka Institute of Hotel Management Chairman Chandra Mohotti said. He noted that the gravity of the situation was in relation to the rising demand but believed there was adequate time to train future staff for new hotels likely to be established in the country.
Recounting days when Sri Lankan hotel staff left the country for greener pastures due to the 30 year war, he opined that these people were likely to come back unlike those that left for higher studies overseas and would have settled there. While almost everyone was anxious to train their staff, he observed that “if they (hoteliers) don’t invest so much on buildings and infrastructure they will develop.”
In view of the growing numbers of foreign GMs manning the hotels, he said this would continue even if local expertise was available as international companies would deem it a requirement. Statistics indicate that for every room, two would be employed and the numbers continue to increase. The Sri Lanka Tourism Authority said adding that it would amount to about 40, 000 in the formal sector and many more in the informal.
Sri Lanka Hotels Association President Anura Lokuhetty observed that today there is a gap of an additional 20-30% trained staff.
With most Sri Lankans in the hotel industry working overseas now returning to the country and re-joining, he noted in the future, a waiter too would have to obtain a basic qualification while working.
In this regard, the industry needs to carry out evaluation of staffers and provide more “dignity of labour” that would help to attract more labour, he said. In view of foreign recruits to the local industry he opined there needs to be criteria for bringing them down as they could be beneficial or even ruin the reputation of the country.
A founder member of the Responsible Tourism Project, Charmarie Maelge said that in the 1990s the industry had more staff when there were a lesser number of tourists but today there were either the same amount or less compared with growing number of arrivals.
But some hoteliers find it a “national service” to take raw talent and train them, as Jetwing Hotels Chairman Hiran Cooray pointed out, “I think the Sri Lankan people are born to hospitality and if they are properly trained they can be the best in the world.”