Finally, the country’s hospitality sector stakeholders have got it right! Better late than never. This week saw the gathering of about 200 State school principals at the Shangri-La Hotel Colombo to listen to the country’s leading hoteliers about the job prospects the industry offers to Sri Lanka’s youth. The idea was to inspire the principals and make them envoys to convince the students who may not opt for tertiary education, that a job in Sri Lanka’s booming tourism and hospitality sector would offer wider and better prospects when compared to driving a three-wheeler.
We praise the Tourist Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), Ministry of Education and the Shangri-La Hotel Colombo for taking the much-needed initiative. Instead of complaining that the hospitality industry lacks the required human capital, a genuine effort like this, which could realistically address the issue at least to a certain extent, needs to be commended.
The principals and teachers of state schools, specially, out of Colombo and a few other key cities such as Kandy and Galle, could really play a major role in providing the required human capital for the country’s hospitality sector by making the students aware of the opportunities available in the industry. Also, they can help break the stigma that exists, specially within the Sri Lankan rural society, towards young females joining the hospitality trade.
According to the country’s tourism minister, about 100,000 new workers will be required to staff the projected doubling of the star-class rooms in the tourism sector within the next three years.
Although Sri Lanka is called a highly hospitable nation, most of the time, the services even at star-class hotels are not on par with some of the countries in the Asian regions such as Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, etc. But we believe that ingraining a service-oriented mindset to those who work in the hospitality sector can change this. It’s a widely accepted phenomenon that it is easy to infuse an idea in someone’s head when he or she is young. That is why this initiative by tourism sector stakeholders makes even more sense. As they have recommended the authorities should look at introducing tourism into the local school curriculum as early as possible because several years down the line, tourism is set to be the highest foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka.
While acknowledging that paying attractive salaries to lure people to the hospitality sector is important, the industry stakeholders should also be mindful that money is not the only deciding factor for the millennials to join the trade. At the forum, THASL President Sanath Ukwatte mentioned that it was only the hospitality industry that distributed 10 per cent of its revenue (service charge) among the employees, which amounted to nearly Rs.25,000 to Rs.30,000 a month per person.
But unlike the earlier generations, millennials tend not to work for one employer or in the same field for a longer period of time. Keeping millennials engaged requires flexibility and creativity from the part of the employers. They are keen to find out how their work impacts their workplace and are eager to contribute. They don’t want to be treated as workers, who render their services for a salary, but as partners of a team that creates change and makes an impact. Hence the industry also needs to step up its game plan and find ways to retain the talent they attract.
THASL and other tourism sector stakeholders should only consider this a first step in the right direction. They cannot wait for the government to do things for them. Tourism is a matured industry and they should find ways to address the issues that concern the industry. Hence we salute THASL and other tourism sector stakeholders for this initiative and expect more programmes of this nature in the future too.