Solving the labour conundrum

As Singapore’s thriving hospitality sector grapples with a tightening labour pool, hotels are embracing technological solutions to overcome manpower shortage

15may-conundrumDespite Singapore’s land constraints, new hotels continue to pop up on the city’s hospitality scene, sending hoteliers scrambling to innovate their services to balance the labour equation.

According to a CDL Hospitality Trusts report, more than 3,200 new hotel rooms will come online in Singapore this year, and a total of 8,703 new rooms are expected to become available from 2015 to 2017. It added that new room supply will likely grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.9 per cent from 2014 to 2017.

New hotels that debuted in Singapore last year include the 250-key One Farrer Hotel & Spa, the 134-key Sofitel So Singapore, as well as the 502-key Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore.

Major openings this year include the 654-room South Beach hotel, the 500-room Genting Hotel Jurong, the 300-room Park Hotel Farrer Park and The Patina, Capitol Singapore with 157 rooms.

This begs the question of how hoteliers are coping with manpower shortage, an urgent issue that has plagued the industry over the past few years.

To tackle this, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) recently launched the Hotel Productivity Centre (HPC) in March to help the hospitality sector achieve productivity-driven growth.

Set up as a dedicated competency centre within the Singapore Productivity Centre (SPC), the HPC is designed as a one-stop resource to help hotels address challenges through productivity and innovation solutions.

The HPC seeks to benefit hotel industry through applied research (prototyping and evaluating new technologies, services and solutions); consultancy (diagnosing and solving targeted challenges faced by hotels); benchmarking (comparing Singapore’s hotel industry against international standards); training; and sharing of best practices (educating industry on innovation and productivity best practices).

STB assistant chief executive, Yap Chin Siang, said: “Singapore’s hotel industry is at a critical juncture currently. With rising competition, labour constraints and changing workforce aspirations, hoteliers are facing more pressure than ever to innovate. It is thus timely that an independent, dedicated resource is launched to formulate sustainable growth solutions.”

To kickstart the HPC’s programmes, SPC – which has experience and expertise in implementing productivity initiatives across the retail and F&B sectors – will also work with Republic Polytechnic to bring to the table expertise in capabilities and innovation.

Urging hoteliers to make use of the new HPC, Yap said: “The launch of the HPC is also a key milestone on the hotel productivity roadmap as we strive to foster a culture of innovation, and transform the industry through systematic improvements in productivity.

“We hope that hotels will fully tap on this resource to prototype new technologies and solutions,” he added.

For its first project, the HPC is working with Millennium & Copthorne’s Studio M hotel to devise a sustainable solution to overcome the hotel’s front desk and housekeeping service challenges, and roll out service innovations to enhance the overall guest experience.

Several hotels have already invested in technological innovations to reduce their dependence on workers.

Arthur Kiong, CEO, Far East Hospitality, said: “We must obviously look to technology to improve productivity. (However), this is much easier (to implement) in our new hotels that are currently in the design stage.”

With six hotels scheduled to open over the next three years in Singapore, Kiong said: “We are leveraging on our scale to streamline back end operations and processes. Technology adoption is done strategically and never piecemeal.

“To achieve the required productivity, innovation must start from the customer profile, expectation, product design and finally, the guest experience that we conceptualise,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport has already started to replace part of its manual labour with new equipment since 2012 and automated some labourious cleaning work, which have since shaved 40 per cent off in time taken to perform related tasks.

For example, the hotel now uses ride-on scrubbers to substitue the manual task of mopping corridors and outdoor floors, as well as scrubbers to replace the task of cleaning toilet floors in guestrooms. Housekeeping staff are also provided with personal digital assistants loaded with information on rooms to clean for the day.

Dina Chong, Crowne Plaza Changi Airport’s director of human resources, said: “This is not just a more efficient way of working but also provides our staff with relevant skills training and knowledge.

“We now face an improvement in terms of our workforce and have sufficient manpower which is on par with what we have budgeted. There are still gaps to fill, but manpower supply is healthy across departments,” she said.

Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen has last year implemented a new mobile conceirge system for guests to access easy self-help solutions.

As 73 per cent of front-desk questions are regarding local recommendations and information such as weather and flight information, front-desk receptionists are often tied up with answering such questions from guests.

Said Jade Stunden, executive assistant manager at ibis Singapore on Bencoolen: “With this mobile concierge, (guests) can find all the information they need just by using this system and can take their time to also browse local eateries and attractions.”

However, Stunden emphasises that the option of approaching their hotel service staff remains available, as not every guest is tech-savvy.

She said: “As long as the guest has the choice of technology or people then you cannot go wrong. Removing all reception staff and having only automated check-ins, for example, would kill the industry.”

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