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Thursday January 27th, 2022

Sri Lanka hotels in staffing crisis after Easter attacks

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s hoteliers are trying to retain staff until arrivals recover from the Easter Sunday bombings, but many in the industry do not have the cash to maintain pre-attack cadres, industry officials said.

"John Keells is keeping its staff," John Keells Hotels Vice President Dilip Mudadeniya said. The group’s  Cinnamon Grand was one of three bombed hotels.

"Cinnamon is taking the longer view."

Before the attack, the industry was projecting labour shortfalls.

Even at The Kingsbury and Shangri-La Colombo, the other two bombed hotels, all staff are being retained, officials said.

The three hotels are training their staff to multi-task, and are being cross trained in different departments to become all-rounders, and keep them until the industry returns to normal.

"If we stop investing in our future, there will be further problems down the line," Shangri-La Colombo Vice President and General Manager Timothy Wright said.

These hotels, part of chains (Amaya, in the case of The Kingsbury), have the option of sending excess staff at the affected hotels to other properties.

Cinnamon has operations in The Maldives. Shangri-La, an international chain, has more options. All three chains have large balance sheets to absorb a short-term shock.

Profitable smaller luxury chains and independent units such as Resplendent Ceylon and Santani are also keeping their staff, and are retraining them, officials said.

Many other hotels are being driven by short-term needs.

Staff are being laid off, according to The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka President Sanath Ukwatte.

"Hotels can’t maintain their usual cadre," he said.

"Hotel average occupancy for the month of May is 10 percent or less in the country."

"So, it’s not so practical to maintain the cadres we have had before."

Temporary staff, trainees and interns were the first to get axed. However, even some permanent employees are being let go.

Already, over 1,500 hotel school graduates doing their internships at hotels have been sent back, according to the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Management (Ceylon Hotel School) Chairman Dilip de Silva.

Some hotels have asked permanent staff to take all accumulated leave, in order to reduce meal, transportation, and accommodation and laundry costs.

Sri Lankan hotels have been performing poorly over the past decade, unable to compete with guest houses and bed and breakfast homestays, and therefore have not saved up profits for contingencies.

Listed hotels, when discounting the two largest Cinnamon and Aitken Spence groups, have accumulated loss of 11 billion rupees up to December 2018.

With the increased unemployment in the industry, emigrating labour is expected to increase.

Even before the attacks, many Sri Lankan hotel workers were emigrating due to better pay elsewhere.

"We hope that those going abroad would return to us sometime in the future," Ukwatte said. (Colombo/May31/2019)


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