Sri Lanka’s tourism industry plans to overcome its current crisis within or less than a year’s time while looking at building up on its human resources with over thousands having lost jobs in the wake of the April 21 incident. During a public seminar held on Wednesday on the theme: “4/21 incident and its’ impact [...]

Business Times

Sri Lanka’s hotel staff retrained, counselled, laid off post 4/21


Sri Lanka’s tourism industry plans to overcome its current crisis within or less than a year’s time while looking at building up on its human resources with over thousands having lost jobs in the wake of the April 21 incident.

During a public seminar held on Wednesday on the theme: “4/21 incident and its’ impact on HR in tourism and hospitality sector” conducted by the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM) and the Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association, speakers brought to the fore that recovery plans if set in motion could ensure a comeback within a year while most were of the opinion that this was an ideal time to train staff.

SLITHM Chairman Dilip De Silva highlighted that the over 1400 students sent to work as temporary staff in hotels around the country lost their jobs.  In addition to this number about 2000 each from the state-run National Apprenticeship and Recruitment Institute and Training Authority (NARITA) and Vocational Training Authority (VTA) have also been laid off as these were the first to be asked to leave following the drop in the number of tourist arrivals.

He noted that they would be taken back to the institute but the students were looking at opportunities to find  placements in other establishments or provide them further training as they were without any formal qualification at present.

Tourism Industry Skills Council Chairman T. Packeer speaking at the event said that the students should be trained in English as there is a need to break the language barrier.

Cinnamon Life CEO Dilip Mudadeniya said that hotels would take a longer time to pull through as evident in the case of Bali following the bombings there.

In this respect, he estimated it would take about a year for Sri Lanka’s tourism industry to recover with the right marketing plan in place.

In terms of human resources at this time of crisis he pointed out that there would be an increased reliance on outsourcing; using unpaid vacation to reduce labour force; stop recruiting; reducing the number of workdays per week; freezing pay rates; and laying off employees to reduce labour.

Kingsbury General Manager Christine Chevlaz, a French national, believed she were safer in Sri Lanka and need not look over her shoulder here as opposed to when in her own country.

A guarantee that the situation was returning to normalcy was more so highlighted at the Kingsbury when just three days after the even they went ahead with a scheduled wedding celebration at the venue.

On April 24 a client had a wedding and he was insistent that he would want it at the same venue as a show of support as well to the hotel, she said adding that this was a “motivation to move ahead and be open.”

Ms. Chevlaz pointed out at the Kingsbury the attacks had a tremendous impact on HR. As a result following this incident the management believed it should not affect their staff as they wanted to move on.

This was the result of psychologists being called in to relieve the pain, suffering and trauma of the staff. “We need to look to the future and not what has happened,” she insisted.

Today they carry out cross-training of the staff, which means employees will be trained in all aspects of hotel operations in a bid to ensure they would be equipped to handle any aspect of the hotel work when required to do so.

As a standalone hotel they were compelled to carry out their functions on their own without being able to send staff elsewhere, the GM noted.

She explained that some team members had opted to join the hospitality sector in other countries as a result of which they would leave the hotel.

However, she believed that they would come back to the country once the situation improves and in this context Ms. Chevalez believed that the recovery is shorter than one year.

She pointed out, “We need a strong marketing recovery plan to put Sri Lanka back on the map.”

Shangri-La Hotel Colombo Vice President and General Manager Timothy Wright described the incident as attacks led by terrorists that had left them with a “very traumatic” experience.

Following the blasts colleagues were given five days leave and thereafter counseling sessions by an organisation Art of Living began and is still continuing. These sessions were also provided to the families of the colleagues injured in the blasts. “Some of those who attended this said that it was the first time they slept well,” Mr. Wright said.

Some of the staff at the hotel have been sent to their operations in Oman, Mr. Wright said adding that students who were part of their workforce have been sent on full pay leave until June when their contract expires. But they hope to re-deploy these students as the hotel considers them to be their future.

Shangri-La Colombo will be looking at re-deploying the security personnel and have an increased number in this aspect of the hotel’s operations, he said.

Mr. Wright, still reeling from the shock, said, “When we feel it’s safe we will re-open the hotel.”

Asked about the loss of revenue to the hotel, the GM noted that “Shangri-la’s loss of revenue is the least of our concerns. Recovery of our guests is key. Owners called on several occasions – they asked about the damage to the building, colleagues and guests. We haven’t even discussed revenue.”

Newly appointed Promotions Bureau Managing Director Charmarie Maelge observed that one month on Sri Lanka Tourism has embarked on an aggressive promotion.

In addition they have added a PR campaign to the promotions carried out and noted that certain travellers were likely to visit the country as there were some who preferred to visit destination that were “crowd-free.”

There were about six more countries in the pipeline to reduce the travel ban to Sri Lanka, she said.

Promotions Bureau chief Kishu Gomes noted that the travel advisories could be softened by next month insisting that it was tourism that could turnaround the economy.

As an industry that impacts a wide cross section of the population it has had an impact on a number of people both directly and indirectly.

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