Scoot and Accor talk about staffing issues in the ramping up of the recovery
WHEN I was a child, I dreamed of traveling and I thought the best way to do it would be to be a flight attendant or a tour guide. Eventually I found another way – I would have been a disaster as a crew member – but millions of children had the same dream as me. The best way to see the world is to fly and work.
Well, not anymore – Covid has turned this once dream job into a nightmare and I fear all this talk of recovery and pent up customer demand will be shattered if we can’t get people to serve on planes and working in hotels.
At Booking.com’s “The Travel Edit: Embracing The Unpredictable” media event this week, it was clear that the most unpredictable element isn’t the return of guest demand – the search for OTA (see related report) shows 78% will say yes to any opportunity to travel, “we want to swipe right,” said Laura Houldsworth, managing director Asia-Pacific – but that of people wanting to stay in travel and willing to work in travel.
Campbell Wilson, CEO of Scoot, said that currently the low-cost airline was operating to 35% of its pre-Covid destinations and 33% of its pre-Covid capacity “but if we were to exceed 50% of capacity, we would need to recruit 800 Cabin Crew Members this year”.
“There are physical constraints on how many people can go through our training system,” he said, adding, “One of the reasons people wanted to become cabin crew is that “They can travel, discover places. This is no longer possible now. They have to wear glasses, masks, they spend their time locked up in hotel rooms.
“For the industry and the airline hub of Singapore to recover, it depends on labor constraints. This is a real problem that has been recognized by the government and we need to solve it on a practical level. Is there enough manpower to meet all of these requirements at a rate they need to be staffed? »
Cathay crew spent 62,000 nights in quarantine hotels in 2021
Wilson’s woes pale in comparison to what Cathay Pacific president Patrick Healy is going through. The airline is now the target of government investigations, following the arrest of two of its former attendants for alleged breaches of home isolation rules. It is also under study for the composition of crews on cargo flights only.
In this message to employees, Healy puts things into perspective. Thanking them for their “professionalism, resilience and spirit of ability”, he said: “What you have been through for the past two years is simply unprecedented. »
In total, her crew spent 62,000 nights in quarantine hotels in 2021 and 1,000 of them spent 11,000 nights at Penny’s Bay, the dreaded quarantine camp run by the government for being in close contact with positive cases.
In the first eight months of 2021, Healy said, not a single crew member contacted Covid 19. In September and November, five crew members caught the Delta variant — two complied, three who were in Frankfurt did not and are no longer with the Airline. Since Omicron broke out, 11 crew members have tested positive in December. Putting it into context, 16 positive tests out of a total of 230,000 tests conducted in 2021 is a “clear demonstration of the discipline and compliance” of his crew, Healy said.
“The non-compliance of this tiny minority should not overshadow the remarkable discipline and professionalism of the overwhelming majority,” Healy said.
There have been media reports of pilots resigning from Cathay Pacific, as they reach breaking point over strict quarantine rules under Hong Kong’s zero Covid strategy. For Hong Kong’s travel industry, watching the airline that proudly flies their flag for 75 years has been particularly difficult.
Jennifer Cronin, President, Quayside Hotel Group, posting on LinkedIn and sharing Healy’s video, wrote, “In these turbulent times, it is reassuring to have a top-level president take a stand on behalf of his team in such a compassionate, transparent and respectful manner. He is a great example of genuine leadership and communication. HK should be very proud of the work CX has done over the past few years and we can’t wait to get out of it together!”
Across Asia, the hospitality industry is facing a similar staffing challenge, finding enough staff to prepare for the recovery. Kerry Healy, Commercial Director, Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea at Accor, was in Phuket in December and observed staffing issues at hotels on the Thai island. At 60% occupancy, the hotel she stayed in was clearly struggling with service.
“How do you get people to come back to an industry that has been incredibly challenged? Also, it was a time of great reflection for a lot of people,” she said.
In Singapore, hotels are preparing for the Great Resignation which usually occurs after the Chinese New Year, after staff have received their bonuses if they receive any this year. The general manager of a five-star hotel told me that he could not operate above 60% occupancy with the current staff. This is not a new problem in Singapore but it is becoming acute.
At WiT Japan & North Asia, the region with the strictest border controls, speakers also shared their challenges with staff retention and recruitment. One of the reasons the travel was attractive was its global nature, and there is no clarity on when borders will open in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. For those in the travel business, it’s been hard work that doesn’t seem to stop.
And the challenges remain. Wilson called 2021 “frustrating and harrowing”, dealing with one crisis after another – health, financial, liquidity, operational. “We thought vaccinations would be the beginning of the end and have seen progress. We knew what we wanted to do to prepare for post-Covid but it never came, so we are getting impatient.
Healy said 2021 was both “brutal” and “colorful”. Hotels were busy opening and closing, turning into vaccination centers, running food delivery — “we were in a constant state of flux,” she said.
In his region, only one country, the Maldives, has opened up and “it has prospered”. “We’ve had VTLs, sandboxes, but there are still a lot of restrictions,” she said.
Over the past 12 months, the domestic share of Accor’s business in Asia has grown from 36% to over 80% in 2021 – this tells the whole story of how hoteliers have had to adapt and what employees lived.
How long they can hang on until the trips return, especially in Asia, is another story.
Watch Patrick Healy’s message to employees.
• Featured image credit: Getty Images