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Why do the tourists come? Is it Thai hospitality?

'Manpower Stealing' Triggers Careers Concerns

Saturday, May 24, 2008
THE QUESTION of whether resorts should poach staff from their neighbors on Phuket is already a burning issue, especially if your resort is the one being burned.

With many new resorts opening over the next 18 months, the whole of the ''greater Phuket'' region faces a raging brushfire, generated by friction, as quality staff choose their best options.

Methee Tanmanatragul, the outspoken president of the Thai Hotels Association Southern Chapter, has two word for the simple poaching process applied by some resorts: manpower stealing.

''Manpower stealing, that's what I call it,'' he told Phuketwan. ''The industry is growing so fast that it has trouble producing the resources to cope with the growth.''

Some groups plan ahead. The Marriott HR team has been visiting local colleges well in advance of a brace of openings later this year and next year, looking to encourage fresh-faced staff.

The Thai group, Centara has a national training program designed to promote skills (and loyalty).

But for many of the smaller brands without substantial resources, it's a case of hit and run.

Pluck a couple of staff from one of the high-end names on the island and it actually becomes a promotable line in conversation with guests and the media.

Along with the large number of openings coming soon, signs of major upheavals in pay and conditions are bubbling to the surface.

The Marriott group offers a five-day working week, and they are not alone.

Yet Khun Methee says: ''I don't really think Thailand is ready for the five-day working week.

''Even Japan, in the top five in the world in terms of productivity and gdp, doesn't have a five-day working week.

''They still go with six days a week. I think the real method for overcoming this human resources shortage should be focussed on demand and supply.''

He said one resort in Chiang Mai was even offering staff a well-appointed dormitory, with swimming pool.

''Every now and then, a new idea comes up to entice staff,'' Khun Methee added. ''But where will this end?''

Where, indeed. Khun Methee said that skilled Thai staff were also in great demand overseas.

''Macau has attracted, I believe, thousands of very skilled workers from Thailand in the service industry because of the number of resorts that have opened in the past few years.

''They cannot open a new hotel without experienced staff so, where to poach them? Thailand.

''If you go to Dubai, you meet many Philippinos in rank and file positions. But the second largest number is Thais. People go there because they get three times higher pay, plus benefits.''

Khun Methee believes the sensible way to achieve a balance within the tourism industry in Thailand is to run education programs for young staff who want to further their careers.

The Thai Hotels Association is in the process of structuring an agreement with Prince Of Songkla University that would enable 120 young entry-level resort workers to study fulltime for six months of the year and part-time for the rest on the way to four-year degrees.

But Khun Methee fears a malaise within Thai society is damaging the career futures of a generation of Thais.

''There should be a national campaign,'' he said, ''asking young people: 'do you want a career or a degree?'

''If you want a career, just get enough education so that you are able to have a career that grows as you work in the industry. It doesn't necessarily apply only to tourism.

''At least half of young Thai graduates these days are too easy going, not focussed enough to make career decisions.

''Across all sectors, the quality of young Thai graduates is dropping because of social behavior, or social change.

''They would rather follow fads or fashions instead of having a focus after studying so hard in college or university, then seriously taking a path and work to have a career.''

Phuketwan: It's a flaw in Thai society at the moment that young people aren't pursuing career directions?

''Yes. This is crazy. A sense of direction has to come from a family base but many families make the excuse for themselves, 'Oh, we are very busy we have to work to make a living, so we don't have time to look after our kids.'

''That's nonsense. And teachers are able to find even less time these days than the parents.

''This is such a big issue. Thailand is such a great country and we have so many natural resources and human resources. We keep telling ourselves we will be outpaced.

''But what are we actually doing to prevent Thailand being outpaced?''

He said that within the tourism industry, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan all had carefully calibrated plans for expansion based on what could be supported with infrastructure.

''In Singapore, they already know how many more rooms and in which categories they will be needed for the next five or 10 years,'' he said.

Phuket had been in need of proper planning for 10 or 20 years, he said.

''Instead of proper planning, people say 'Ah, this destination is good, let's go and see if we can buy some land.

'''Let's go and see if we can make a project and get financial support and then lets have more rooms there because the destination in booming.'''

Khun Methee believes it is still not too late to correct the problems.

''This has to come from government policy,'' he said. ''When I talk about this subject, people say 'Hey, come on, don't be too greedy . What's wrong with us coming in as new players?'

''That's fine, as long as the demand calls for it. We want to have growth in this industry but in a win-win situation.''

Despite the island's need for a greater number of police and proper enforcement of existing laws, a better deal on budgets and sensible planning, Khun Methee believes good times lie ahead for Phuket and the Andaman region.

''Ask yourself why are tourists coming to Phuket, to Phang Nga and Krabi?

''They come here because we have a lot of beautiful things to offer. They come here because Thailand has Thai people.

''This is one thing that should not be overlooked. In my hotel maangement career, eight out of 10 questionnaires we received from guests praise the Thai people, the room maid, the breakfast waiter, the pool attendant, the beach boy . . .

''They come back because of the Thai people. This will not change. Thais are born to be hospitable, from the heart.

''This creates a big difference when comparing Thailand to other places in Asia. I am very proud to say that it's true.

''This will stay forever, unless we are consumed by a total change in attitude.

''But I don't believe it will happen. Being Thai will remain the strongest selling point for Thailand.''

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