Tackling manpower issues key to global tourism revival: WEF panel

DAVOS – The foremost challenge facing a global tourism recovery is ensuring the travel sector can get the labour it needs, industry and government leaders said at a panel discussion on Monday (May 23), as the annual World Economic Forum kicked off.

Transport Minister S. Iswaran, who was one of the panellists, noted that the operational needs of airports around the world have shot up significantly in recent times, but getting the hands needed to keep things going smoothly has been an issue.

“The systems have not been able to keep up: that’s quite evident looking at the crunches in various airports,” he said.

Marriott International chief executive Anthony Capuano said for its manpower needs to be met, confidence in the sector’s long-term trajectory – and its viability for forging lasting careers – has to be rebuilt.

“The labour piece is critical… we have got to do a better job as an industry to not simply put out a ‘help wanted’ sign, but describe in explicit detail the sorts of careers that can be created in this industry,” he said.

Mr Iswaran noted Singapore has, in the space of a few weeks, doubled traveller volume to the Republic, which is now at roughly half of pre-pandemic levels.

While the growth momentum for travel has been much stronger than expected, manpower issues and resource constraints are going to bite, he said.

“It’s one thing to say I’m going to increase capacity by 50 per cent,” he said. “But you can’t just flick the switch: you got to bring the people back, you got to get them trained, you got to get your processes running, so it takes a bit of time.”

Yet these are not growing pains but transition problems, and Singapore is quite confident it can overcome them, he added.

Panellists said that while the pandemic had severely impacted the sector – roughly one in five jobs lost globally due to Covid-19 was in travel and tourism, with more than 60 million of them lost in 2020 alone – a bright spot is the rapid adoption of technology both by guests and the industry.

This includes more bookings going online, merchants digitising and now accepting contactless payments, as well as the automation of a lot of menial tasks partly out of necessity, said Ms Ruzwana Bashir, CEO of experiences booking platform

“It’s almost like a 10-year leap forward on digital adoption that’s happened,” she said. “I think it’s going to help those merchants rebound; already, many of them have.”

Governments, too, have had to innovate to rejuvenate travel, said President of the Dominican Republic Luis Rodolfo Abinader Corona and Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister for Strategy and Executive Affairs in Tourism Haifa Al Saud, two others on the panel discussion.

Mr Abinader, for instance, said focus groups organised by his government found that there was clear demand by travellers keen to visit the Dominican Republic, but who were afraid of catching the virus abroad.


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