Recently, I have come to realize – ironically; that it is getting increasingly difficult to communicate with service providers in Thai in Thailand.
There have been countless instances where I have gone into a restaurant, spoken to the staff in Thai and gotten nothing but blank stares and nervous mumbles. Only when I finally give up and move on to conversing with them in English do I uncover that the staff is in fact not Thai at all! The Thai service industry is full of Filipinos, Burmese, Nepalese and Cambodians in disguise. Personally, I think this is a pressing issue and needs to be addressed if Thailand aims to safeguard its reputation for sincere and impeccable hospitality. In order to do that, there is a need to shed light onto our current situation in order to understand why it is that things are happening the way they are and how it can be amended. To do that, we have to dive a into a few questions and answer exactly – why, what, who, how and where.
Why is Thailand’s immigrant hospitality workforce an issue?
Thailand has had its fair share of economic, political and social turbulence. I’d go as far as saying it’s had more than enough. Living in a country run by the emergency decree was not fun – plus it was terrible for business. It is hard to keep track of all the things the nation has been through politically for the past few years, and since this is not a history paper – I won’t bother with it. All we need to focus on at this point is that, all said and done, Thailand has proven to be a phoenix rising from the ashes. Despite undergoing a military coup in 2015, we still managed to spring back to the regular 2.8% of yearly economic growth. From the way I see it, we are doing pretty well. This year brings with it an acceleration in the first quarter and a better, more stable economic promise. Although robust government spending and a rebound in the export industry are huge contributing factors to this turnaround, the booming tourism industry is the major player driving the country’s economy forward and upward.
What does that mean for the hospitality industry in Thailand?
As tourism peaks, the hospitality industry goes into full gear in order to prepare to accommodate and cash-in on the influx of visitors. Bangkok is a bustling hub for all things hospitable. Be it hotels, restaurants,bars, spas or other recreational facilities – Bangkok has got it all and more. Question is – who are we hiring as our manpower to run these facilities? Clearly – not Thais. Thailand has a remarkably low unemployment rate of 0.7%, this means that Thais have jobs – which is great news for the country but not so much for owners of the hospitality industries here.
Thais no longer eye service industry openings as much as they used to a decade ago. They no longer need to pump in long hard hours of work to make a few bucks while there are other, more financially sound (*fancy word for less work, more pay*)options laid out for them-.With locals not wanting to work for our businesses, Where does that leave us? With a lot of positions unfilled and no one to work for us…that’s where!
Who fills in the employment gap in the service industry?
Migrants. Workers are piling in from lower income countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Nepal(*Legal Statuses unconfirmed*). This may seem like a feasible solution for those of us who run hospitality services, why not right? -Thai people don’t want to work for us; let’s outsource. We probably get a substantial workforce for a fraction of the price. Yay! – Not so fast. We often forget that many of us cash in on selling foreigners the ‘Thai’ experience. Non-Thai’s cannot offer the ‘Thai’ experience that our guests pay for. To save on our few salary slips, we most definitely cannot forgo the essence of what our industry is built on – customer service and satisfaction. There is an issue that we face, an issue that must be fixed.
How to fix the problem?
By going back to the basic rule of hospitality – Always put your customer first (*and actually meaning it*). We need to deliver to our customers exactly what we promise them. There is a gap in the Thai talent pool – how do we fix the problem? – By fostering a new talent pool. There is a need to create and develop new and existing educational facilities that place an emphasis on multicultural hospitality excellence. For hospitality graduates who step into the employment industry, it is essential to instill a sense of success and personal achievement that will result in fostering employee loyalty and skills par excellence. There is a need for us as employers to entice young Thai graduates into the service industry with attractive packages, learning opportunities and most importantly – adequate training. Fresh talent is up for grabs everywhere, we only need to learn to optimise our talent pool.
Where do we go from here?
In order to restore the Thai service industry to its past glory, Employers like us have to be innovative in our approach. The Thai service industry is struggling to cope with a traditional heart and a young, modern and progressive soul. It is our responsibility to infuse both these contrasting yet wonderful qualities to produce a new era for the hospitality industry. It is important for us to embrace our fresh talent pool and show them the ropes to create a new generation of service providers with reflections of the traditional past and the foresight of the globalized future. To create a new, unique way – the Thai way.