The Big Read: At your service — or perhaps not, as manpower crunch worsens for hotels and restaurants

SINGAPORE: After forking out more than S$2,000 for a three-night staycation at Amara Sanctuary Resort Sentosa in November last year, Ms Wendy Chong and her family were told that their room was not ready when they arrived at the scheduled check-in time.

They were asked to wait at a restaurant that was a 10-minute walk away, where they were served only water.

“The counter staff weren’t apologetic,” said the 55-year-old assistant manager at a logistics firm, who was on staycation with her husband and two daughters, aged 12 and 16. “It didn’t bother them that they were checking us in later and it seemed like it happens very frequently.”

Their room was finally ready at about 5pm, close to two hours after her check-in time.

But when they entered their room, they found that the television and safe were not working, and the hotel’s technicians were unable to fix them.

After her stay at the resort, Ms Chong left a bad review on its Facebook page. An Amara staff member commented on her post that her feedback had been shared with the team.

Yet, Ms Chong said she continued to see negative reviews from other guests who had experienced similar delays when checking in.

“If you (the hotel) cannot cope with the amount of guests then don’t accept the bookings because you don’t have enough staff,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected Singapore for two years and counting, has upended lives and livelihoods across the globe. In Singapore, the crisis has also severely disrupted the manpower supply in a country heavily dependent on imported labour in some industries — including in the labour intensive hotel and F&B sectors, which were already facing a manpower crunch before the pandemic struck.

As a result, customers say they are experiencing a drop in service quality, even though they acknowledge the challenges faced by the businesses. Industry players, too, admit that they struggle to upkeep the quality of service, as there simply aren’t enough warm bodies.

With few tourists coming to Singapore due to travel restrictions, hotels have turned to relying on domestic demand for staycations and dining as their primary source of revenue.

To boost domestic tourism, the Singapore Tourism Board in December 2020 gave S$100 worth of SingapoRediscovers vouchers that could be used for local hotel stays, attractions tickets and tours.

Soon after the vouchers were distributed, several hotels made the news after long queues formed at their check-in counters, with some guests saying they had to wait several hours until their rooms were ready.

One such guest, who wanted to be known only as Ms Goh, said that she had to queue outside the Grand Park City Hall hotel in March last year for 1.5 hours before she could check in.

The 30-year-old marketing professional said that the hotel staff seemed disorganised and some guests who arrived later than her were given their rooms first.

“One of the chefs from their restaurants had to come out to offer us drinks because they were so understaffed,” she said.