Employment Challenges & Solutions During COVID-19

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Thailand’s tourism is globally renowned for its hospitality and value. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, a record 39.8 million tourists visited the Kingdom in 2019. This generated US$ 93 billion or 18.4% of Thailand’s total US 505 billion GDP as reported by the World Bank. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the hospitality sector early and hard. Its Thailand numbers are plummeting. In the first quarter of 2020, tourist arrivals fell year-on-year from 10.7 to 6.7 million. With a complete travel ban in place since March, it is unclear when tourism may even have the opportunity to try and stage a comeback. Business leaders have had to act quickly to reduce fallout, hotels and restaurants have been closed and staff have been laid-off, furloughed or asked to take significant decreases in compensation. This has entailed difficult conversations with management staff regarding decreased hours, layoffs, and leaves of absence.

On April 30th, 2020, AMCHAM Thailand’s Committees on HR and Travel & Tourism held an interactive panel discussion of industry experts to advise companies of all sectors on how to make strategic choices for their staff and business. The panel consisted of Ian Pascoe, Grant Thorton’s Managing Director; Caroline Stevens, the Chief People Officer for the Minor Group; and Bruno Huber, the General Manager of the Movenpick BDMS Wellness Resort. It was moderated by Tractus Managing Director John Evans. A wide range of topics was discussed. All of the panelists were optimistic about Thailand’s future for tourism, but agreed that COVID-19 would cause an evolution of their business models and change the very nature of tourism and business travel.

Collectively, the panel gave up a sober assessment of the severity of the current situation, but also offered extremely helpful advice on how to best deal with these challenges. Communication was cited as critical and best practices were identified as frequency, consistency, transparency, and the element of human touch. Leadership styles, while different, also had a common theme of leading by example—whether this meant management rolling up its sleeves and joining the teams in work or taking larger and more significant cuts to their own compensation. Flexibility was a constant as Caroline talked about shifting staff from the group’s hotels that were being temporarily closed to the Pizza Company and other food businesses who were seeing rapid increases in take-away and delivery business. The Movenpick BDMS put its 3rd party services, such as gardening and maintenance, on hold and asked its own staff to take over some of these tasks. Mr. Huber also said that a key to its successes has been innovation. The hotel has utilized its health and wellness focus to quickly become the first 5-star hotel to be registered as a government authorized alternative quarantine for returning Thai or foreigners working in Thailand.

John Evans commented that the collective experience and advice offered by the panelists were not only relevant to the tourism and hospitality sector, but also applicable to many types of businesses and excellent advice in dealing with the human aspects of the COVID-19 impact on business.


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