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Singaporeans working in the hospitality sector ‘lack social skills’

SINGAPORE — With more tourists from different parts of the world visiting the country, Singaporeans in the hospitality industry have the opportunity to rise to the top of the global travel industry, given their multicultural background.

Mr Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman, Banyan Tree Holdings Limited, speaking at the Nanyang Polytechnic's Hospitality & Tourism Industry Conference 2015. Photo: Nanyang Polytechnic

Mr Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman, Banyan Tree Holdings Limited, speaking at the Nanyang Polytechnic's Hospitality & Tourism Industry Conference 2015. Photo: Nanyang Polytechnic

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SINGAPORE — With more tourists from different parts of the world visiting the country, Singaporeans in the hospitality industry have the opportunity to rise to the top of the global travel industry, given their multicultural background.

However, they are still lacking in the social skills needed to deal with culturally complex situations, said Banyan Tree Holdings’ executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping yesterday.

Speaking at a dialogue session with more than 250 Diploma in Hotel & Tourism Management students and graduates from Nanyang Polytechnic, Mr Ho noted that compared with the past when travel was dominated by Westerners, the industry is now seeing the rise of “rainbow tourism”, where managers need to be able to serve tourists from all over the world.

From his experience, Singaporeans in the industry usually have high levels of hospitality training and skills, but they still have several undesirable traits to shake off.

“We compare everything to Singapore and how we set the standards without understanding the context of where other people and other cultures come from,” said Mr Ho. “And I’ve also found that, to my disappointment, the perseverance of Singaporean young managers in the hospitality industry globally is not high enough.

“I find that many of our young Singaporeans are not willing to wait. They have all the skills, but they get too antsy too soon and say ‘I’m not rising fast enough and I’ll leave and go somewhere else’. And that’s unfortunate.”

Singapore’s tourism sector has faced headwinds in recent years, though it continues to register growth.

Latest visitor arrival figures released by the Singapore Tourism Board showed that international visitor arrivals in Singapore fell 3.6 per cent to 1.14 million in November from a year ago, hurt by an 8.1 per cent drop in visitors from Indonesia.

With low wages also deterring many from joining the hospitality industry, Mr Ho, who was responding to a question posed by a student, said he was not in favour of a minimum wage for the entire economy because “it is too blunt an instrument” for wage adjustments.

Mr Ho added that when a country with a high minimum wage faces a severe recession, employers tend to get rid of the newer entrants to the workforce and retain the older, experienced employees.

While acknowledging that an industry-agreed pseudo-minimum wage could help the pockets of low-wage employees in the hospitality sector, Mr Ho said what is more pressing is the issue of raising productivity and wages in the industry.

One way to do this is to increase investment in technology, he added, citing an example of a chain restaurant in a remote part of China that uses handheld devices, instead of cashiers, to settle bills.

Mr Ho also had this advice for the aspiring entrepreneurs in the audience: Find an idea that you think really works, innovate to solve problems and be the best at what you do.

“If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to try to find a niche business where you think you can add value, where you can do something different. Don’t just try to be a ‘me-too’ enterprise,” he said.

The most successful entrepreneurs he has met are those who have mastered the tricks of the trade, studied the market they want to enter, the product and have made contacts.

On what it takes to be an entrepreneur, Mr Ho said: “I would say that if you’re the kind of person for whom the fear of failure is so great that it actually puts you off, then you’re probably not the right kind of person to be an entrepreneur.”

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