Resolving the impending Staff shortage in the Tourism Industry


1.    Introduction

Popular media reports indicate that the Tourism Industry is doing quite well and prospering, and helping drive the economy forward. However the realty on ground is quite different. The pent up post war demand is ‘running out of steam’ with growth in numbers slowing down dramatically. Rates in the conventional hotels are stagnant and occupancy levels are not spectacular.

From The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce publication ‘Strategic Insights’ - ‘TROUBLING NUMBERS: CAN SRI LANKA’S TOURISM SECTOR SUSTAIN ITS GROWTH?’


In fact many industry professional feel that the situation is quite serious, and believe that if urgent remedial action is not taken immediately, Sri Lanka Tourism will face serious problems in the near future.

The reasons are numerous.

·       Lack of cohesive, focused and well-designed promotional campaigns in the source markets for more than 18 months now, resulting in depressed hotel room yields and occupancies.

·       The pursuance of an arrivals based growth strategy only, without consideration to yields and quality of arrivals, is resulting in a market mix of arrivals which may not be the best for the country.

·       The setting of arbitrary arrival targets without a proper assessment of carrying capacity or sustainability studies, will lead to serious damage of some of Sri Lanka’s valuable and unique natural resources. 

·       No in depth, proper scientifically based research is being carried out professionally of Sri Lanka’s tourism market needs and trends, to enable proper evidence based marketing initiatives to be formulated.

·       Lack of proper regulatory intervention by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) to control hotel development in relation to carrying capacity and proper and suitable hotel designs in specific areas, is seriously damaging the environment and natural resources.

·       No focus on Sustainable Tourism Development resulting in environmental damage in certain instances, and erosion of core cultural values.

·       The rapid and unregulated growth of the informal sector, without adherence to basic health, hygiene and safety standards is dangerous for the destination, and has the potential to gravely impact the perceptions of customers in the event of some major catastrophe.  ( It has been shown that over 50% of arrivals are patronizing this informal sector - )

·       The industry is facing a severe staff shortage even as of now, and with over 6,000 new hotel rooms expected to come into operations in the next few years, this situation is going to reach crisis levels. Even the persons being trained and released into the system, lack proper training (soft skills in particular) which is already resulting in eroded service standards. Due to this, it is common knowledge that Sri Lanka is already losing its reputation for warm hospitality. 

Hence there needs to be an urgent ‘Wake-up call’ and a ‘call to arms’ if this grave impending situation is to be arrested.

The new 2025 Tourism Vision articulates the way forward for tourism as “rooted in the people, places, nature, biodiversity, history, heritage and values”.

If urgent action is not taken on the above issues, the Vison for Sri Lanka Tourism laid out so well in this policy document, will only be a ‘pipe dream’.

 Sri Lanka Tourism will lose its place as a one of the prime movers of the national economy, resulting in a great socio-economic fall out.

This paper will dwell only on addressing the Human Resource issue highlighted above



2.    Actions to address the staff shortage in the industry

Considerable amount of background analysis and work has already been carried out in this area, spearheaded by the National Human Resource Development Council (NHRD). Several comprehensive study reports have also been prepared.

The problem has been clearly identified (lack of quality and quantity) and certain actions have also been recommended. Although these recommendations are good, most of them are fragmented and piece-meal solutions, which do not address the problem directly in a holistic manner.    

If tourism development targets set out are met, there is no argument whatsoever that the HR shortage (estimated to be around 145,000 in the next 4 years) will reach major crisis proportions, placing the entire industry at grave risk.

It is well known that whatever high standards are met in hotels and other tourism infrastructure design, at the end of the day it will be the ‘software’ service and hospitality that will be the key drivers of success of Sri Lanka Tourism.

Hence this paper will propose some holistic ideas to meet this crisis head on.

a.    Conduct an immediate study (by suitable professionals) on perceptions of students, educationalists and parents towards the Tourism industry, and in particular why less women are joining the industry.

b.   Roll out comprehensive properly designed awareness campaign in all media, in all three  languages immediately thereafter, to directly address the issues identified in the study above

c.    Privatize the Management of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Management (SLITHM) by partnering with a reputed foreign entity who will assess the needs of the industry, modify/ upgrade/ re-design the curriculum as required, to meet international standards and local industry demands, and professionally manage the institution.

d.   Upgrade/ expand / the existing SLITHM’s several satellite schools in the country by Private –Public partnerships. These outstation institutes should focus more on skills based, intense short course training modules, at a more affordable price, to cater to the rural community.

e.    The Colombo Campus of the SLITHM (and perhaps Kandy) to focus more on higher level management oriented modules at somewhat a higher cost model, eventually to attract overseas students from the region. The higher earnings from the central campus can then cross subsidize the satellites.

f.     The possibility of leasing out the current premises of the SLITHM (which is in the heart of the City) and build a new campus with all  modern state-of-the art training facilities,  adjacent to a medium sized hotel just outside Colombo ( which is essential for practical training) should be given serious thought. This could be done as a joint venture with private tourism industrialists or with another JV partner. ( One possible site could be the Army owned Hotel Laya at Wadduwa)  


g.    Ensure that all private hospitality training institutes currently operating in the country are registered / accredited to the Tertiary & Vocational Education Commission (TVEC). Recommend and apply common programs for training and direction, under the SLITHM


h.   Lend support to develop a few, carefully selected, private tourism training institutions, currently operating well, with a view to increasing  trained staff output. Grade these institutions, assess their capabilities and assign training programs which they are capable of implementing.

i.      Set up a low interest loan scheme through a state bank, for tuition fees for students who cannot afford course fees, re-payable after they start working.


j.      Secure close cooperation of reputed hotel groups and work in close collaboration with them in developing this project.



3.    Conclusion

If there is commitment and a positive approach, all these thoughts could be developed and implemented very speedily.


Specific task forces must be identified and set up, with private sector led participation, outside the framework of the existing institutions, and given the responsibility of getting each activity implemented.




Failure to act decisively now, will put the entire tourism Industry of            Sri Lanka into jeopardy, with far reaching socio-economic fall out to a wide section of stakeholders