Some hotels in Penang rehiring even as tourism industry continues to suffer due to Covid-19 travel restrictions

MAH Penang chapter chairman Raj Kumar said some of the hotels in Penang that have been on minimal operation mode over the past few months are preparing to accept more bookings. — Picture by Steven KE Ooi
MAH Penang chapter chairman Raj Kumar said some of the hotels in Penang that have been on minimal operation mode over the past few months are preparing to accept more bookings. — Picture by Steven KE Ooi

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GEORGE TOWN, May 1 — Some hotels in Penang are rehiring as they reopen fully to try and gain as much business as possible in the coming months, according to the Penang chapter of the Malaysian Association of Hoteliers (MAH).

MAH Penang chapter chairman Raj Kumar said some of the hotels in Penang that have been on minimal operation mode over the past few months are preparing to accept more bookings.

“We have hotels that have closed temporarily and are reopening now because they can't wait anymore, business has to go on,” he said in an interview with Malay Mail.

He said the hotels needed revenue to continue operations and to cover some of their overheads so they are trying to attract business travellers, and even Penang residents seeking a weekend getaway.

“With the roll out of the vaccination, hotels are also preparing in anticipation of a possible reopening of interstate travel, maybe not now, but it is good to prepare early,” he said.

Raj said the hotels have to plan ways to promote their rooms to travellers from other states once interstate travel is allowed.

For now, the hotels are already ensuring they are adhering to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and maintaining a high level of cleanliness and hygiene at all times.

He said most hotels have also been implementing cost-cutting measures to keep their overheads low in order to survive this period when interstate travel is still not allowed.

He said the hotels are mostly reluctant to retrench their workers so many have resorted to striking a compromise with staff on three-day work weeks.

“Some are allowing their staff to work three days and take four days unpaid leave each week so the staff can work part-time elsewhere to supplement their income,” he said.

Raj said this way, the hotels get to lower their overhead costs while still retaining their employees.

During Ramadan, he said some hotels took the opportunity to close their restaurants that are not doing well and only open it for breaking of fast while many have closed their function rooms and ballrooms entirely since very few events are being held.

“So, the food and beverage staff will be asked to work in other departments if the restaurants are closed, maybe to help out with housekeeping or the front desk,” he said.

Surprisingly, hotel occupancy rates are recovering, especially for beachfront hotels along Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah, he said.

Raj said beachfront hotels are seeing up to 70 per cent occupancy rates on weekends and most of their guests are from Penang.

“Many Penangites can't go anywhere so they are booking beach hotels and staying on weekends. This gives the hotels a boost,” he said.

However, weekday occupancy rates at these beachfront hotels drop to around 20 per cent.

Conversely, business hotels, such as the ones in Seberang Perai, that cater mainly to professionals who travel for work, are recording occupancy rates of between 40 and 50 per cent on weekdays.

“Business travellers are usually on weekdays so these hotels will see higher occupancy rates from Mondays to Fridays while the occupancy will drop on weekends,” he said.

As for hotels based in the heritage zone and the city, many are still seeing very low occupancy rates as both business travellers and locals would not choose to stay in these hotels.

“The hotels in the Unesco World Heritage Site are struggling. Most are seeing occupancy rates of below 20 per cent most of the time,” he said.

He said Penang residents would not find anything interesting or fun about staying in the heritage zone, while business travellers usually choose hotels that are near their workplace.

He said the tourism and hospitality industry is mostly suffering and struggling to stay afloat at this point of time.

“We can't even make any predictions anymore as the number of Covid-19 cases fluctuate every day. Sometimes it is high, sometimes it is low. We can't foresee when the government will allow interstate travel to resume,” he said.

He said their only hope is for the nationwide vaccination drive to continue without a hitch and with more people inoculated, perhaps there will be fewer cases and finally, the industry will be able to open again in full force.

“We fully understand the situation now. Public health takes precedence so what we can do is to ensure full compliance to the SOPs and to make sure any guests who stay with us are safe,” he said.

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