Now that there are several new and renovated hotels and guest houses in Georgetown and its environs the problem of the scarcity of the skills necessary to enable these institutions to provide a high standard of service is staring us even more squarely in the face. On the one hand the new facilities have created hundreds of new jobs. On the other, there is the question of whether or not there are enough Guyanese living at home who are qualified to fill many of those positions.
At least two of the newly built or renovated hotels have already recruited managers from outside of Guyana and this newspaper is aware of at least two others that are seeking to recruit not only managers but cooks from abroad. What this suggests is that some of our local hotel owners are finally getting the message that there is simply no substitute for high standards if the hotel sector is to meet the continually rising expectations of international travellers and that those standards cannot be provided by relying on the limited pool of relevant skills available in Guyana.
The paucity of skills in our hotel sector derives from the fact that traditionally there have never been any really robust mechanisms in place to hold hotels and guest houses to high standards. The industry has had its fair share of charlatan proprietors who care neither about service or standards and who have, over the years, paid their workers what amounts to peppercorn wages. The upshot of this is that the hotel sector has been unable to build up a cadre of trained and experienced staff since most of the workers have simply not been encouraged to stay around long enough to secure either training or experience.
There is also the question of the absence of any real planning in the overall development of the hotel sector, planning, that is, that recognises that training is a concommitant of an increase in the number of hotels and the greater demands of the tourism sector and that such training requires both investments in local training institutions as well as the sourcing of training opportunities outside of Guyana, preferably elsewhere in the Caribbean.
If the human resource emergency in the hotel sector appears to have hit us rather suddenly the fact of the matter is that that is far from true. The prevailing dilemma is a function of the kind of piecemeal planning associated with what has become a commonplace adage that somehow, things will simply fit into place. Except of course that it will not work that way this time around since times have changed, we are marketing a tourism industry abroad and discerning tourists will simply not accept the low standards to which we have accustomed ourselves.
The Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) has conceded that low standards are not confined to “fleabag” facilities but also apply, to varying degrees, to even the best hotels. Low standards have been linked mostly to inadequately trained staff which, in essence, is a function of the absence of rules and regulations that put pressure on hotel and guest house operators to run high-quality facilities. And in the absence of such rules and regulations the GTA is of course empowered to do little more than bring guest complaints to the attention of the hotels in the hope that this will bring about some improvement. In essence, we must rely on the standards set by the proprietors and managers themselves rather than on universally laid-down standards that they are required to follow.
Few things expose the poor standards of hotel staff in Guyana more than the “crash courses” that the GTA and other institutions have been undertaking in recent weeks in an effort to bring service staff “up to speed” with customer expectations ahead of the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Apart from the fact that the GTA itself faces problems associated with scarce skills and resources the fact of the matter is that we cannot hope to accomplish the proper training of hundreds of hotel workers in the space of a few short weeks and in the absence of the personnel and facilities necessary to complete such training programmes. And the fact that we appear to think that “crash courses” will work begs the question as to how seriously we have been taking the accommodation sector as part of the broader tourism industry anyway. The fact of the matter is that there are still some hotels and guest houses that seriously believe that they can attract experienced and discerning tourists while operating with staff comprising “cousins from the country.”
At this juncture we have a choice between investing in raising the levels of training in the sector or else, allowing this new generation of hotels and guest houses to fall into the same “seedy” habits to which we have mostly accustomed ourselves over the years. In the latter case, of course, we must accept that the development of a viable tourism industry will remain no more than a pipe dream since there are several other destinations around the world no less attractive than Guyana where the standard of hotel accommodation is up to what tourists have come to expect.