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Going the extra mile to raise productivity

Hotels need to balance the use of technology with personalised service which comes from having a human touch.

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Amara Singapore Hotel had to think extra hard about how to get the most efficiencies from its operations.

FOR an industry that thrives on the human touch, it is not always easy for hotels to go big on technology to raise productivity. And that is why Amara Singapore Hotel had to think extra hard about how to get the most efficiencies from its operations, in order to cope with the tight labour market.

It has introduced a range of programmes to boost efficiency in various departments, from the kitchen to housekeeping.

One of the key productivity initiatives that the hotel launched was establishing a central kitchen to prepare food for its four food and beverage (F&B) outlets which offer a diverse range of cuisines from Spanish tapas to local fare. This has allowed the F&B division to cut down staff hours while maintaining the quality of the food.

Having a central kitchen has also meant that staff members have more opportunities to pick up skills in preparing a variety of cuisines, said Dawn Teo, Amara Singapore's director of strategic planning and corporate development.

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"Our kitchen associates now have the opportunity to multi-task and hone their culinary skills across different cuisines within the same seamless space," she added.

Seizing the rising global demand for halal food, the hotel decided to convert unused kitchen space into a halal-certified kitchen in February earlier this year. This will allow the hotel to host events - such as weddings - which are catered for the Muslim market.

To keep its housekeepers motivated, the hotel decided to realign their incentive programmes to reward productivity.

It has worked. The number of employee hours per occupied room - a measure of productivity for housekeeping - stood at 2.06 before 2014. But after the new programme was established, it improved to 1.69 last year.

"As a result, there has been a marked improvement in the productivity of our existing room attendances, and we have also reduced our dependence on costly outsourced labour," said Ms Teo.

However, implementing productivity raising measures in the hotel industry has not been without challenges, said Ms Teo.

One difficulty has been getting the buy-in of staff members. "The more mature employees need to adapt to the constantly evolving environment and develop new skill sets to stay relevant. The younger colleagues need to recognise that hospitality is a gritty job behind the glamour, and stay the course for their career development," she added.

Hotels are also confronted with issues and tensions that come about from adopting technology.

Technology has helped to boost productivity but guests still expect warm and personalised service which comes from having a human touch.

"At the same time, there is a dearth of technology and digital talent in hospitality as most (jobseekers) are also opting to join companies in the new economy," said Ms Teo.

Ms Teo said that the government can support the hospitality sector by launching more training and mentoring schemes and marketing programmes to improve the skills of workers and attract them to the industry.

Even as stricter measures on the hiring of foreigners in Singapore are put in place, Ms Teo said that she hopes that the government will recognise that there is no substitute for the human touch in the hospitality industry.

"We would appreciate more support for foreign talents who provide specialised skills or foreign exchange programmes to upskill our Singaporean hospitality talents, so as to ensure that Singapore hospitality companies can remain competitive on the international stage," she said.

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