Worker shortage threatens Phu Quoc island tourism

By Dat Nguyen   December 7, 2019 | 01:30 am PT
Worker shortage threatens Phu Quoc island tourism
Tourists in Phu Quoc, Vietnam's largest island. Photo by Shutterstock/Diego Fiore.
Phu Quoc island is struggling to find enough hospitality workers as training fails to keep pace with Vietnam’s explosive tourism growth.

Truong Sy Vinh, deputy director of the Institute for Tourism Development Research, said the island in the southern Kien Giang Province, home to 12 five-star hotels and seven four-star hotels, needs around 36,000 employees to fulfill tasks at 23,000 rooms at four to five-star hotels. 

Now, only 13,000 employees work in Kien Giang's tourism industry, including 11,500 laborers at hotels and resorts, said Tang Chi Quyen from the province’s Department of Tourism.

Nguyen Huu Tuynh, deputy director of resort developer Sun Group Phu Quoc, said his resorts are constantly short of staff at all levels, especially managers.

"We plan to soon launch an entertainment complex and another resort on the island, but we are struggling to hire staff for the vacant positions," he told a recent forum.

It has had to try and recruit in the southern Can Tho City by holding job fairs, he said.

Pham Xuan Hai, deputy managing director of the Sai Gon – Phu Quoc Resort & Spa, said his resort has itself trained hundreds of people since 2014, but still struggles since every year 20-30 percent of trainees leave for new resorts and restaurants.

To attract employees from the mainland, developers have set aside land to build staff dormitories. Employees staying there only have to pay utility bills.

But keeping personnel on the island is a challenge. Many hotel senior managers in Phu Quoc move back to the mainland since medical and educational facilities are not great, Pham Cong Son, director of The Shells Resort & Spa Phu Quoc, said.

Not much has been done to address the staff shortage though the problem has existed for a few years now on the island, he added. "Every time a new resort opens, we are worried about losing our staff to them."

On Phu Quoc, there is no job market to connect jobseekers with hotels and restaurants, Nguyen Thanh Tam, director of the hospitability department at Kent International College in HCMC, said. 

Many former fishermen on the island are currently unemployed and could do manual work at hotels, but due to the lack of an information sharing system prospective employers cannot link up with them, he added.

Experts are concerned the worker shortage issue could stymie the island’s tourism potential.

Vinh of the Institute for Tourism Development Research said without a solution Phu Quoc’s tourism industry could struggle to grow in the coming years and fail to become an international travel hotspot.

Hailed as one of the best travel destinations in Asia, Phu Quoc has in recent years been a destination of choice for major hospitality players.

The number of tourists has quintupled since 2015, while the number of hotel rooms has almost quadrupled to 22,700, according to the Kien Giang Province tourism department.

The problem is not peculiar to Phu Quoc and plagues the industry around the country despite the fact the government wants it to be a driver of economic growth.

Forty five percent of hotel and resort developers in the country want to expand but are constrained by the short supply of human resources, a survey released by Hanoi-based consultancy Economica Vietnam in April said.

The country has 1.3 million direct workers in the tourism industry, but only 42 percent are formally trained while the rest are either not properly trained or come from other sectors, according to the Vietnam Tourism Association.

Nguyen Thanh Tam, director of the hospitability department at Kent International College in HCMC, said at the forum that Vietnam needs around two million additional tourism and hospitality workers by 2020, but graduates universities and colleges would churn out are only a third of that number.

Since other countries in the neighborhood also face a staff shortage, international hotels are luring away some of Vietnam’s best, exacerbating the shortage, he added.

The number of foreigners visiting Vietnam in the first 11 months of this year is estimated at 16.3 million, a record high, up 15.3 percent year-on-year, according to the General Statistics Office.

The country’s tourism revenue in the period is around VND649 trillion ($27.96 billion), up 16.3 percent.

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