Rebuilding the workforce needed for day-to-day operations in Macau hotels, including ones at casino resorts, remains a challenge, as consumer demand since the lifting of Covid-19 associated travel restrictions in early January has outpaced labour resupply following the shrinking of staff numbers over the past three years, several industry observers have indicated to GGRAsia.
A labour shortage is particularly acute in certain front-of-house hotel roles, where in the past venues have often used non-resident workers, the observers said, with a travel-industry spokesman noting that the lead times in terms of government paperwork for non-resident recruitment can typically be longer than for hiring Macau ID holders.
“During the [Covid-19] pandemic, casino resorts have been operating with minimum staffing, but with the sudden surge in business, there is a high demand” for positions related to hotel operations, said Jiji Tu, executive director at MSS Recruitment and the online portal hello-jobs.com.
Some of the most in-demand workers are those that can cover hotel housekeeping and food and drink services, noted Luís Herédia, Macau Hotel Association president, in his comments to GGRAsia.
Being able to fill “positions for housekeeping, such as cleaners, and room attendants, are amongst the priorities… So are jobs such as concierges and chefs,” added Mr Herédia.
“Engineers, gardeners, administrators, and sales and marketing” people were also needed by local hotels, he further mentioned, noting recruitment for hotel back-of-house, clerical jobs was mostly targeting Macau ID holders.
Hotel-labour supply constraints Mr Herédia had mentioned to GGRAsia before the Chinese New Year festive break in late January, still applied, he said.
“Some hotels are yet to fully resume their food and beverage services, pending receipt of extra hands,” Mr Herédia said in his latest remarks.
He said resolving staff shortages was vital for luxury hotel names wishing to protect their brand reputation. Many Macau casino resorts have one or more five-star hotels within their complex.
Macao Government Tourism Office director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes recently said that only about 6 percent of Macau’s current circa 46,000 licensed-room inventory – or “2,000 to 3,000” units - were out of use due to lack of labour.
“While the government and the industry are still addressing the labour shortage issue, it did not appear to cause significant disruptions to gaming operators even during the busiest days of Chinese New Year based on on-the-ground observations,” wrote HSBC gaming research analysts Charlene Liu, Jessie Lu, and Lauren Cai in a Tuesday note.
Macau casino gross gaming revenue rebounded in January, coinciding with the boom in tourism numbers, and remained “solid” in the first 12 days of February, according to a number of investment analysts.
Nonetheless, Grant Chum, chief operating officer of Macau casino firm Sands China Ltd – which has one of the largest inventories of hotel rooms in the city – said on the parent Las Vegas Sands Corp’s fourth quarter earnings call at the end of January, that the Macau business still had hotel-capacity constraints.
He noted “we’re still only about two-thirds of the way through in terms of ability of manpower to operate the whole hotel” at Londoner Court, an all-suite venue that is the newest accommodation facility at the group’s Londoner Macao resort on Cotai.
In terms of the workforce situation for gaming-floor operations, other factors arise, according to industry commentators. Non-resident workers cannot be casino dealers under existing policy arrangements. But gaming labour groups noted to GGRAsia in comments prior to Chinese New Year, that during the three years of tourism downturn amid the pandemic, some gaming staff had been assigned to non-gaming work in resorts.
Non-resident worker paperwork
Other roles linked more generally to gaming resort operations, such as security, restaurant services, and cleaning duties, had been assigned to non-resident workers in pre-Covid-19 trading periods.
The number of non-resident workers in Macau’s gaming sector fell by nearly half between the end of January 2020 and the end of October 2022, said Labour Affairs Bureau director Wong Chi Hong in November. As at October-end last year, the Macau gaming sector had 18,514 non-resident workers.
A faster approval process by the Macau authorities for those seeking to hire non-resident workers – or to renew work permits of existing staff – could help the hospitality sector in tackling the labour shortfall, Mr Herédia suggested.
Macau Travel Industry Council president, Andy Wu Keng Kuong, told GGRAsia the city’s tourism sector would still need some time to stabilise its human resources, and so maintain required standards of service.
For small and medium-sized companies in the tourism sector, placing non-resident workers from mainland China can currently take “more than a month”, as the process involved not only approvals on the Macau side, but also on the mainland side, stated Mr Wu.
Another challenge for the tourism sector would be the competition for workers between large-scale integrated resort operators and smaller-scale companies, as extra hotel facilities were due to be launched at several Cotai casino resorts this year, said the travel-industry boss.
In an emailed reply to GGRAsia, Macau’s Labour Affairs Bureau did not comment on the average waiting times on non-resident work permit approval. The body just said it would “speed up” review of non-resident work permit applications, including applications filed by companies from the tourism and leisure sector.
(Updated 6.15pm, Feb 17)
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