How can Thailand’s super-aged solve the hotel staff crisis?

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While Thailand’s hotel and tourism recovery is moving forward at a faster-than-expected pace,
the country’s acute hospitality staff shortage continues to worsen by the day. In what can best
be termed a ‘people business’, hotel owners and operators and wondering where have all the
people gone. It’s a worrisome trend and is only going to get worse as mass tourism returns.

Traditionally, Thailand’s hotel industry has seen an ever-growing population providing a steady
stream of new, young workers flooding into the sector. But now a perfect storm in a post-
COVID world where fresh school graduates are increasingly attracted to newer business sectors
and the impact of technology has pushed the service sector lower and lower in terms of career
preferences. The TikTok and Instagram generation often voices out that hospitality is just too
hands-on and time-consuming a vocation.

That said, one of the most significant additions to Thailand’s hospitality workforce comes at the
other end of the age spectrum, older part-time workers. According to newly released data from
Kasikorn Research Center, the country is forecasted to be a super-aged society by 2029. The
super-aged population classification means over 20% of the population is 65 and over. This
comes at a time when the country has registered a steady decline in newborn children and
adolescents for the past consecutive three years (2020-2022).

Something has to give, and declining younger additions to the workforce are set to continue in
the years ahead. With Thailand’s retirement age set at 60, an unrelenting number of older aged
workers are being asked to retire or opting to, back of a refined labour code provision. But what
happens next? Economic pressure, lack of access to quality medical care, and just plain
boredom are increasingly pushing older Thais to seek a return to work.

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One pitfall of hotels in Thailand and across Asia for that matter is an outright obsession with
young workers and fresh graduates. The industry has done little in terms of valuing rich and
diverse life experience and all too often view age as a financial and organizational liability. But
with the stark reality of mounting staff shortages, it’s become a call to action for the hospitality
sector to tap into new demographics.

One start-up group that is embracing this change and tapping into the pool of older human
resources is the online part-time workplace SAIJAI.IO. Its journey has grown from providing
homecare throughout Thailand with maids, babysitters, maintenance, pet care, divers, and
tutors and now sprouted wings with a hospitality solution for hotels, condominiums and villas,
and restaurants.

Speaking to SAIJAI’s Founder Viona Zhang, who talks passionately about how the platform aims
to harness the potential of older workers, she says “The hospitality industry needs to realign its single-minded focus on training young staff who are just entering the workplace into a longer-
term vision of life-learning. This includes reskilling older individuals who have not worked in
hotels before and attracting a growing base of part-time resources.

We have seen a regime where hotels continue a short-sided approach by commoditizing
contractual part-time staff with low wages, no benefits, and no training. The sad thing is so
many older workers have been excluded from participating in the sharing economy. We are set
to change this and a key value of SAIJAI remains its social mission in providing livelihood, access
to low-cost medical insurance, and life-learning opportunities.”

Taking a final look at the super-aged phenomenon, inside the numbers, the most pragmatic
way forward for Thailand and other countries facing this transition is that it’s not a matter of
raising the legal retirement age or necessarily keeping older employees in the same job. What’s
important is offering an alternative solution such as part-time work, that utilizes those with
life experience and offers an economic benefit, along with extending the individual learning
journey to the old and not just the young.

Thailand Travel

Bill Barnett

Bill Barnett has over 30 years of experience in the Asian hospitality and property markets. He is considered to be a leading authority on real estate trends across Asia, and has sat at almost every seat around the hospitality and real estate table. Bill promotes industry insight through regular conference speaking engagements and is continually gathering market intelligence. Over the past few years he has released four books on Asian property topics.

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