"Singaporeans are not keen on F&B jobs (and) front-desk jobs that require them to work longer hours and irregular shifts. The option to hire is always open if Singaporeans were to apply for the job," highlighted Kellvin Ong, general manager of the Rendezvous Grand Hotel.

Orchard Hotel's general manager Andrew Tan said that with Singaporeans not filling open positions fast enough, this tended to impact its foreign worker dependency ratio significantly, leaving it with no or negative quota.

The 511-room Royal Plaza currently has a staff strength of nearly 380 - but needs closer to 405. About 60 per cent of its staff are local. "We still want to hire. We put ads in the newspaper - no one shows up," said Mr Fiat, adding that it conducts roadshows in Malaysia as well, where response has grown poorer as new hotel properties are launched.

Remuneration in the big cities such as Kuala Lumpur works out comparable to Singapore when the city-state's substantial housing and transport costs are factored in.

The tangible impact of the employment changes may also be less cut-and- dried here compared to other industries such as manufacturing, where companies can scale back expansion or relocate their operations.

"It is an indirect impact on revenue and profit as, due to the lack of manpower, we might not be able to provide (the) service that our guests have come to expect. If they are disappointed, we lose a customer," said Mr Ong.

But now that push has become a decidedly less gentle shove and the likelihood of a U-turn in policy appears slim, hotels are making an effort to boost productivity, redefine job scope and fine-tune operational processes (albeit with a little grumbling along the way).

According to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), some hotels are adopting different business models to cope with the tight labour market, either scaling back F&B components or doing away with them altogether.

The Pan Pacific Singapore reopened last September after an $80 million renovation. Among the productivity initiatives implemented were enhancing the check-in process so guests can do so via an iPad while being walked to their room.

The Four Seasons' crunch team - made up of employees across various departments such as finance and human resource - is serving it well today. Alerted by text message, the team swoops in to help out with simple tasks when certain departments are overwhelmed. Meanwhile, the hotel's investment in a state-of-the-art dishwashing machine (which does the work of two employees) allows the kitchen staff in question to be deployed elsewhere.

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