Service standards in Singapore have fallen sharply, said Mr Arthur Kiong, chief executive of Far East Hospitality, the largest hospitality chain here, leaving industry players and policymakers worried at a time when the sector is hit hard by a labour crunch and dwindling tourist arrivals.
Expressing his dismay over the state of affairs, Mr Kiong told TODAY: “Is it that we don’t get it or are business owners not really convinced that service is related to keeping customers and (to) profitability? The disproportionate response to this major issue from business owners is shocking. Many are so financially driven that they refuse to look at the larger picture.”
Taking no comfort in data showing productivity gains, he added: “Yet overall, our productivity has actually improved. Clearly, that is not real. It is because we can’t find people. There are fewer people doing the same job, so productivity looks to have gone up, but the quality has fallen.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said earlier this week at the Singapore Service Excellence Medallion awards that while service standards here have been raised over the past 10 years, there is still much room for improvement.
“Ask any tourist or even a Singaporean which country has good service, (and) I don’t think Singapore comes immediately to mind. In Singapore, I don’t think our culture and DNA are naturally service-oriented, but we, too, can learn from Hong Kong and other countries and transform our service industry,” he said.
Mr Kiong said the productivity push is also taking a toll on Singaporean workers. “We are trying to squeeze productivity, but Singaporean workers are feeling the heat as they realise that they have to do much more work at a comparatively lower pay increase. They originally thought their salaries will be better if there were no foreign workers. Now, fresh talent refuse to join the hospitality sector, looking at the hard work,” he said.
He added that Singapore should stop borrowing from other countries and instead reinvent itself, as he seeks to promote a unique “Singapore Hospitality” defined by three key attributes: Comfort without excess, aesthetics without ostentation, and attention without pretention.
“There is place and relevance today for this Singapore-inspired hospitality, both in terms of our strategy and the evolving new generation of travellers who are redefining service standards. They want comfort, but do not want to pay more than they should. Also, we need to understand well that they are in Singapore to enjoy the destination and not the hotel. The hotel is a small component, so we should be less arrogant about ourselves.”
Come July, with a focus on its key markets including Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, the United Kingdom and India, Far East Hospitality will launch two year-long campaigns: Heritage Food Trail, which will focus on local food; and Far More Singapore, which will showcase the Singaporean way of life.
With its portfolio of brands, the hospitality giant is targeting the mid-tier market. “We have different brands catering for different psychographic categories and are the first to do this. Others go by demographic, segregating products by price points,” Mr Kiong said. The psychographic approach targets consumers according to their attitudes and aspirations.
Far East Hospitality operates nine brands of hotels, serviced residences and apartment hotels, including Adina Apartment Hotels, Medina Serviced Apartments, Marque, Oasia, Quincy, Rendezvous, Travelodge Hotels, Vibe Hotels and Village.
After Chinese New Year next year, it will launch several new properties in Singapore.
Far East Hospitality is a 70-30 joint venture between Far East Orchard, a company under Far East Organization, and The Straits Trading Company. It operates a combined portfolio of more than 13,000 rooms across 80 hotels and serviced residences in eight countries — Australia, China, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, with more in its development pipeline.