Tourism Sector Outstrips Skilled Workforce

Cambodia’s tourism sector is growing at an unsustainable rate as the skilled workforce fails to keep pace with rising demands and opportunities in the hospitality industry, officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Industry experts say.

As tourist arrivals consistently increase each year, the challenge has now become filling the gaps in expanding industries that require low-level skilled labor, said Kong Sopheareak, the Tourism Ministry’s director of statistics.

“The tourism industry is facing a lack of skilled labor, especially cooks, housekeepers, and tour guides, to serve the increasing number of foreign tourists.” Mr. Sopheareak said.

Last year foreign tourist arrivals to Cambodia reached 4.2 million, an increase of 14.1 percent compared to the 3.68 million in 2012. During the first three months this year, arrivals hit 1.2 million, up 10 percent on the same period in 2013.

Luu Meng, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, said that tourist hub of Siem Reap City—where the hotel industry has about 11,000 rooms and is growing around 10 percent per year—badly needs more skilled staff.

“Our members in Siem Reap are serving more and more guests as there are more hotels now,” Mr. Meng said. “But we lack management and skilled staff, particularly cooks and those in customer services.”

Hak Lina, president of the Cambodia Restaurant Association and general manager of Topaz Restaurant in Phnom Penh, echoed the concerns.

“We have more profits due to more tourists coming to visit Cambodia, but we lack skilled workers such as cooks and those in customer services. There are just a few training schools,” Ms. Lina said.

For the few schools in the country that do offer training courses, limited resources and capacity means many applicants are turned away.

Chhum Moniroth, education director at hospitality school Ecole d’Hotellerie et de Tourisme in Siem Reap, said his school can only train 250 students per year, which amounts to about 23 percent of applications.

“We receive about 1000 to 1,200 applicants per year but we only have the capacity to train about 250 per year because we don’t have enough money or resources to expand.”

Officials at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training were not available for comment.

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