Afeef Hussain is the Regional Director of Training and Human Resources of LUX* Resorts & Hotels and also the President of Maldives Association for Human Resources Professionals (MAHRP). With over a decade of experience in hospitality and having worked with international luxury brands such as HPL Hotels, Atlantis Hotel Group and One&Only Resorts, and currently at the leading LUX* Resorts and Hotels Group, Afeef Hussain is a certified coach, speaker and trainer. He is an Executive Coach and a Team Coach at Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching.
We all know, the effect of Covid-19 has been massive for the tourism industry as a whole. A country where the majority of its economic stability relies on the tourism, Maldives has been greatly impacted by the current situation. We asked Mr. Afeef for his opinion on handling and managing a crisis of this scale.
A crisis is something that hits you, you are in it for a couple of days and you bounce back very quickly. What we are going through now is survival. People are finding a way to survive.Afeef Hussain
1. As a first question, how prepared were you for something of this scale?
Afeef: Wow! This is something we never imagined happening in our lifetime. Resorts are usually quite well prepared for natural disasters or disasters caused due to a workplace accidents and incidents. I recall the Tsunami back in 2004, I was in Maldives and we did not have a plan for a natural disaster but because of that we are now prepared and if there were a second tsunami to happen, god forbid, we would be ready for it.
For something as large as this, we were not prepared. Obviously, we monitor the economic situations and we would usually have a continuity plan, but not at this scale. Covid-19 has paralysed the entire travel industry. As to answer the question, No, we definitely were not prepared. I believe most resorts were not.
2. LUX* Resorts & Hotels as a brand operates two resorts in the Maldives, How many staff are employed in both LUX* properties in Maldives ?
Afeef: We have an approximate of 600 staff in LUX* South Ari, and 220 staff in LUX* North Male’. In total we have an approximate of 820 staff employed in Maldives.
3. We have seen almost every resort taking various steps to minimise the impact? What are your current actions?
Afeef: Closing the resort is the last option on our mandate.
Even at the early stages, we were preparing. Once we knew the virus would hit us, starting from mid-February, we took extreme measures such as additional hand washing facilities and providing sanitisers to all staff and guests. We started taking temperature checks of the staff and the 400 in-house guests who were with us. This was even before Maldives Health Protection Agency advised on the precautions.
To minimize the impact on the business, we planned to touch markets which were not affected by the coronavirus. We were looking into all the different aspects to operate as effectively as possible. Room occupancies started dropping as an impact of the virus, and then suddenly we saw an empty hotel. Which is why we decided to close LUX* South Ari, Maldives.
On the other hand, LUX* North Male’ will continue as usual and we still have 22 in-house guests. Predominantly the market for LUX* North Male’ is Russian, Europe and Middle-East travellers. We have hope when the borders open, we will continue the operations.
We have taken several measures in terms of cost containment. Our employees are very important for us and we can guarantee none of them will lose their jobs. We are working on a plan on how we can retain the team. Of course, we have to do what is right by the employees and what is right for the business’ continuity.
Of course, people will worry, but worrying will not help in resolving the problem. We have to stop worrying and start thinking.Afeef Hussain
4. How are the employees reacting to the situation?
Afeef: We have no specific issues with the employees. In general, it is observed that team members usually understand once you explain the situation clearly. We have been very open with our employees from the beginning. To me, this is not a crisis. A crisis is something that hits you, you are in it for a couple of days and you bounce back very quickly. What we are going through now is survival. People are finding a way to survive.
I think we have to be very honest with the team members. Of course, team members may panic, but given the right information and seeing that they are taken care of helps them understand the situation.
At LUX*, We have been keeping our team members updated from day one, from a managerial perspective to what we intend to achieve. I think what matters the most is the connection we have with our employees rather than money, and how we keep them informed. If we give the right information, everyone will respect it, accept it and maintain a mutual understanding.
5. Do you have any new trainings planned for this time? Especially due to low operations of the resorts?
Afeef: Yes! What we are focusing now is online learning. We already have online learning platforms, but at the same time we also have a lot of wellness programs and activities. The aim is to keep the team members engaged. We are doing a lot of fitness bootcamps and healthy run programs. These are activities which will help a lot of learning in itself. We do a fitness bootcamp 07 days a week and social distancing is maintained throughout the activity. It is a fun experience for the employees and a great learning opportunity.
6. Looks like the situation is yet uncertain, also we have seen a lot of resorts letting go off the staff without a favourable plan or job guarantee? What is your opinion towards that as an Employer?
Afeef: We are in a crisis so we must respect the decision of every employer. As an outside person i cannot really comment on the decisions by another employer. We are unaware of their situations and we do not know why a particular employer lets go off staff but at the same time we understand there will be financial obligations.
Also, one of the biggest challenges we have as an industry is there is no specific thing in our labour law for these kinds of situations so called as force majeure. These areas are quite grey as of now.
Most resorts are taking actions obviously in good faith. Everyone is doing what is best for them and their employees. Some employers are giving the employees pay packages or pay allowances while others are giving a deduction in the salaries. For example, look at the global aviation industry which is heavily affected by the situation, major airlines are grounded, and a number of staff lost their jobs.
I think the best thing is we respect what employers are doing and obviously listen to the employees and help find the best possible solution.
7. Once we overcome the situation, how long do you think it would take to get back to operating resorts at the same scale as prior to the crisis?
Afeef: As far as I know there are more than 80 resorts which has confirmed to close. Probably more may add to the list. That is quite a big number.
Most resorts are closing in such a way that they can start their operations immediately, maybe within 15 to 20 days of confirmation that they have bookings. From what I have gathered and all the news I have seen and read, this is going to go at the current rate until the end of April, and it will slow down in May. Some of the countries will open their borders in May and then travel will slowly start to pick up.
However, I think travel at its peak will happen by the end of the year or early next year. The problem is people are stuck at home, they are not earning, they need basic necessities fulfilled before they can start travelling. That is the most positive forecast I can give.
On the other hand, how long will the borders stay closed? Because if the borders stay closed for another 02 to 03 months, the economy is going to crash and we are going to have a very big economic disaster, which we have never seen before. I am not suggesting that we take the lives of people for granted, but I think there is a way around this. People are focused on containing the virus now, but maybe later they will start looking for ways around it and further enhance the preventive measures and open the borders so we can move around and giving the economy a chance to get going.
8. What is your advice for the colleagues and friends who are currently without the hope of their job?
Afeef: I’ll say three things:
Firstly, it is very important to understand the facts rather than what you hear from someone or read off social media. When you know the facts, you make your decisions based on the facts.
Second thing is, worrying. Of course, people will worry, but worrying will not help in resolving the problem. We have to stop worrying and start thinking. Think through the difficulties. Difficult does not mean impossible. If we think we will find a way to go around the challenges ahead.
Lastly, we will bounce back! It is the time to start preparing on how we will get back on track once we bounce back. You have to start looking into business reintegration plans if you are a business. Once we bounce back, it will be very quick because we cannot compare this pandemic to the 1918. Back then the world did not have anything, we are now much advanced in terms of technology, financial aspects and human capital.