Secret Concierge: Lay-offs in the time of coronavirus

Published: 8 April 2020 - noon

A colleague of mine was standing behind her work desk clearly in shock, eyes red as a flame of fire, staring out of the window and then hurriedly throwing business cards (which she had collected within her two-month employment period) into her handbag, before leaving the office in tears. When I asked what had happened, all she could say was ‘I was let go’. I thought maybe she had done something wrong but a mere 20-minutes later, I was the next to get an invitation to the HR office. The moment I stepped in, I knew what this was all about. I was next. The decision had nothing to do with our performance. It was simply one of the many ‘business decisions’ the hotel had taken on that day, letting go a total of 90 employees, all in hopes to save the owners’ sacred funds by lightening the hotel’s payroll.

It’s scary how common lay-offs in the hospitality industry are. Especially during times like these when no retail outlet in the city is making a profit (due to the dramatic decline in inbound tourism), let alone hotels which, due to oversupply, are fighting in a more fierce marketplace than ever before.

It’s true that hotels that have fired employees will be able to show great savings on the bottom-line and, in so doing, get a pat on the back at the next owner’s meeting. However, how will the business survive when the COVID-19 pandemic stops, travel bans get lifted and the city sees an influx of tourists? That’s what Expo 2020 is supposed to deliver, right? But a 5-star hotel that is short-staffed will only be capable of delivering the bare minimum.

The owner’s response to the HR once the business levels pick up and rehiring question is back on the table: “You were able to run the hotel with minimal manpower, you’ll surely be able to manage the situation with the same manning, also when it gets busy. Why would you suddenly need additional employees when the room rates are not there?”

There are so many hospitality management firms out there, happily sawing off the branch they’re sitting on because “people are the most expensive asset”.

During our most recent monthly employees-only meeting, one of my colleague stood up to confront the hotel’s executive leadership team, who were standing in front of 400 associates like they were in a fi ring line, faces red and ears down, and asked a very fair question: “Why did you start cutting from the bottom, why not from the top?” They were referring to the fi ring wave which had hit the rank-and-fi le colleagues, leaving the highly-paid executives with their expenses and AED 200,000 live-out allowances untouched. Only to get the most ridiculous reply: “But we had to start from somewhere.”

Now more than ever, the situation across the city is very uncertain. It no longer matters how long you’ve been with the company, how hard or how many hours you work, or who you know. At the end of the day, you’re just a number. And when “spring-cleaning” is upon us, job security in the workplace is as questionable as the STR-projected numbers of the current occupancy levels in Dubai hotels. Gone are the days when it was all about the people. The hospitality industry prioritises the owners and their profit.

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