Competition intensifies for good hotel staff

by Nicole Wong

Diana Chik, convenor, human resources development committee, Hong Kong Hotels Association

Hotels are having to refocus on recruitment and retention issues

The hotel industry in Hong Kong has experienced an amazing recovery since the dark days of 2003. New hotels are opening, others are being planned or built, and there seems to be no end to the number of job vacancies being advertised. While remaining optimistic about the general outlook, local hotels are nevertheless facing up to increased competition both for new business opportunities and for high-calibre employees. In order to attract and hold on to the best staff, they are being forced to review their recruitment strategies, revise retention policies and put greater emphasis on talent development.

"Based on the figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board's Hotel Supply Situation Report, there will be 15 hotel openings between 2005 and 2008," says Diana Chik, convenor for the human resources development committee of the Hong Kong Hotels Association, and director of human resources for the Renaissance Habour View Hotel Hong Kong. "With the number of new hotel rooms reaching 7,000, we estimate there will be close to 5,000 additional job vacancies in the industry in the next few years," she says.

As the demand for talent far exceeds supply, the main industry players are always ready to explore a variety of recruitment methods. Participation in career days at local tertiary institutes has long been on the agenda, while many hotels have now started to attend recruitment expos. Collaboration with other organisations is also helping to bring teenagers into the industry. For example, the Travel & Tourism Education Programme sponsored by American Express, and referrals from the Labour Department and various non-profit organisations in Hong Kong have helped to fill a number of positions.

Continuous training

"In the increasingly competitive environment, one of our major goals is to help new recruits see their future career prospects," Ms Chik notes. Continuous training is therefore provided for staff of all levels. This extends from daily briefings on work procedures and safety tips for operational staff to leadership workshops for managers and supervisors. An emphasis on staff development can also be seen in the improving remuneration packages at most hotels, where salaries for both existing and incoming staff are expected to increase in the next two years.

The hotel industry has been given a tremendous boost by the individual traveller scheme for visitors from the mainland, and the opening of Disneyland in September this year is set to add further impetus to the tourism sector. One consequence is that management-level staff with experience in four or five-star hotels are in great demand. They are understandably being targeted by the newer properties, which are prepared to make extremely attractive offers to the right candidates.

Ms Chik points out that the retention of operational and frontline staff is difficult when there are plenty of good job opportunities in the market. "For example, many casual banquet workers would rather remain on freelance terms than accept permanent positions as waiters or waitresses," she explains. "The turnover rate among front desk officers is also relatively high, as they tend to consider changing work environment when things get too stressful. It is a normal trend since many of them are fresh graduates looking for diverse opportunities and exposure to new excitements and career choices."

More vacancies

Clearly, the number of vacancies will vary between hotels, but many now have openings for operational staff, such as room attendants and waiters or waitresses. These are good entry points for graduates from local high schools or for students who have taken hospitality-related courses with the Vocational Training Council (VTC). University graduates are preferred for jobs in sales and marketing and front office roles, provided they have outgoing personalities and outstanding communication skills. A genuine interest in providing quality service for customers is recognised as the most important attribute for those who plan a long-term career in the industry.

"There is certainly room for all kinds of people, as long as they have the right attitude and know their strengths," Ms Chik says. For instance, young people who prefer less direct interaction with customers make ideal telephone operators if they have the necessary language skills. Fluency in Cantonese, English and Mandarin is now expected of the majority of staff at all major hotels.

In view of the growing economic importance of the tourism and hotel industries, local institutes are offering an increasing number of relevant academic programmes. The VTC has long been a pioneer in running vocational training courses in the field, while other options for further study are available at HKU SPACE, Hong Kong Baptist University and Hong Kong Community College. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong also offer BA degrees in tourism and hotel management.

"We definitely welcome more collaboration with local and overseas universities in offering degrees in tourism and hotel management," says Ms Chik. "We do all we can to help with internships for students in hotels as a way of assisting a proportion of the few hundred people graduating from local institutes each year. "As the industry continues to prosper, we are sure to need more and more talent for active business expansion," she concludes.

Time to check out hotels

  • New recruitment exercises to bring talent into the hotel industry
  • Training opportunities and improved remuneration packages are essential aspects of staff retention policies
  • A genuine interest in providing quality service is essential for long-term career success
  • Local educational institutes are increasing the number of hospitality-related programmes

Taken from Career Times 27 May 2005
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