The second half of 2004 will see a surge in the number of hotel rooms in Hong Kong from the current 38,000 to around 44,000 by the end of December. This will provide a tremendous boost for the industry and, according to David Wong, head of education and training sub-committee for the Hong Kong Hotels Association, will also create several thousand new jobs.
"Based on the average ratio of 0.7 staff per hotel room, we can expect some 4,000 new positions to be created in the second half of this year, to add to the current 20,000 employed in the sector," he says.
Statistics compiled by the Hong Kong Tourism Board as at March 2004 show that, for the full year, as many as 12 new hotels will open, making a grand total of 109 operating in Hong Kong. The newcomers will be situated in different parts of the territory, from Tsing Yi and Tsuen Wan to Kowloon and the Cyberport and, all together, will offer nearly 6,000 additional rooms.
As local universities and vocational institutions produce each year around 2,700 graduates of full-time hotel-related courses, demand for staff is expected to outstrip supply in the coming months. Degree courses, which cover catering, hotel management and the tourism industry, are offered by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and this year's graduates will quickly be snapped up.
Similarly, anyone who has completed the practical courses in hotel-related disciplines offered by the Vocational Training Council, the Hospitality Industry Training and Development Centre, the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute and the Caritas Centre, which between them train close to 2,400 students a year, can look forward to a bright future.
Of the 4,000 anticipated new jobs, about 240 will be manager grade or above, 400 at supervisory level and about 400 will be for clerical or secretarial staff. The remaining 3,000 or so will be frontline openings.
"Frontline jobs are in two key categories," says Mr Wong. "The first comprises room division staff covering front desk, customer service personnel and housekeeping attendants. The second is for food and beverage staff, including those who work in the restaurants and kitchens. In many hotels, these two categories require a significant number of employees and a relatively smaller number of administrative support staff are needed to handle marketing, sales, finance and human resources."
While academic qualifications are becoming important for more senior positions, most candidates are judged mainly on personality, attitude and communication skills.
"One hotel, due to open soon, even uses games to judge a person's abilities in customer service and teamwork," says Mr Wong. "Language skills are also assessed, since hotels require fluency in English as a prerequisite and, with the significant increase in visitors from mainland China, proficiency in Putonghua is a definite advantage."
As a rule, in-house training is offered to all new recruits and will include a comprehensive orientation programme. After this, each new member of staff will be assigned a mentor or "buddy" to provide advice and monitor their performance for the first few months.
"Employees also have ample opportunities to upgrade their workplace job skills," Mr Wong adds. "They are encouraged to pursue lifelong learning and can apply for subsidies from the government's Continuing Education Fund." Regular appraisals are given so that staff at all levels can improve their performance and plan for their careers and, within the industry, stress is placed on the importance of succession planning.
One growing concern is the turnover rate among staff. By end of 2004, it is expected to reach 24 percent and will be driven by the increase in the number of hotels seeking recruits. In this respect, developments nearby in the region may also have an impact. "We expect three new hotels to open in Macau soon to support the new Las Vegas type of casinos and Shenzhen and Zhuhai are also sources of growth," Mr Wong notes.
While the tourism sector and the number of hotels are expanding fast elsewhere in China, this does not necessarily translate into huge career opportunities for Hong Kong hotel employees. "China is also generating a large supply of graduates from tourism and hotel schools," Mr Wong points out. "As a result, salaries in China are attuned to local expectations which are often below what Hong Kong people expect."
The area in which experienced Hong Kong hotel managers are still in demand in mainland China is in opening new hotels. "However, as soon as things are operating smoothly, Hong Kong staff tend to be transferred to a different location where another new opening is being planned," Mr Wong explains.
Further local expansion for the sector is predicted for 2005 and at least two new hotels are to be built along with Disneyland. "All in all, the hotel industry in Hong Kong will grow fast, creating lots of exciting opportunities both for practising hotel professionals and fresh graduates," notes Mr Wong.