The number of luxury five-star hotels on the coast of mainland China is approaching saturation point. As a result, many international hotel groups are turning their sights inland.
"A lot of investors and hotel developers are looking closely at secondary cities. We feel that these cities promise excellent returns in terms of long-term investment performance," says Henk Meyknecht, general manager, Marco Polo Wuhan.
Set to open in April 2008, Marco Polo Wuhan is the next step in parent company Wharf Holdings Ltd's expansion into the mainland. Following closely behind, Marco Polo Chengdu is expected to open in early 2010.
According to Mr Meyknecht, Asian travellers demand increasingly higher quality when it comes to five-star hotels. They want more advanced technology, larger rooms, international TV entertainment and all-hour fitness and business centre facilities. To cope with such demand, hotels in China are drawing customers with better products and guest loyalty programmes than a decade ago. "This kind of customer-centric behaviour is nothing new for international hotel companies, but then the China market is relatively new," notes Mr Meyknecht.
Pulling out all stops
In addition to providing WiFi Internet, better bathrooms and a guest loyalty programme, Marco Polo Wuhan intends to impress guests with small luxuries such as bilingual services, limousine airport pickups and culinary excellence. "As a Hong Kong-based hotel group, we want to make sure that we have the leading restaurant in Chinese cuisine," adds Mr Meyknecht.
Strategically located in one of central China's most important distribution centres, Marco Polo Wuhan, a typical five-star deluxe business hotel, will feature 380 rooms and suites, three restaurants and a variety of meeting rooms catering for up to 1,000 guests. Marco Polo Chengdu will be similar in size and concept.
The group will hire 460 employees for the two properties. Mr Meyknecht says Marco Polo is seeking a wide range of young and talented professionals for its China expansion. "If we want to develop hotels in China, we need people who understand and respect China and who want to make their careers there," he points out. As such, the group requires hotel-school graduates for its operational departments but also welcomes entry-level candidates with no previous experience.
Mandarin speaking professionals with international and China hotel experience are especially in demand. Mr Meyknecht notes that Marco Polo is probing the Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong markets to find suitable employees. Available jobs range from pre-opening technical positions to sales and marketing opportunities.
"Duty, joy and passion are the three components we seek," says Mr Meyknecht. He believes Hong Kong is ideally positioned to produce such a workforce, because of its wide range of internationally branded hotels, high hospitality standards, good hotel schools and a young generation that speaks much better Mandarin than before.
However, attracting a platinum workforce to a secondary Chinese city is a challenge. "A lot of Hong Kong people are cautious about going to secondary cities. As an employer, we must make the northward move worth their while," says Mr Meyknecht.
Employees signing on with Marco Polo Wuhan will enter at a much higher position than would be possible in Shanghai or Beijing, stresses Mr Meyknecht. They can also expect a slightly higher salary package. Housing and travel allowances, combined with full medical, liability and life insurance, will be part of the employee retention mix. In addition to well-developed job certification programmes at general, supervisory and managerial levels, Marco Polo Wuhan will also offer a fast-paced career plan for all employees.
Creating a "family atmosphere" is also a priority for Marco Polo Wuhan. "We should first attract people to join us, but once they are with us we will do our best to make them feel at home," Mr Meyknecht says.
"In the hotel industry we often talk about a 'sense of arrival', referring to the first 10 seconds after a guest enters the establishment. We must offer our employees the same sense of arrival. If you fail with an employee in the first 30 days, then the risk is very high that you will lose that employee in the next three months. We want to make sure of a positive sense of arrival for both our customers and our employees," he concludes.