Urgent call for hospitality talent

by Charles Mak

With new properties due to open, Macau's hotel industry will keep recruiting

Macau's hotel industry has been undergoing a major transformation since the handover of sovereignty in 1999. A range of large-scale upmarket properties have already opened and several more are either under construction or on the drawing board. Besides that, a few hotels of comparatively smaller scale have also been springing up and more are planned.

However, from the insider's point of view, the news for Macau's hotel sector is not all good. As business booms, the shortage of qualified personnel is becoming more acute and employers are starting to worry. They realise that, in order to hire and retain good staff, it is essential to provide more training opportunities, better remuneration and clearer career prospects.

"We expect an even higher turnover rate later this year because new properties will be keen to snatch any available staff," says Johnson Chan, chairman of the Macau Hotel Association and also general manager of Hotel Lisboa Macao. "We need to retain staff and hire more, otherwise the market won't be sustainable."

According to the third quarter 2005 government statistics, Macau has a working population of 255,400, and an unemployment rate of just 4 per cent. "You might say there are about 10,000 local people without jobs at the moment, but not all of them are suitable for the hotel and tourism industry," Mr Chan explains. "In reality, there are not enough workers for us to train up, let alone those with the necessary skills."

Target zone

Macau's historic centre has been added to UNESCO's World Heritage list. The government and tourist office have been working hard to promote the city around the heritage theme and make tourism a priority. The lure of the casinos, China's individual travel scheme, and the expansion of conference-related hospitality are also having a big impact on tourist numbers and creating new jobs.

"Inevitably, Hong Kong has become a target area for hiring campaigns because it is so close," says Mr Chan. "We share a common language and it is a well-known fact that Hong Kong people are efficient workers." He adds that the pool of talent with hotel-related experience, often gained with international chains, makes it an obvious place to recruit.

"However, we maintain an open-door policy and suitable candidates can come from anywhere," he notes. "We look for quality rather than nationality."

By a rough estimate, Macau needs 20 per cent more middle-management staff for its hospitality and tourism sector. "Language skills are important," says Mr Chan. "We emphasise Putonghua and English because Macau is an international city." For those with the right experience and qualifications, there is a chance of negotiating remuneration packages 20 to 30 per cent above what they currently receive.

Two markets

At present, the casino and general tourism markets tend to be viewed as separate. As they develop, both will have an impact on hotel occupancy rates and the demand for additional services and facilities. "Even though Macau is famous for its gambling scene, we cannot neglect the leisure market," Mr Chan says. "We also want to offer visitors the chance to relax and to enjoy other entertainment and great food at reasonable prices."

He adds that it is crucial for candidates to have the right attitude and a passion to work in the industry. Recruits should not expect a nine-to-five routine and, in order to succeed, must be adaptable and ready to work hard and keep learning all the time.

"If you possess these basics, you can be sure of great career prospects," says Mr Chan.

Many of Macau's hotels are now offering carefully planned training programmes for staff in different departments and at all levels. In a support role promoting the development of the sector, the hotel association is committed to offering advice and assistance. It also collaborates with the government and educational institutions to provide training courses for industry professionals, as well as newcomers. "One of our aims is to work closely with the government to develop the human resources needed to push the industry forward and to upgrade service standards," Mr Chan concludes.

Open house

  • Lack of trained personnel a major concern for Macau's hotel and tourism industries
  • Employers are offering training opportunities, attractive remuneration and clear career prospects
  • Up to 20 per cent more recruits are needed to fill middle-management posts
  • Some candidates relocating from Hong Kong can expect a pay increase of 20 to 30 per cent

Taken from Career Times 26 May 2006
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