Industry calls for young staff
Shifting travel dynamics are causing an explosive growth among Asian hotels, as well as fuelling a hunt for talent in an industry where committed individuals can fast-track their career development.
Industry analysts predict that across Asia, demand for hotel accommodation will continue to grow rapidly for the next few years. On the mainland alone, international overnight visitors reached 56.7 million in 2011, up 1.9 per cent from the previous year, according to Knight Frank’s Greater China Hotel Report 2012.
While international hotels are expanding into Asia, local brands are also widening their footprint and raising the bar for guest experience and service.
“Many of our local hotel groups are setting the global standard for what excellence in high-end service and luxury means,” says Kaye Chon, dean and chair professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM).
Chon says that as a key provider of human resources to the hotel industry, the SHTM is conscious of trends and revises its curriculum whenever necessary. Hotel design and revenue management courses, for example, have recently been added to SHTM’s master’s curriculum.
“Every student that graduates with revenue-management knowledge has a competitive edge because this is an area every hotel wants to develop,” Chon says. He adds that social media marketing is another area where hotels are paying close attention.
He also points out that senior opportunities for females are growing, citing Rainy Chan, the first female and first Asian to manage the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel, as a good example. “In Asia, the glass ceiling for female hotel staff has been broken,” he says.
There is, however, a shortage of young people joining the industry, he says, despite the career opportunities available. “As an industry, we must all work together to promote a better positive image of career opportunities in the hotel industry,” he says.
Sindy Tsui is general manager of human resources at The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels – parent of The Peninsula brand – the oldest hotel group in Asia with operations going back 146 years. She says the group has always taken a long-term view of recruiting and retaining employees.
“We provide comprehensive training and development opportunities, and bond with employees by looking after them in challenging times,” Tsui says. At the same time, the group is open-minded enough to consider taking on people who have not been trained in hospitality, but have the right attitude to learn and are committed a willingness to commit themselves to the profession. For young people who are interested in working in hotels, Tsui says the group often hires graduates from hotel schools or vocational hospitality programmes.
With diverse business interests in Asia, the US and Europe, and because of its geographical presence in different countries, the group is able to offer different career-development opportunities to employees who are qualified and willing to work in a foreign environment.
Duncan Palmer, regional director of operations, Indonesia, and managing director of The Langham, Hong Kong, says that as a young luxury hotel group, the Langham Hotel Group (LGH) has grown constantly since starting in 2003. “As such, a lot of the things we do today have been created with a young, passionate hospitality workforce in mind,” he says.
As the group continues to grow, Palmer says career opportunities are available not just in Hong Kong and China but also elsewhere in Asia. “As we begin to expand our portfolio into the US and ultimately into Europe, other career opportunities will also arise,” he says.
Expansion strategies, mainly in the Greater China region but also in Europe, are also creating advancement and career-development opportunities at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.
“We take a long-term view of the business and an equally long-term view regarding developing talent,” says Paul Clark, the group’s Hong Kong director. He adds that a key goal is to attract, retain and develop staff to deliver the Mandarin Oriental’s high level of service and guest experience.
Referring to employees as “colleagues”, Clark says the group operates a colleague transfer system so staff are aware of opportunities within the company, including the chance to work in new locations. He says the group’s commitment to employee development frequently opens new career pathways. “We have experienced many positive outcomes when colleagues have been encouraged and supported to take on roles and career directions they have not previously considered,” Clark says.
When hiring, Clark says the hotel group looks for a good cultural fit and the ability to work in an autonomous environment. “Crucially, we look for passion and the ability to delight guests,” he says.
In addition to structured learning, e-learning and development programmes, the company sponsors MBA programmes for staff with high potential. The company has also developed graduate programmes focused on developing industry entrants into supervisors and junior managers.