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Published on Friday, 21 Jun 2013
Vincent Ong
Photo: Gary Mak

Starwood is on a hiring spree, with plans to recruit 10,000 staff a year in Asia-Pacific

With Asia-Pacific the global driver for hotel-development strategies, it is no surprise that the multinational hotel group Starwood Hotels and Resorts pinpoints the region as having the greatest potential to capitalise on growth trends.

In China, figures from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences indicate that the country is in the process of adding more than 1,500 hotels annually from 2010 to 2015, with total investment of more than US$60 billion. The World Tourism Organisation forecasts that by 2025, the market for hotel rooms in China will overtake that in the US, which is currently the world’s largest.

For Starwood to capture the growing demands of vacation and business travellers across Asia-Pacific – particularly on the mainland, where it has doubled its footprint in the last three years – 70 per cent of future development is aimed at second- and third-tier cities. In China – where, with the opening of the Great Wall Beijing Sheraton Hotel in 1985, Starwood became the first international hotel chain to enter the mainland – the company currently operates about 100 hotels, with at least 100 more in the pipeline.

Vincent Ong, Starwood’s Asia-Pacific senior brand director, says the majority of new mainland hotel openings will operate under the Sheraton brand. “We are now the largest upper-upscale and luxury-hotel proprietors in China, and Sheraton hotels are our mainland brand driver,” he says. He adds that the mainland has become the company’s second largest hotel market behind the US, and that expansion into second- and third-tier cities relies on in-depth research and the experience of a large acquisition and development team.

Starwood’s goal is to nurture employees to become a trusted guest resource who can deliver on the brand promise and drive business results, he continues.

To encourage potential employees to explore a range of career opportunities with the hotel group, Starwood organised an Asia-Pacific Recruitment Day in March in more than 85 cities across the region. In Asia-Pacific, Starwood already employs over 60,000 staff out of a total of 154,000 employees in more than 100 countries.

Ong says that just as important as opening new hotels is focusing on cultivating loyalty among mainland business and leisure travellers. “Over half our mainland rooms last year were filled by members of our Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty programme,” he says.

He says Starwood hotel developments on the mainland – notably the Sheraton brand – are having an influence on the company’s hotels worldwide. Certain amenities and services, such as providing slippers and Chinese dining favourites, have been added at other properties globally.

With an average of 30 to 40 hotels opening a year across the Asia-Pacific region, Starwood requires a large, continuous flow of new recruits to satisfy its staffing needs.

“Conservatively, we are looking at creating about 10,000 jobs a year in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Francis Tan, Starwood’s vice-president of talent management and organisational development.

Tan says between 300 and 500 staff – which Starwood refers to as “associates” – at various levels are needed to operate each hotel. An exception, he says, will be the Sheraton Macau when it opens, which will offer 3,500 rooms and create thousands of jobs.

“Given the rapid expansion we are experiencing, it has opened up many windows of opportunities for our own associates, as well as those from outside Starwood,” Tan says. Internally, he adds, opportunities exist for current staff to be promoted to the next level, move to a different brand or even transfer to another city.

“Given the demand for new employees required to support expansion, for external candidates, an employment offer can provide an opportunity to join any of the company’s nine lifestyle brands,” Tan says.

“Despite the competition for talent and the shifting expectations of the workforce in a growth environment, we embrace the chance to provide more opportunities for our existing talent and the ability to attract external talent,” he adds.

According to the firm’s figures, in Starwood’s mainland hotels, one third of general managers, and nearly 80 per cent of senior executive committee leaders, are Chinese.

As other hotel groups also focus on the opportunities offered by China and the rest of Asia, Tan says staff retention is crucial. “This is always a challenge in fast-moving markets, but one of the good things about our expansion growth is that it contributes to retention strategies,” he says.

First, he says, it provides confidence and pride to a workforce when they know that they belong to a forward-looking and progressive organisation. Secondly, due to the size of the expansion, there are more chances for existing employees to move up to the next level or to a new location.

On the flip side, Tan says there are also situations where employees do not want to move around. This stems from a number of reasons such as family considerations, the challenges of living in another location, or simply feeling comfortable with what is familiar.

Regarding hiring, Tan says there is an HR adage that states: “Hiring itself is not difficult, but hiring the right person can be difficult.” This is because there are several variables at play, such as supply versus demand, competitive terms, employer value proposition and branding. “Recruiting the right person in a competitive environment is certainly no walk in the park,” Tan says.

To secure the “right” employment fit, Tan says the organisation has conducted studies across different brands, functions and levels to identify the qualities or competencies for success in a particular role. “We have identified several clusters of competencies we deem a critical fit to Starwood values and success in the role,” Tan says. Examples of these include having a global perspective and embracing change and innovation.

On another note, Tan says a growing number of employees are looking beyond the basics, such as equitable remuneration, to evaluate their position in the company. “This is where an organisation’s capacity to retain talent is perhaps dependent on the ability to provide a supportive work environment and to engage talent meaningfully,” Tan says.

He points out that the Starwood Cares programme, which has been designed to provide a caring, supportive workplace, covers appropriate factors such as a good work-life balance, communication with team leaders and employee recognition.


EXPANSION  In Asia-Pacific, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which operates nine brands comprising St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Sheraton, Westin, Le Méridien, Aloft, Four Points and Element, expects to more than double its number of mainland employees over the next five years as it hires more than 10,000 employees per year across the region to meet expansion plans.

BRANDING  “From a hiring perspective, it is evident from recruitment fairs, platforms and unsolicited applications that we are seeing external talent who are keen to work in one of our brands,” says Francis Tan. Vincent Ong says they have arranged their hotels and resorts as distinctive lifestyle brands with their own positioning and personalities, which resonate with employees and potential employees.

ATTRACT AND RETAIN  Starwood aims to attract and retain staff by supporting their careers and looking after them through its Starwood Cares programme. The company welcomes competition from other hotel groups and believes it can attract and retain staff through career opportunities, reputation and its employee value proposition.


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