Labour pains

Recruitment and employee retention are growing challenges for Kuala Lumpur’s hospitality sector, especially as more hotels are added to the city

The expanding hotel supply in Kuala Lumpur is compounding the perennial shortage of a qualified workforce that the hotel sector is already grappling with.

Last year, five luxury brands – Banyan Tree, W and Alila, among them – started recruitment drives in 1Q2018 ahead of their openings in 2H2018, but the hiring exercises turned out to be a human resource challenge, TTG Asia understands.

Industry leaders pointed out that local salaries are generally on the low side, which results in Malaysian hospitality professionals voting with their feet by seeking greener pastures overseas in such cities as Dubai, Macau, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Colin Rozario, director of human resources at Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur and The Pavilion Kuala Lumpur Managed by Banyan Tree, shared: “Some (interviewees) told us they had applied to other hotels and were waiting for results; basically, they were ‘shopping’ around.”

A far cry from “two decades ago”, the current labour market is “generally an employees’ market where there is little brand loyalty”, Rozario contended.

Furthermore, with the priorisation of work-life balance and empowerment of the millennial workforce, new-gen staff typically work for a property for two years or less before seeking higher salaries and faster career advancement opportunities elsewhere, he added.

Christian Metzner, general manager, W Kuala Lumpur, commented: “Hiring rank and file staff for entry level positions is the hardest. Part of the reason is that many young people are not willing to put in the long hours required, and dealing with guests is not always easy.”

To encourage more locals to work in hospitality, Kamal Munasinghe, general manager, Alila Bangsar Kuala Lumpur, suggested that the sector “should collectively come to an agreement for better compensation of operational staff”.

Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners’ executive director Shaharuddin Saaid also sees a need to tackle the paucity of “a ready pool of capable, local manpower” through the management of hotel supply.

“There must be a programme in place to address the supply issue, otherwise hotels will continue to pinch experienced staff by offering higher salaries and better benefits, but without corresponding increase in skillsets,” he opined.

Kamal proposed: “A possible solution is to attract more international events to the city to help increase average occupancy rates, which in turn will help raise room rates.

“Once room rates increase, hotels will be able to deliver better services, as well as find the right balance between revenue versus overheads.”

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