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Mid East Industry Now Competing Globally For Employee Loyalty

‘Treat your staff with respect’, Arabian Travel Market retention seminar is told

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May 07, 2008

Recruiting staff to work in the Middle East hotel industry is not a problem, however retaining them requires more creative ideas to stop the relatively high churn rates currently being experienced in the region, according to industry pundits speaking at Arabian Travel Market - the Middle East's premier travel and tourism event.

Speaking in a dedicated seminar staged at the show, entitled Recruitment and Retention Strategies in the ME Hotel Industry, Pete Willis, Manager of, started proceedings by telling over 100 delegates that the reasons for the growth in GCC staff recruitment are pretty obvious.

"Room capacity is expected to double by 2012 and at the same time there is a massive hike in demand from areas such as India and China which is attracting people away from what has been - and for the moment continues to be - the region of choice for the majority of our applicants," he said.

According to an online survey of over 3,000 respondents, the retention of quality staff and people with the necessary skills is the biggest headache faced by HR departments of the major hotel and hospitality chains in the region.

Typically, jobseekers in the UAE and wider GCC averaged 34 years of age and were looking for starting salaries of around $21,500. Benefits featured highly on their wish lists, with housing unsurprisingly the major concern of the majority of respondents.

"The main change in recent years has been the shift of jobseekers to look for positions themselves using the internet, rather than applying to traditional recruitment agencies. But what the survey showed specifically was that many people who started off with one hotel chain would sometimes apply for other jobs within the same group, seemingly unaware that there was any internal job moving mechanism," said Willis.

"Succession planning should be on every HR director's priority list. If you take into account recruitment costs, you're talking typically $5,000 to recruit someone at managerial level." Janelle King, Vice President for Global Recruitment of Kerzner International, agreed, saying what was on offer was the biggest motivator for staff.

"Employees are brand agnostic," she argued, adding that in the past few years there was strong competition not just from within the Middle East itself, but also from cruise lines and from territories such as Macau.

"We're competing against the rest of the industry globally now, not just within the Middle East. With that said, we try not to compete against one another on price since all that would do would be to force up costs to nobody's benefit. Obviously, though, we have to equal what our competitors are paying."

According to panellists, it would appear that the biggest shortages occur in the Food & Beverage and Chef categories, where a global deficit has risen by six per cent in the past year alone. Three quarters of staff in these areas cited the levels of pay and benefits to be their main motivator in looking for new jobs.

Joseph Abou Yaghi, Corporate V.P. of Rotana Hotels, argued that the real challenge now was to identify and promote the right people."We are seeing other industries such as the airlines, retail and catering who value the skill sets of people working in the hospitality industry and who are doing their best to tempt them away," he said.

"At Rotana we have introduced online satisfaction surveys for our staff, along the same lines that we poll our guests, to find out what it is they feel about their employer and to discover what it is that motivates them and equally decides them to move on to other jobs. We undertake this exercise twice a year and the results have been very interesting.

"You often see the grass-is-greener-elsewhere syndrome, but it's equally refreshing to see how many return to the Rotana fold once they have discovered for themselves that we are highly competitive with what we can offer our staff." Yves Givel, Director of Recruitment at Hyatt International, added that he has noticed a change in the past two years in what is demanded by employees.

"You can't just continue to offer the same thing you have always been offering, and expect a different outcome. The dynamics have been changing; for instance the past 20 years have seen a quadrupling in the cost of living, whereas the typical salary of a chef has risen by 80 per cent. It's important that employees do not feel cheated."

Givel stressed, however, that whilst Dubai was currently seeing a churn rate of between 25 and 30 per cent, this was not high compared with places such as Europe where much larger turnover was experienced.

"Again, it's down to managing expectations and the resulting turnover. For instance, we should learn from the US experience. There they not only have to advertise their positions on the internet for all to see, but the savvy amongst them also place internal job applications on an intranet so all employees can see what other jobs are available across the entire group.

"I would much rather staff, that we have spent time and money training, apply for other jobs within our group, than apply to a competitor of ours simply because they were unaware of other opportunities available. What we should be looking for is more transparency and less control of our employees. We should encourage them to want to remain with us rather than feel their only option is to search in pastures new."

Hospitality Search International's M.D. Tony Graham warned not to take the Dubai and Abu Dhabi experience as indicative of the whole Middle Eastern region. "What we have found in our experience is that the UAE as a whole paints a distorted picture.

There are so many new projects being opened and the demand for new staff is so strong that the picture here is very different from the rest of the GCC, for instance. "In Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, especially, the amount of loyalty to one particular brand is much greater and you don't see the same levels of movement between competitors," he said.

"Again, this would presage companies to concentrate on succession planning and to be proactive rather than reactive in their efforts in order not to be caught short with a last minute crisis. This requires a change of culture in many organisations, and if I have one message it is that you should work closely with your recruitment agent and encourage them to get involved much earlier on in the whole recruitment process."

Summing up, the last word went to Janelle King. "At the end of the day, you need to treat all your people with dignity and respect. People are people - not commodities - and if they feel valued and have an affinity with your organisation, you will not experience such problems in retaining your key staff."

Reed Travel Exhibitions, the organisers of Arabian Travel Market, is staging a 15 session seminar programme for the 2008 outing. Housed on the show floor for the first time, these high-brow sessions are inline with the organiser's vision to position Arabian Travel Market as a fertile, factual experience and the international travel and tourism industry's premier stage for conducting Middle East business.

Arabian Travel Market is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and under the auspices of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Government of Dubai.

‘Treat your staff with respect’, Arabian Travel Market retention seminar is told
Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai / Photo by

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