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27 Feb, 2006

As Indian Hotels Boom, Staff Shortage Looms

With India forecast to require 100,000 to 125,000 hotel rooms nationwide over the next five to seven years, the big question making the rounds is how to deal with an equally rapidly growing headache – poaching of staff.

A study by hotel consultancy HVS International says that while India’s teeming population will generate no shortage of availability, skilled staff trained in hospitality will increasingly be poached by other equally fast-growing sectors like business process outsourcing (BPO), real estate, aviation and retail.

Says the study, “Poaching of priced talent is rampant and companies across the board from media to telecom are being bled white. Be it the nascent biotech industry or other promising sectors, compelling business pressures and demanding deadlines are facilitating this ‘guerrilla warfare’ by a subtle name – poaching.

“The Indian hospitality industry is no exception and is also witnessing a large exodus of employees to other industries that find high performing hotel employees a cherry pick!”

The study says that India’s skilled managerial and technical manpower matches the best available in the world and the size of the educated middle class is more than the population of the USA or the European Union.

While this provides India with a distinct cutting edge in global competition, the “increasing transformation means a more complex economy that demands more sophisticated talent, with global acumen, multicultural fluency, technological literacy, entrepreneurial skills and the ability to manage increasingly ‘delayered’ organizations.

As organizations compete for control of customers, market share and revenue, “the gaps in manpower demand and supply are beginning to show.”

“Today, the coming together of different corporate psychologies in a competitive business environment makes a hotel professional move from one hotel to another and on a larger canvas makes him move out of the hotel industry to other sectors.

“The reasons could be many…a different work challenge, the expectation of faster career growth, aspirations for better work-life balance, a hospitality career being a poor fit with one’s personality, or a combination of some of these factors.”

However, the study says that more money, is “more often than not, a prime driver.”

It adds, “Research shows that money is like Prozac. Neither necessarily makes you happy, however it assists in preventing different forms of unhappiness — –in the case of the former, less financial anxiety, affording better housing, better and bigger car, good schooling for the children, metro locations and softer loans.”

The study identifies the ‘poachers’ as being “a growing list of industries and sectors, that are witnessing hectic activity, expansions and are passing through a boom.”

In the retail sector, market liberalization and an increasingly assertive metropolitan consumer population has started bringing in bigger Indian and multinational operators on to the Indian retail scene.

Amusement park, convention centre, serviced apartments and hotel are some mixed-use concepts that are being combined with retail to present a complete product mix.

The “major challenges to the hotels for a majority of retail functions are identical and it enables the retail players to go higher in the hierarchy of poaching, targeting mid to top level executives across key functional areas,” the study says.

The booming aviation sector is also short of manpower. Apart from trained pilots, engineers and operational staff, it needs trained staff that can manage key functions such as reservations, yield management, guest relations, sales and marketing.

“Attractive perks and role enhancement make hotel employees a soft target for poaching since they come with specific expertise, are highly presentable, well spoken and are trained in customer service and guest interactions.”

Another key area is Business Process Outsourcing, the BPO industry which is expected to touch US$12bn in 2006 and hired an average of 400 people on every working day of the year in 2004/05.

The BPO industry is on a spree to hire hotel industry graduates, especially those who “are well trained in different aspects of guest service and interaction, have excellent service orientation and command over English.

“There is also demand for good chefs, stewards and housekeepers to undertake facilities management related functions. Flexible work schedules, an informal work environment and good pay are some aspects that facilitate the movement of employees from hotels to the BPO industry.”

Finally, the study says, there is the commercial and residential real estate industry which is “no longer a purview of larger-than-life egos and insatiable developers.”

Emphasising more on branding, and on the marketing of buildings as products that can provide ‘experiences’, the real estate industry is attracting hotel professionals “since they are assumed to excel in selling ‘intangibles’ and provide that unique experience to its demanding customers.”

Stories of poaching are also rife in emerging sectors like media, finance and investment banking, and insurance.

In response, the study says that the hospitality industry will “need to revise our selection and hiring processes to identify candidates with the right aptitude and skills for hotel as a profession and its demanding pressures.

“The training culture should also be customised so as to reflect values of loyalty and commitment in an individual towards the organisation and empower him to take on the challenges of working under immense pressure,” it added.

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