x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Poaching the name of the game for Gulf hotels

Hotels are having to get staff any way they can as the hospitality sector in the Arabian Gulf heats up.

Hotels are poaching staff from rivals as an acute shortage of workers poses a challenge for hospitality operators seeking staff for hundreds of new properties planned across the Arabian Gulf. Hiring is set to become particularly difficult in Dubai as the number of hotel rooms is predicted to double by the time the city hosts the Expo 2020.

“Hotels are poaching from one another,” said Laurent Voivenel, the chief executive of Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH), which operates 32 hotels in the Middle East.

Hoteliers attract better staff from their competitors “by offering better benefits, better accommodation, or minimum percentages of service charges,” he said.

International hotel groups are adding tens of thousands of new hotel rooms across the region as improved flight connections through hubs such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha spur building.

Events such as Expo 2020 and the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar provides an additional lift to the hospitality industry.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which has brands such as Sheraton and St. Regis, expects to hire 6,000 people by 2017 in the Gulf. The Dubai-based HMH expects to recruit 700 people as it looks to open five properties in the Middle East, including the UAE, this year. They include a 304-room Coral International Sports City in Dubai in the next quarter.

The Hilton Hotels & Resorts, which has brands such as Conrad and DoubleTree, has 392 job openings in the UAE alone.

“Quite a bit of poaching takes place,” said Raj Bhatt, the chief executive of Hozpitality.com, a specialist recruitment site. “A lot of movement is happening – and much more than five years ago.”

The trend is fuelling inflation in the industry as operators are forced to offer better pay or improve terms and conditions at a time of accelerating inflationary pressures in cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“The easiest way is poaching, said Sunjeh Raha, the managing director of the Dubai-based International Centre for Culinary Arts, which trains chefs to work in hotels. But while “this will raise wages, [it will] not increase supply,” he said.

Currently, Dubai has around 84,000 rooms – but this figure is expected to double as around 20 million visitors pass through the city in 2020.

Almost 90 per cent of the projected 277,149 employment opportunities generated by Expo 2020 would occur between 2018 to 2021, according to the Dubai government team behind the event. Expo 2020 is expected to add 110,000 new jobs to the hospitality and tourism sector, according to government estimates.Hotel companies will come under increasing pressure to hire from rivals as hotel building gathers pace, say industry analysts.

“There’s no way hotels can keep up,” said Martin McGuigan, the head of reward consulting at Aon Hewitt Middle East. “We are going to see more talent swapping between hospitality groups, and more brand names are poaching from each other or from mid-tier hospitality companies.

While salaries in Dubai hotels have not changed significantly, many hotel operators are looking to recruit from further afield to source people with the required skills. Countries that include Myanmar, Russia, Tunisia, Morocco and even Brazil are becoming popular source markets for hospitality employees, say analysts.

Hozpitality.com currently lists 2,000 positions and more than 300,000 applicants from 200 countries are registered on the website. This month, the website recorded 40,000 applications – up almost a quarter compared to last year, for a similar number of vacancies.

“Recruitment had slowed down considerably between 2008 and 2012, and started picking up last year,” he said.

Hotels are also increasingly looking at how they can improve their benefits packagesto attract the best talent.

Headhunters compete over “everything from level of training and investment, career prospects, accommodation, healthcare cover, [and] what [the job] does for your family,” said Mr McGuigan.

“Typically, hospitality isn’t the highest paying industry in the world – so small things can make a very substantial difference to that mid-level of talent,” he said.