In a region which many consider to be a transient one, it will not come as a surprise that the hospitality industry features a high rate of turnover for its own staff.

The reasons are relatively straightforward, if going somewhat against the current trend of global gloom and doom. The number of properties is growing across the region from the UAE to Qatar, meaning that there is a distinct shortage of available staff at all levels, from housekeeping to general management, to run them. Even existing hotels face a challenge; it’s difficult to keep staff on board when the temptation to move to a new upscale property presents itself, and many find themselves boarding the bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, or the plane to Doha, in an attempt to enrich their experience levels — and, they hope, eventually their bank account.

This is where recruitment consultants come in — they’re the ones who fill in the gaps, finding staff at all levels for hotels for both pre-openings and day-to-day recruitment. Working alongside in-house HR departments, they could be the secret saviours of the hospitality industry.

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But even for them with their wide contact base, it’s far from easy. MD Warrier, general manager of consultants Bin Eid recruitment, believes that staff are never easy to find. His firm boasts three divisions, focusing on C-level positions, an executive search section for middle management and a pre-opening section for new hotels. It’s the last one that gives him sleepless nights.

“When it comes to junior level, it’s a big task to attract people like waiters and junior chefs. Let’s say you need a good chef from India or Sri Lanka; these countries are doing reasonably well due to economic growth. Salaries have not gone up much in the region. But brand names help to a great extent,” he says.

But even big names may not necessarily secure the right staff, he continues: “I have recruited for Hyatt, Sheraton, the InterContinental Hotels Group and so on. A decade ago when I used to go for mass recruitment in different destinations like the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka or Kenya, a brand would help in selling the job. Today, a brand is one choice but people are still choosy at the end of the day. If a waiter gets 8000 rupees in India, we cannot really offer enough to make them jump for a new job.

“There is also the case of second-generation children; their parents are reasonably well settled, they do not have these kinds of difficulties. Earlier, they would go for any job, but now parents support the kids and tell them to wait for good opportunities,” he believes.

At the top end of the market however, the situation is less volatile. Piers Burton is executive director of Eagles Spearing Consulting, a firm which focuses purely on management-level positions, not line or junior staff. In his experience, senior-level professionals are now avoiding unnecessary movement.

“As a very clear trend, senior management in this GCC market are sitting firm and tight in their positions. There’s very little management movement above a certain level. Director-level positions are few and far between. There’s quite a lot of middle manager movement at the moment,” he states.

While one can understand why junior people are moving around — hotels are opening left and right and need staff — in the case of senior management, Burton says that the roots of the current malaise can be traced back to the years of plenty.

“Companies filled themselves up with a lot of people in the boom years of 2007-2008,” he explains. “As people have left and the recession has bitten into us all, people have become multifunctional. Senior directors have taken over other responsibilities if people have left. They’re paid a bit more, but with wider responsibilities.”

“Teams were recruiting in advance to get people to manage their future business. That future business hasn’t materialised because everything’s slowed down and people have stopped building and opening restaurants.”

Boom time for Qatar?

Interestingly, much of the current talk seems to be about how Qatar could be next the boom market for hotels, after the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Bin Eid’s Warrier certainly thinks so, although not many are willing to leave the safety of Dubai.

“Doha is booming in view of the 2022 sporting event. Today we are really facing a real death for leadership and human capital. When it comes to junior levels, we are looking at source markets in Asia or Arab countries. But again, it’s very difficult to find quality candidates, with consistent performances and a strong knowledge base who are willing to shift it to organisations. It’s not as easy as before to find the right fit. Location can be an issue. If someone is doing well in Dubai, he would not want to move to Doha.”

Burton offers a dissenting opinion; for him, Qatar is being talked up far more than reality would allow. Other markets like KSA offer more options, but not necessarily in the hotel business.

“I think it’s being mooted as a market and everyone’s talking about Qatar being an exceptional market. There’s a lot of activity in Qatar in terms of development of new properties but those properties are not necessarily filling up at the rate that they may have done had the market not slowed down,” he says.

“We do recruit people in Qatar but it’s not busier than other GCC markets. I don’t think any of the regional markets here are booming at the moment, I’m finding more work in Saudi Arabia than I would have anticipated, not with the hotel companies, but with the restaurant companies,” he reveals.