With the Malaysian government predicting an influx of 30.5 million tourists in 2017, up from 27 million the previous year, the hospitality industry is bracing for a record year in terms of visitors and revenue. That means Malaysia’s leading resorts and hotel chains are increasingly turning to the services of executive recruitment companies to help them source the best talent needed to tap into the wallets of the discerning traveler.
Chief among these recruitment companies is Monroe Consulting Group Malaysia, an international award-winning executive search firm that has sourced and placed some of the country’s leading players in the hospitality industry.
Monica Viladot, Managing Director of Monroe Malaysia, said the tourism sector in Malaysia had “entered a golden period of growth,” with tourists enticed by Malaysia’s rich cultural history, superb cuisine, thriving economy, modern cities, festivals, events, spectacular natural environment and other tourism attractions.
“This has had an extremely positive impact on the hotel, resort industry and the recruitment of professionals within this sector, which is an important part of Malaysia’s economy,” Ms Viladot said. “As the demand grows, senior professionals with a minimum of 5 years’ experience in the sector become highly sought after. This has two direct consequences: the recruitment of the right job candidates and the retention of human resources. These are critical considerations.”
Tourists Flock to Malaysia
Sunny Soo, General Manager of the five-star Pulai Springs Resort in Johor Bahru, said Malaysia’s US$15 billion tourism industry was continuing to record steady growth, with expanding international transport connections, easing of visa restrictions and more effective marketing campaigns all serving to attract greater volumes of tourists.
“We expect to see further growth in international arrivals through to 2020, making Malaysia an attractive investment destination for hotel groups keen to take advantage of the country's growth potential,” Mr Woo said. “In particular, we expect to see more investment outside of the capital city, including beach holiday destinations to rival more established regional holiday markets.”
He said that tourists’ expectations had also changed. “They prefer to have connectivity to the internet at all times despite being on vacation, as well as modern room facilities and concepts. However, they are still people who prefer simplicity: the getting back to nature kind of holiday concept.”
Executive Recruitment in Malaysia
Mr Woo said the growth had impacted on the recruitment of qualified and experienced professionals in the hospitality industry in a number of key areas, including operations, sales, marketing, business development, business management and human resources. In addition to executive-level job openings, there were shortages of key front-line personnel, he said.
“While there are many colleges and education institutions offering tourism-related courses, there is still a huge lack of skilled personnel to cater to the needs of the industry, especially in the main areas of operations such as food and beverages [F&B], front office, customer service and housekeeping.
Ramesh K. Kumaraguru, Director of Human Resources at The Saujana Kuala Lumpur, said it was “imperative that there would be a special focus on recruitment in the hospitality industry, particularly in view of the current trend of the industry.”
“The expansion of the hotel industry is evident with the number of new hotels that are being established within the region and also with the increased empowerment of the customer,” Mr Kumaraguru said. “Obviously, with the increased number of hotels being established, you would readily understand that there will be huge recruitment drive, yet if you observe in detail, this is being done in a very stable manner with an emphasis being placed on productivity.”
Mr Kumaraguru said that within the hotel industry, prominence was placed on the human factor in all aspects of operations, particularly in the service and the culinary sides. “This essentially contributes to a high degree of dependency on manpower, therefore, no matter how efficiently the manpower is managed, recruitment will continue to be a major factor throughout the industry.”
Key recruitment areas
A human resources professional from the Ritz-Carlton Langkawi said the recruitment of executives for the hospitality industry presented challenges finding candidates with exposure abroad and experience in the pre-opening process. “These candidates are great assets to organisations in the hospitality industry today,” the HR professional said.
Mr Kumaraguru, asked about particular shortages of job candidates, said it was a tough question “considering the fact that the industry is also dependent on the environment and the type of services being rendered within the hotel.”
“In a hotel that is focussed on the restaurant business, special attention needs to be given to the type of restaurant and the speciality areas. Indeed, a good balance has to be struck between the kitchen and the service side as optimum effort needs to be made to ensure that each compliment the other effectively,” he said. “Likewise, in a hotel that is primarily dependant on the rooms division, sufficient emphasis needs to placed on the type of rooms and the market segment that the hotel is targeting.”
Mr Kumaraguru said that in addition to this, the sales and marketing team needed to be seamlessly entwined to ensure the perfect balance to achieve the intended targets. “In a nutshell, all sections play an equally important role in the hospitality industry, while an efficient sales department could tip the balance.”
Retaining hospitality staff
The human resources professional from the Ritz-Carlton Langkawi said the growth of the hotel industry along with the wider hospitality and tourism industries and increased competition was affecting the retention of good staff. “That is why in recent years, employers are much more active in driving retention through employee engagement,” the HR professional said.
Mr Kumaraguru said the “retention of good candidates has always been a sore point within the industry.” “Yet, with the proper support and benefit structures, and most importantly an efficient and friendly working environment, we have had many success stories too,” he said.
He said The Saujana Hotel was “proud to state that we have associates who have been with us practically from the date we started operations.” “These include highly efficient associates who have steadily progressed in their career development over the years. This is not coincidental, but through effective management of the respective associates’ career progression and talent management.”
Mr Kumaraguru said that despite the Hotel’s best efforts in recent years, it had faced “a predicament with many of the younger generation associates who appear to be swayed by the social media and the fast-moving environment.”
“Hence they too keep moving more often than they need to, and not necessarily only due to the additional competition,” he said. “It is and will continue to be an element that we need to work on, but I can say confidently that the industry is strong enough to sustain through such trials, as eventually the dust will settle.”
Mr Kumaraguru said talent acquisition was a continuous process in the hotel industry.
“However, with the increased awareness and hospitality schools churning out professionals and qualified candidates, indeed the challenge is more toward identification of the best fit to the respective segment,” he said. “The hospitality industry has evolved over the years to one that is more competitive and resilient to change while consistently adapting to the needs and demands of the professionals. There is never a dull day in the hospitality recruiter’s calendar. Saying so, we recognise the shift in the efforts of the recruiter toward keeping up with the trends of the manpower pool rather than a significant increase in the efforts.”
Attitude is everything
Asked about important factors to look for in potential candidates for executive job openings in the hospitality sector, the human resources professional from the Ritz-Carlton Langkawi said, “Attitude, passion and proactive leadership!”
Mr Kumaraguru said it all came down to attitude. “I am one who believes that skills, qualifications and even leadership can be nurtured or learnt either through the mainstream educational systems or through sheer practice and experience,” he said. “Attitude of an individual on the other hand is something that comes from within the individual. For important senior positions, the right attitude is of paramount importance.”
He said an individual’s attitude spoke volumes when it came to professional conduct at the workplace and leadership abilities. “Unfortunately, a simple interview may or may not able to assist much in terms of identifying the suitable attitudes that you are looking for to fill a specific candidacy – yet, the way the candidate answers the respective questions, the attention span, the interest and the ability to understand etc. all inevitably and inextricably point towards the attitude of the individual.”
Mr Kumaraguru said the skill required to identify the suitable attitude “is something every recruiter must have.” “Considering the multiple array of vacancies that one may have in any given environment, particularly in the hospitality industry, this specific skill to identify the suitable attitude for a given role, is absolutely important to ensure that the industry and the hotel flourishes.”
Executive recruitment companies
Noor Hazwani, a senior executive recruitment consultant, with Monroe Malaysia, said that given the demands placed on the hospitality industry in Malaysia by the successful tourism industry, there was increased demand for the specialised services of executive recruitment companies such as Monroe. “As an award-winning executive recruitment company in Malaysia, we have undergone significant growth in the past couple of years with a good percentage of that growth coming from the hospitality industry, as well as our key areas of expertise, including manufacturing, consumer goods and technology,” Wanie said.
Colleague Fironika Loganathan said that unlike other human resources professionals, Monroe Malaysia focused solely on recruitment. “We know how to identify the best executive candidates for a job, entice them and recruit them for some of the most respected national or multinational companies operating in Malaysia today.”
About Monroe Consulting Group
Monroe Consulting Group is an international award-winning executive search firm that delivers the highest standards of professionalism to national and multinational companies in emerging markets of Southeast Asia and Latin America. The group opened its first office in 2002 and expanded rapidly to build a network of offices in Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Chile and Mexico. The company employs 150 recruitment professionals that are focused on providing outstanding executive search and headhunting services in emerging markets. The company prides itself on embracing diversity, in terms of both ethnicity and gender, with well over 50 percent of the Monroe workforce comprising women. This extends into the executive-level of the company. Three of the company’s six country managing directors in Asia are women.