The panel: Sorting out the staff

Posted under Interviews & Features, News.
by Sophia Soltani | Published 4 years ago

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There are more hotels opening their doors now than ever before – but that doesn’t mean the challenges of people management have diminished. Hotel News ME talks to the backbone of human capital – the HR department – to find out how their roles are evolving and whether recruitment agencies ultimately help or hinder the employment processes.


The growth of the Middle East’s hotel and hospitality sector over the past decade has been nothing short of phenomenal. Its portfolio of world-class properties has attracted global admiration, while savvy investors have ploughed funds into hotel assets that on the whole, have delivered strong returns.

The rapid pace of hotel industry development shows no sign of slowing, as local and global brands continue to forge ahead with ambitious expansion strategies and capitalise on demand for new types of properties, particularly in the mid-scale and serviced apartment sector.
It goes without saying that this calls for hundreds of thousands of new staff to work at these properties, which is a challenge in itself. But given the Middle East has traditionally sourced talent from outside the region to make up the numbers required to staff its properties, there are now new hurdles emerging.

How has the role of HR changed across hotels in recent years?

Khin May Than, HR manager, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi

Khin May Than, HR manager, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi

Than: The role of HR has evolved in recent years, gone are the days of sole administrative processes. Now, the role has become more versatile, dynamic and strategic in nature. It is no longer restricted to just managing the human resources within the hotel. Instead, HR has now become synonymous with human capital development.

Mikaelian: Human resources is no longer just a personnel department but rather a performance enhancement department.

Nobre: Human resources is evolving from being an administrative role to a strategic business partner. The objective of having a HR department in the hotel is to add value to the business as well as to implement and maintain strategies that support a highly motivated team with high performance levels, who can reach their potential with us and can contribute positively to the business.

Alvarez: Traditionally the role of an HR professional in many organisations has been closely aligned with personnel and administration functions that were viewed by the organisation as paperwork tasks. Today the HR department is also responsible for the growth of a company by developing the human capital inside the organisation.

Sirena Di Martino: In the past, the HR department was associated with bureaucratic and administrative procedures, whereas now the HR manager has become a real strategic partner for the management teams and also to the employees.

Robert Mikaelian, group director of HR, JA Hotels and Resorts

Robert Mikaelian, group director of HR, JA Hotels and Resorts

Dosanjh: For many organisations, the role of HR has changed significantly.  Where once HR was seen as the “personnel” function responsible for hiring and firing; today with leading businesses, HR has a seat at the table with CEOs, CFOs and CIOs in driving business performance.

What would you say has encouraged this change and what do you expect to see in the future?

Than: Technology has brought a considerable change in the way HR functions as a department. As digitalisation of the industry has made it faster to execute administrative tasks. For instance, most hotels now use a software tool to keep track of staff attendance. Numerous HR reports can be seamlessly generated at the click of a button. In times ahead I imagine that new technologies will facilitate a pool of global talent across different hotels falling under the same group.

Sirena Di Martino: A few factors include: Globalisation of the industry; technological innovations and intensified competition. Companies now have to be the employer of choice in order to attract the right talent if they want to stay strong in the marketplace.

Mikaelian: The quick distribution and availability of knowledge in today’s world increases the expectation of guests and associates at an exponential rate. Regardless of grade and level, associates are much more aware of the opportunities out there and what can be provided to them. Companies that want to excel, must be ahead of the game in providing internal services that keep them at the top of the preferred company list.

Sirena Di Martino, cluster HR manager, Marsa Malaz Kempinski

Sirena Di Martino, cluster HR manager, Marsa Malaz Kempinski

Alvarez: I’d say that hotels are relying more heavily on internal recruitment processes and often the lack of understanding from agencies has brought about this change. Hotels are also encouraging staff to move within an organisation as opposed to heading over to a competitor.

Dosanjh: Information! In the days of trade unions, information and propaganda was controlled by a select few.  Newspapers were the fountain of all knowledge and it was normal for someone to be in the same company, indeed in the same position for their entire careers.
Today the average tenure of an employee is around 24 months.  Information is available at the click of a button.  You can see when your friend has been promoted or when another business is hiring.  The information is pushed to you through so many online portals nowadays.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing recruitment processes?

Than: One of the biggest challenges is to effectively factor-in the lead time to fill up vacant positions. Certain roles will require immediate hiring whilst others can be open over a longer period of time. Another challenge is determining the applicants’ integrity and their faith in the brand. It is not unusual for applicants to go fishing around and turn down an offer letter after completing four or five rounds because of a more compelling counter offer from somewhere else. Overall hotels find it increasingly tricky to recruit employees who are keen to commit for longer stints in positions. It is something that can’t be gauged during the recruitment stage.

Dosanjh: I think that the main issue facing the recruitment process is the lack of definition in what a hiring manager is looking for in a potential employee.  Time and time again positions go on hold, requirements change and you can’t always blame the hiring manager, or the recruiter, or HR.

Mikaelian: Most recruitment processes and department managers out there are focused on previous experience and existing knowledge – the difficulty is to find those associates that have not been molded and carved into the expectations of another company and are still energised to learn and be driven into a new company culture.


Peppy Dosanjh, director of HR, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai

Nobre: The main challenge facing the recruitment process is finding the right candidates with the right skills and attitude. At Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, we focus on targeting and finding potential candidates that fit our recruitment criteria through vetting profiles on LinkedIn and other recruitment platforms.

Sirena Di Martino: One of the main challenges across the Middle East is the high turn-over of staff and we need to cope with the demands of a fast paced recruitment rhythm. While generally the biggest challenge of all remains recruiting the right talent with the right kind of experience.

What are some of the challenges when using a recruitment agent to find staff, and are these agencies able to find the correct caliber of people to match hotels requirements?

Dosanjh: The challenges associated with using a recruitment agency are many and varied.  However, more often than not this is not the fault of the agency.  Businesses have this perception that if they go to multiple recruitment agencies, it spreads the net and they get a better selection of candidates.

If I use a recruitment company to hire for me, I am very specific about what I want, and what I do not want.  I ensure that they understand my business, my environment, my people and the needs of the role, both on the job description and the unwritten parts of the job description.

Than: Agents don’t always know all the requirements for a vacant position. Screening candidates doesn’t just involve following a given set of job requirements. However, it does entail finding talent that will smoothly blend into the existing work fabric and culture of the hotel. Therefore, it is pertinent to choose a recruitment agent judiciously. It is also important to bear in mind that an agency may have a different agenda whilst shortlisting a candidate.

Olga Alvarez, HR officer, Melia Dubai

Olga Alvarez, HR officer, Melia Dubai

Mikaelian: The drive behind a recruitment agency’s business is different to that of a hotel. This is because it is all a numbers game; they provide you with a sufficient number of candidates, you will hire more associates and with this they will make their commission. There is little or no actual screening and the candidate is not hired by one company they are then passed onto the next company that is hiring for a similar role. Of course some agencies are superior and more diligent then others but we find direct recruitment far more effective and personalised to the needs of the hotel.

Nobre: When using recruitment agent, it is difficult to relay the Middle Eastern culture to other nationalities that haven’t been exposed to the lifestyle here. Often another challenge is drawn out recruitment processes that can be avoided when hiring direct.

Alvarez: Recruitment agencies don’t always understand the operational requirements or the work atmosphere of the hotel. They only look at past experience and industry knowledge but these two alone don’t always mean that the candidate is a perfect fit for the organisation.

What initiatives should be put in place to retain staff within an establishment?

Than: The most important thing is to motivate staff. There are multiple ways to keep the human capital of the hotel motivated at all times. It can be done through monetary or non-monetary incentives.  Hotels should look at promoting their internal talent whenever possible, so that employees can see growth within the company. A work environment that fosters employee learning and development also brings positivity and it goes a long way in retaining the talent.

Sirena Di Martino: Creating a welcoming environment where employees feel safe, providing training and concrete career development opportunities, promoting welfare activities and establishing a solid performance management system based on regular mutual feedback between employer and employees is essential to build trust and generate loyalty.

Marta Nobre the director of HR, Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, Dubai

Marta Nobre the director of HR, Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, Dubai

Mikaelian: Honesty, transparency and basic heartfelt care for our associates goes a long way. Associates are not assets, they are people and in the Gulf they are people usually far away from their families so support and care really makes all the difference.

Dosanjh: A strong team and family culture is essential here, more so in the GCC than anywhere else in the world. In an environment where over 90% of the workforce is expatriate, more often than not, your co-workers become your social circle very quickly. Encouraging that relationship and fostering a family environment for our associates outside of work is very important.

With such high turn-over in the region, are you looking into new source markets for talent? If so where?

Mikaelian: In the hospitality industry we are open to all source markets and at JA Resorts and Hotels we currently employ associates from over 60 nationalities so there are few source markets we do not reach.

Sirena Di Martino: At Kempinski we have a talent transfer programme so my first source for recruiting talent is looking internally, which is generally very successful as we are in more than 30 countries worldwide. Besides that, social media sources such as LinkedIn have become useful in sourcing potential candidates in a real web of connections with online references.

Dosanjh: As the biggest hotel for Marriott outside of the USA, not only do we lose people to our competitors, we have a lot of associates transferring to other properties within our group. We encourage internal transfers and as such we are fast becoming the “development machine” here at the JW Marriott Marquis. In terms of new talent, we source with diversity in mind.  Our upcoming recruitment is focused on Kenya, South Africa, Ukraine, Georgia, China, Japan and South Korea.  Capture

What roles and departments are you currently recruiting the most for?

Than: The hotel is currently recruiting suitable roles across both operations and support functions across various departments such as: F&B, housekeeping, kitchen staff and sales and marketing.

Sirena Di Martino: With 11 F&B outlets at Marsa Malaz Kempinski and four at our property in West Bay, F&B is always our main focus as we need to find talent with very specific skills.

Mikaelian: Throughout the summer we are very careful to keep our manning low, however around August, there will be a drive to replenish our forces in all departments and levels.

Dosanjh: We are always looking for front line staff with excellent engaging personalities.  If you are waiting tables, an expert in professional cooking, serving in a bar, welcoming guests or helping to maintain cleanliness standards we would love to hear from you.


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