EUROPEAN HOTEL AND travel services giant Accor is on a hiring spree as it looks to dramatically expand its operations in China by the end of next year. With five hotels due to open this year and six more next year, the hotel group is looking for staff at all levels. Hong Kong talent will probably fill senior-level positions, many of which will still be compensated on expatriate terms, though localisation is well under way. 'We are hiring at all levels; [the job openings] can be any position from a waiter to a resident manager or general manager,' Accor China human resources manager Anne Isabelle Sam said. 'On average, there are around 40 openings every two weeks.' In the next 18 months, the group will open five Sofitel hotels (all five-star), in Shenyang, Anshan, Hefei, Dongguan and Shijiazhuang. It will also open four business-class brand Novotel hotels in Shenzhen, Jinan, Beijing and Nanjing. Two economy-class Ibis hotels will be opened in Chengdu and Qingdao. Mrs Sam, in estimating the number of new staff needed, said Accor's hotels in China had a high staff per guest ratio compared with hotels in Hong Kong. The number of rooms ranges from 370 in Sofitel Jinsui Shenyang to 150 in Ibis Qingdao, and there will be more than 2,800 rooms in the 11 new hotels. Positions likely to be filled by Hong Kong talent include that of food and beverage directors, financial controllers, resident managers, sales and marketing directors and experienced human resources and training professionals. While mainland talent is gradually catching up in skills and experience, many of these positions are still offered as an expatriate package. 'Someone from Hong Kong is still considered an expat in China. They enjoy the same status as someone from Britain or Germany,' Mrs Sam said. Some staff from Hong Kong, however, are working for Accor on local terms. At Accor, expatriates get paid in US dollars, live on the hotel premises, have tax paid by the group and have other benefits such as a pension plan and air tickets to their homeland. In contrast, staff on local terms generally do not receive accommodation and tax is deducted from their salary. 'In some fields, sales and marketing positions are difficult to fill,' Mrs Sam said. However, the pay level is still lower than similar positions in Hong Kong. 'For example, the salary of a sales and marketing director of a hotel starts at 2,500 yuan [per month]. Typically, that would be a position for a small hotel or in a small city,' she said. 'For this position in Shanghai, the salary is 10 times more.' She said human resources and training talent were also hard to find. 'Qualified people can easily get a job. Our competitors are not necessarily in the hotel industry. Universal Studio is opening a big theme park in Shanghai, Wal-Mart and Carrefour are also looking for people.' Experience, English proficiency, and the right 'grooming' made a professional in human resources and training highly desirable, Mrs Sam said. Those in the hotel industry needed to look beyond the most glamorous locations. 'Most opportunities are available in secondary cities now,' she said. As an established international group, Accor offered a stable work environment and ample training for employees, Mrs Sam said. There was a big difference between working for a company of Accor's size and a local hotel. 'I have met a lot of people who work for local hotels. Many have come to me saying they want to be part of the group,' she said. 'Unlike some local hotels, where the owner could say: 'By the way, I have no more money, thank you and goodbye', procedures here are clearer and their jobs do not just depend on the owner.' The hotel pays staff training expenses, which account for 3 per cent of the payroll. A Bangkok-based training manager or a country trainer travels from place to place to conduct corporate training. Another perk is a reward scheme, which encourages staff worldwide to contribute new ideas in best practices by offering bonuses. For those launching a career in China, Mrs Sam said 'the most important things are to be open-minded and flexible'. That applied to adapting to a different culture and working pace and being willing to relocate. 'You also need to enjoy training and explaining things to people. Some local staff still have limited knowledge, but they grow very fast. If you like to share and to coach them, they appreciate it.' An essential asset was proficiency in Putonghua, which many people from Hong Kong had not mastered, Mrs Sam said. Accor entered China in 1985 and now has 17 hotels and about 8,000 employees. SALIENT POINTS With five hotels due to open this year and six more next year, hotel group Accor is looking for new staff at all levels. Hong Kong talent generally fills positions such as directors of food and beverage, financial controllers, resident managers, sales and marketing directors and human resources professionals. Both expatriate and local terms are on offer. Opportunities are more abundant outside major cities.