HONG KONG'S hotels are busy places these days, with occupancy figures reaching levels unheard of for almost a decade. With room occupancies of 80 per cent when 70 per cent is considered a good industry average, it might be expected that general managers would be patrolling their bustling lobbies brimming with satisfaction. However, the record number of visitors and business people arriving from all over the globe, including tens of thousands of tourists flocking across the border from the mainland, has given the hotel industry cause to worry. 'Despite the overall hotel industry picture being very positive, we are facing a severe shortage of staff,' said Hong Kong Hotels Association executive director James Lu. 'With Hong Kong Disneyland and a number of new hotels about to open, everyone is looking for staff, and we are concerned about how and where we can hire the right people. 'We are putting more visitors into our hotel rooms and beds than at any time before, but we need good quality staff to look after them.' The hotel industry is not the only sector facing a shortage of talented employees. The retail, catering and services industries are facing the same problem. 'Hong Kong can produce only so many good people, and we can't keep poaching from each other, with staff moving from hotel A to hotel B and back again,' said Mr Lu. Hong Kong's hotel industry is relatively well catered for in terms of education and training, but the talent pool is small compared with the industry's growing requirements. Hong Kong is also facing a talent drain as skilled people are hired by hotels in emerging markets such as Macau and the mainland, where skills and talent are often better respected and rewarded. The hotel association believes one solution to the staff shortage would be to relax the immigration rules and allow hotels to recruit staff from around the region. With staff shortages a growing issue, Mr Lu said the next two years would be a fantastic time for those interested in joining the hotel industry. 'Right now, Hong Kong is the ideal place to advance a career in the industry,' he said. 'Hotel operators are providing excellent training programmes and paying a few more dollars than a year or two ago. This has developed into a situation where career opportunities are limited only by the ambition of the individual.' If Mr Lu is concerned about the current situation, finding suitable hotel staff looks set to become an even greater challenge in the near future. Nineteen new hotels have opened or are planning to open this year, compared with two last year, and the hotel association said at least 40 more developments had received government approval. 'About 6,000 more rooms will be added to the current inventory by the end of the year,' Mr Lu said. 'Hong Kong has not seen such numbers of new developments in the history of the hotel industry.' In total, the number of hotel rooms could rise by about 23 per cent to more than 47,000. The Hong Kong Tourism Board predicts room supply will increase by about 40 per cent over the next four years to an estimated 52,260 rooms. The number of job openings at hotels varies in accordance with their manpower needs and staff-to-room or guest ratio. Most positions cover core operations, with a demand for front-desk attendants, housekeepers, waiters and waitresses, chefs, engineers and middle managers. Also in demand are experienced food and beverage and restaurant managers. The new four-star Cosmopolitan Hotel, overlooking Happy Valley Racecourse, places emphasis not only on recruiting new talent but on retaining staff. 'We try to convey to our staff that we care about them and will look after them,' said Cosmopolitan general manager Anita Chan. To identify potential staff at an early stage, the hotel organises presentations to schools and hospitality training institutions. The hotel also provides one-year internships. 'It is difficult to find enough experienced staff so we look for individuals we can train,' Ms Chan said. Ideal candidates should be positive, enthusiastic, open-minded and friendly. They should also be eager to learn. The Kowloon Shangri-La also realises that hiring and retaining experienced staff is important, and that monetary remuneration is not necessarily a guarantee of loyalty or commitment. 'We try to provide staff with a happy, healthy and harmonious environment where they can achieve their personal and career goals,' said Patsy Chan, Kowloon Shangri-La director of communications. She said the selection and screening of applicants was important as getting the right people meant a long-term investment of both time and resources. 'We believe in the principle of hiring for attitude and training for skills,' she said. New employees receive on-the-job training that includes technical and work-related skills. Staff are also encouraged to attend job-related career advancement courses and language programmes, which are offered in house or at the Shangri-La's training centre in Shenzhen. 'The hotel always maintains its salaries at a competitive level and is striving to be the first choice for employees in the hotel industry,' said Ms Chan. Long-term investment is provided through training, career growth and personal development for employees. More than 15 per cent of staff have been with the hotel for at least 20 years and nearly 30 per cent for 15 years or more. The Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong is aiming to combine a happy working environment with a positive career outlook. 'When employees join the Four Seasons group they know they can expect job security with plenty of opportunities to develop their careers,' said the hotel's regional marketing director, Jean Forrest. The Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong is seeking candidates with impressive skills and attitude to deliver top-quality service when the establishment opens its doors in September.