In little more than a decade, tourism in Cambodia has grown from something of an afterthought to become one of the nation’s largest earners. More than four million tourists visited the country last year — four times the 2005 total. This rapid development has demanded that the hospitality sector expand, improve, and adapt to ever-increasing standards, and it is now one of the country’s most professional industries.
Basile Magnin and Lise Romon, two recruitment experts from Saint Blanquat & A., sat down with Clothilde le Coz to discuss the thriving hospitality market.
What qualities are hospitality employers looking for in recruits?
Lise: We receive a lot of requests for Cambodians who interact will with Westerners. In this sector, communication and understanding are key qualities. While skills can always be learned and improved, personalities come first.
Basile: Employers are looking for “solution providers”. They want to work with someone who has the ability to take initiative and put their experience to use. This is of greater importance than diplomas, but studying with a highly reputed training centre, school or establishment does help.
What makes the hospitality sector attractive to investors today?
B: Today’s Cambodian professionals are highly trained and offer a great quality of service. There is now a wide range of training options in the hospitality sector, with Cambodians able to develop their skills at high quality schools and NGOs and under the tutelage of international players who have their own influence on training systems and standards here.
L: Moreover, more establishments are now better complying with the Cambodian working regulations, which is important in an environment where those standards are increasingly being enforced. The hospitality sector is also attractive to foreigners and we receive a lot of applications from neighbouring and Western countries. I think living conditions and the ease of setting up here are key to that interest.
What are the big challenges facing the sector?
L: From what I see, the geographical location of a bar or restaurant can be a real problem in recruiting. It is difficult for establishments located on the coast (Kep, Kampot and Sihanoukville, for example), to find skilled employees. With family ties a big part of any decision, incentives aside from competitive salaries are often required to drag new employees away from their home town.
B: Money can also be a challenge, especially for foreigners. A manager can earn up to $8,000 a month in China, for example, but such pay packages are very rare here. While there is no minimum salary, there are some unwritten but established guidelines, such as entry salaries starting at $1,400 for a manager and ranging up to $7,000. However, the biggest challenge in the market, I believe, is the turnover rate, which stands at 20%. It is very difficult to keep a good employee in the hospitality sector because, once they acquire some skills, there seems to always be someone else offering a better paycheck or work conditions.
And how can the sector limit this turnover?
B: There is one obvious fact: Turnover is much lower in renowned hotels because gaining experience in such establishments is given great value. For smaller hotels, the whole challenge is to build an effective working team and nurture its management strategy. Working hours in the hospitality industry can be tiring and the industry is also one of the most demanding: flexibility is crucial.
L: Micromanaging is also a tool for limiting turnover. You need a comprehensive management structure, regular training and demonstrated prospects for career development, as well as perks such as free time, staff retreats and corporate outfits. It should go without saying that rewards and promises be honoured.
Interview by Clothilde le Coz photography by Van Channarong