The hotel industry is optimistic about job opportunities despite a slump in visitor numbers as the Ministry of Tourism looks to expand the number of hotel rooms in the provinces
The prospect of a career in the hotel industry is still seen as a shining light by many job seekers in Cambodia.
CAMBODIA'S hotel sector may be feeling the pinch from the current global financial malaise, but the country's status as a key tourism destination - in large part due to the draw of Angkor - means most expect it to continue being a major employer and contributor to the country's economic well-being.
According to Ho Vandy, co-steering chairman of the Private Tourism Task Force Committee, the tourism sector accounts for 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Employment numbers are harder to come by, but Ministry of Commerce figures show the sector directly employed 32,500 in 2003.
A further 67,500 were indirectly employed that year, including hotel and restaurant workers. These numbers undoubtedly grew further in line with swelling tourism numbers until last year when, according to Ministry of Tourism figures, arrivals dropped 6.5 percent in the second half of the year after growing 12.6 percent in the first six months. International arrivals hit a peak of 2.125 million in 2008, each spending on average $700 during their stay.
While anecdotal evidence suggests occupancy is down in most hotels, reliable figures are hard to come by due to the reluctance of most general managers to reveal occupancy rates to competitors. None contacted by the Post would disclose figures.
However, one owner of a popular Siem Reap guesthouse put it bluntly to the Post on Wednesday: "Our occupancy is down, but not significantly," he said. "But one thing to consider is that Siem Reap now has an oversupply of accommodation, particularly in the lower- to mid-range, which also affects occupancy rates. We are small and well-established with an excellent reputation, but if we were just starting out, 2009 would be a disaster."
There is no reason to hesitate or procrastinate in undertaking a hospitality course.
Despite the downturn, expansion of hotel rooms is still planned for the coming years. Minister of Tourism Thong Khon says he is aiming to oversee the building of one thousand new hotel rooms every year for the foreseeable future. However, he recognises that new rooms are mostly required in rural, undeveloped areas.
On the job
This is good news for tourism students. According to Luu Meng, president of the Cambodian Hotel Association, the hotel industry is a vital source of employment for new tourism graduates, with each mid- to high-end hotel room requiring between 1.6 and 1.8 workers.
A majority of workers employed in these hotels have degrees, attained either at a polytechnic or university. General managers insist this is not a requirement, though good communication skills and a friendly personality are.
Sin Sok Ros, human resources manager at Siem Reap's four-star Prince d'Angkor, says new employees receive a generous starting package including food, clothing and public holidays.
"It does not matter if my new employee has a degree or not; all of them must complete three months of on-the-job training, and for this they earn $80 a month. After their probation period their pay rises to $120 a month, and this salary will be increased every year depending on their performance."
However, such benefits are almost exclusively restricted to mid- and top-end hotels, as smaller guesthouses generally employ family members or maintain minimum staffing levels.
Ly Monica, a Phnom Penh native who now lives in Siem Reap, began her career in hotel hospitality in 1993 when she received free hospitality training from Untac. She earned $60 a month as a hotel receptionist before moving to Siem Reap in 2007.
She again found employment as a receptionist, but this time at the four-star Angkor Paradise Hotel. That same year she was promoted to the role of assistant to the general manager.
"The hotel industry is my hobby and my life because I love communicating with people," she said.
"When I work in a hotel I can improve my foreign-language skills, and I meet people from all over the world. The most difficult part of my job is that I have to be patient and friendly all the time, every minute, every hour - be a joker."
This year, the financial crisis has forced Ly Monica's 164-room hotel to reduce its staff. Twenty people were let go from the staff of 100 earlier this year.
Ho Vandy reckons there is a surplus of hotels in Cambodia and advises all new hotel construction to be limited to the provinces, where infrastructure is badly needed.
"My task force has already proposed to the government that it encourage investors to develop hotels in the provinces or places where they do not have them by reducing taxes for them if they build in these areas," he says.
Thong Kon, the tourism minister, agrees. He is currently seeking investors for areas such as Kratie and Koh Kong that already have strong tourist attractions - the Irrawaddy dolphins in Kratie and the coastal splendour in Koh Kong.
As for graduates, the owner of another popular Siem Reap guesthouse, who also did not wish to be named, believes talented staff with good communication skills and fluency in English will always be in demand.
"My impression is that good staff able to work in direct contact with foreign customers are still in demand. Also I would think that these days fluency in languages such as Russian, Chinese and Korean could also be an asset."
Weng Aow, general manager of Angkor Palace Resort Siem Reap, also says quality hotel hospitality graduates will continue to be sought after as the industry continues to grow.
"Regardless of how the economy is doing, the hospitality and tourism industry will certainly continue to grow," he says.
"There is no reason to hesitate or procrastinate in undertaking a hospitality course."
He added that the hospitality industry employers are also some of the most sought after human resources for other industries.
"The knowledge and skills acquired through a hospitality course will stand the graduate in good stead for life," he said.
Additional Reporting by Eleanor Ainge Roy