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Booming Indian Hotel Industry Faces Manpower Shortage

India's hospitality industry is booming. Hundreds of hotels are expected to open in the next few years. Major U.S.-based international brands, such as Hilton and Marriott, have announced plans to invest in India. But they may discover good help is hard to find. As Nilanjana Bhowmick reports from Kolkata, the industry is facing a severe shortage of skilled manpower.

The Indian travel and tourism sector is currently a $100 billion industry. The World Travel and Tourism Council says that over the next decade the size of the industry will nearly triple.

Business visitors and tourists to India are surprised to frequently find no room at the inn. And when there are vacancies, the rates at the better hotels rival or exceed those found in New York, London or Tokyo. That is because there is typically a demand nationwide for nearly a quarter of a million rooms, far beyond the 90,000 currently available.

Staffing those hotels is a constant challenge for hoteliers.

India's government-run and private Nector hotel management institutes each year graduate more than 10,000 students. But the supply can hardly keep pace with the demand. Industry analysts estimate that by 2012, just the premium slice of the hospitality industry in India will require more than 50,000 trained employees.

Natwar Nagar, of HVS International, an organization that predicts hospitality industry trends, says India lacks the personnel to meet the high demand.

"The bright and educated younger generation of the country has never considered [the] hotel industry as a future employment option," said Nagar. "The traditional service industry of India has never witnessed growth like this before and hence it is not equipped to handle it."

Trained hospitality workers are also in demand overseas, making it even more difficult for the domestic hotels to find enough qualified clerks, bellhops, waiters and maids.

An operator of one placement agency in Mumbai, Ali Rajan, says he sends more than 1,000 candidates abroad every year.

"The hotel industry is the most poorly paid industry in India," he said. "As such, skilled people often prefer to work abroad. Apart from the money, the growth opportunity is also greater."

Chef Anil Singh has opted to work abroad rather than stay in India. He says money is not the only consideration.

"There is a lack of respect in our country. If my superior is an Indian he will treat me like a downtrodden and inferior person," he said. "There are a lot many discriminations that limit growth opportunities here."

Singh says he expects that by working abroad he will be able to earn enough money to establish his own small hotel when he returns to India.

Anirban Shimlai of the upscale Park Hotel in Kolkata says even when he is able to find newly-graduated chefs they are frequently lacking in the basic skills.

"There have been hotel management institutes mushrooming all over the country," he said. "However, they somehow get affiliation with foreign universities and top notch catering colleges and go about the course in a short-cut way."

Shimlai says the quickly-trained workers may not be cut out for a hospitality career.

"There is no proper training or induction or a proper understanding of the hotel industry. As a result there is faster burnout as people are clueless about what to expect, leading to a high rate of attrition," he added.

The Indian government plans to declare the hospitality industry a priority sector, which would allow for 100 per cent foreign direct investment. But that still will not solve the biggest challenge facing the industry: how to find and retain enough qualified staff in the years ahead.