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Hotels inundated by job applicants

Thousands of people seeking work in the service sector compete for positions at new and renovated hotels.

December 02, 2009|By Hugo Martín

As hotels and restaurants continue to bleed jobs, thousands of people are applying for newly opened positions, overwhelming hiring staff and pointing up how hard the recession has hit service-sector workers.

Nearly 11,000 people have applied for 400 jobs at the swanky W Hollywood Hotel & Residences slated to open in Hollywood early next year. About 3,500 have applied for 550 openings at the new Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles near Staples Center.

And it's not just happening in Southern California: Thousands have sought work at the new CityCenter project in Las Vegas, the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans and other properties across the country.

John Husing, an independent economist with Economics & Politics Inc., said the turnout for hotel jobs in Southern California reflects the overabundance of workers with limited education searching for jobs in the service sector. He said 45.5% of Los Angeles County adults older than 25 have no college education and are primarily limited to blue-collar or service-sector work.

Other Southern California industries that have historically supplied jobs for such workers, including the construction, manufacturing and cargo industries, are shedding even more jobs than the hotel industry, Husing said.

"When something opens up in one of the service sectors that doesn't require a heavy level of education, it's not surprising that so many people would show up," he said.

The woes of the hotel industry are documented in occupancy rates that hover close to 50% nationwide, slumping revenue figures and a dramatic jump in foreclosures and bank defaults by struggling hotel owners. The drop in business travel, as corporations tighten their belts, has stung the industry.

To survive the slump, hotels have been trimming staff. The unemployment rate among workers in the leisure and hospitality sector jumped to 12.4% in October from 8.9% in the same month a year earlier. In the 12 months that ended Oct. 31, 478,000 workers in the sector lost their jobs, bringing the total out of work to 1.6 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a result, job postings at hotels across the country have been met with an outpouring of applicants.

In the Lake Tahoe area, the Ritz-Carlton Highlands has received about 2,500 job applications since October for 300 positions to staff the hotel, which opens next week.

"We've had an overwhelming response," said Steven H. Holt, a spokesman for the hotel.

He attributed the abundance of applicants to a high unemployment rate in the region and the hotel chain's reputation for stable, quality jobs.

The Hard Rock hotel in Las Vegas received more than 3,800 applications at a two-day job fair in June to fill about 800 jobs created after the hotel undertook a $750-million expansion.

Meanwhile, the developers of CityCenter, an $8.5-billion, mixed-use urban complex of hotels, residences, retail outlets and entertainment venues on the Las Vegas Strip, had to sort through 170,000 applications for the 12,000 jobs that they had open.

The huge response to job openings in the hospitality industry is to be expected, said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president at hospitality consulting firm PFK Consulting, considering the enormous number of people who have been laid off in the sector.

"It's not a shock," Baltin said. "It's just a fact that a lot of people in the industry are looking for work."

Jim McPartlin, general manager of the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences, said the flood of applications had created a huge workload.

The facility, scheduled to open Jan. 28, launched a "talent center" on Hollywood Boulevard in August to take applications for about 400 positions in the hotel and the adjacent restaurant, spa and nightclub. The center has received 10,825 applications -- either in person or online -- and staff members have interviewed 1,000 applicants. So far, about 90 people have been hired.

Applicants have included workers with extensive hotel experience as well as people with no experience in the industry, McPartlin said.

The interview process has been time-consuming, he said, because McPartlin insists on meeting every job finalist, including a real estate agent who didn't like what she was doing and wanted to try something new.

The "cool" factor may also play a role in the application bonanza at the W Hollywood and Hard Rock hotels, said Carl Winston, director of San Diego State University's Hospitality and Tourism Management Program.

Job seekers are motivated to land jobs at companies with a popular image, Winston said.

"W is a cool brand," he said. "People are attracted to it."

Plus, he said, working in Hollywood offers a bit of cachet.

"If it was W Fresno, it might not be as cool," Winston said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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