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Rosewood Hotel CEO: 'We are experiencing labor challenges'

On a recent episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer," Sonia Cheng, the CEO of the Rosewood Hotel Group, acknowledged the global hotel company has faced "labor challenges" but suggested it's finally starting to find workers eager to join the hospitality industry.

Despite fears of a looming recession, the labor market remains tight with a U.S. unemployment rate of 3.7%. According to the latest data, there were two open jobs for every person out of work. What's more, leisure and hospitality workers made up a large proportion of the "great resignation." In November last year, 1 million leisure and hospitality workers in the U.S. quit their jobs.

Still, the U.S. labor force participation rate ticked up last month, suggesting the availability of more workers.

"So we are experiencing labor challenges, I think as with everyone else in the hotel space and travel industry," Cheng told Yahoo Finance's editor-in-chief. "However, in the last couple of months, we're able to recruit the talent that we have been looking for. I think that it's very important to reintroduce the beauty of the hotel industry to the talents out there."

Cheng added that because of the pandemic, many employees temporarily left the industry, but actually wanted to come back to work.

"I think it's important to focus on building an organization where we are communicating to our talents that this is a learning organization," she added. "What is your career path?"

'Tremendous growth in our pipeline'

While the pandemic wreaked havoc on many industries, travel and hospitality were among the hardest hit. U.S. hotel occupancy plummeted to 25% in April 2020 from 63.9% in April 2019, according to STR Global.

Still, Cheng suggested there's optimism in the future of the travel industry.

"Surprisingly, while COVID has had significant impact in the hospitality industry, we have experienced tremendous growth in our pipeline in the last two years," Cheng said. "Developers and owners in the hospitality space continue to be quite confident in the outlook of the hotel industry and continue to invest in hotels and looking to partner with Rosewood in developing more Rosewoods around the world."

Cheng said she's already witnessed a surge in travel coming into Hong Kong, where she her business is based; she believes demand will strengthen as restrictions are lifted entirely. On Friday, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee announced the city would lift its hotel quarantine and pre-flight COVID tests for travelers.

A view shows the Choupette room designed by German designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Hotel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel in Paris, France June 29, 2017. The Paris's landmark Hotel de Crillon, which was built in 1758, reopens in July after a four-year 200 million euro ($222 million) revamp. Picture taken June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
A view shows the Choupette room designed by German designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Hotel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel in Paris, France June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

"I think there's a significant pent-up demand in coming to Hong Kong," Cheng said. "Hong Kong is still the world's one of the world's most important financial hub, business hub, cultural hub. And we're very confident in terms of Hong Kong's future and outlook. And hopefully, the restrictions will relax very soon and we see we'll see a very significant recovery."

In 2011, Cheng became CEO of the Rosewood Hotel Group at just 30 years old. Her father is Henry Cheng, a Hong Kong executive, and her grandfather was Cheng Yu-tung, a tycoon who founded the conglomerate Chow Tai Fook, which owns Rosewood Hotel Group. When he died, Yu-tung was the third richest person in all of Hong Kong with a net worth of around $12 billion, according to Bloomberg.

“Hospitality has always been my passion. It's been our family blood,” Cheng said.

Rosewood Hotel Group, a privately owned subsidiary, manages five brands including ultra-luxury Rosewood Hotels & Resorts in North America, and Asaya, according to the company website. The company has 41 hotels in 19 countries and nearly 30 new properties under development.

Additional reporting by Dylan Croll.

Sandra Salathe is an editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @srsalathe

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