You’ve been in the hotel industry for over 20 years, and have managed various properties in the Asia-Pacific region. What keeps you focused?
Focus for me comes from passion and the motivation to succeed. I believe that this industry is about enjoying what you do because it is a lifestyle in terms of the commitments that you have to make. It’s an exciting industry and I get to travel and meet interesting people week-in week-out.
You’ve maintained a strong connection with Vietnam for many years, going back to when you were the F&B Director at the Duxton Saigon in 2003. What’s one thing that has remained constant in that time in Vietnam? What’s needed to raise standards in the industry here?
I would describe it as intoxicating in terms of the contrast to my home town of Auckland in New Zealand. That fascination with Vietnam is still there for me — it’s buzzing, vibrant and intense. I think the industry has already come a long way and we have some world-class hotels in the country ranging from Ibis to Sofitel — so travellers have plenty of choice for quality accommodation and or food and beverage experiences. The industry must continue to benchmark itself against other great tourism-led countries and make commitments to the people in their organisations in terms of training and talent and culture.
What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned over the years about customer service?
It’s a very difficult industry and getting customer service right every single day, every day is not always easy, so the lesson I live by is to be the best you can be day-in day-out and if you put your hand on your heart and say that’s the best we can do, then you can sleep at night not worrying. Being consistent is the key to this industry — it’s rather unforgiving, so we can’t afford to have a bad day.
What golden rules do you continue to stand by after all these years when dealing with customers?
The customer is always right. I know it sounds a little clichéd, but it’s true because they drive the success of the future for our industry. We have to be guest-centric and ensure that in anything and everything that we do, we have the guest in mind. That is the only rule.
What’s makes a great manager? Can the roles of leader and manager be separated?
A great manager is someone that has empathy for his or her colleagues and shows true respect towards the people they work with. They demonstrate consistency in their style 365 days a year — this is the key. Leaders lead tomorrow. Leaders have a vision for where they want to take the business, or the outcome of a guest experience, or the idea for a new concept.
In the workplace, we’re judged on our commitment to “continuous improvement”. What example stands out of an employee who strove to better themselves?
I see many examples of this all around me every day, not just in my hotel, but in my region where we have many employees that are striving to be the next-generation leader. There’s a huge amount of energy and passion and pride coming from our Vietnamese employees.
The hotel industry has faced significant disruption over the past decade or so; what’s the next disruption looming over the horizon?
I think we’re just starting to understand the importance of the digital age and how it affects bookings and referrals in our industry. Companies like AirBnB are just the start in my mind. There will be more and more coming onto the market. The one-stop digital-stop that customers manage from their phones is the future. The more mobile and digital-friendly the industry becomes, the greater chance of survival and success they’ll have.
What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened in one of your hotels?
The list is rather long and being a hotelier, I can’t tell you as it’s confidential. I guess being an emergency evacuation and medical facility during the floods at Sofitel Brisbane back in January 2011. It was something I won’t forget in a hurry. We had the Australian Prime Minister and emergency forces based out of the hotel for the duration of the event, which was an honour as well as a huge responsibility.
Name the one hotel that everyone must to stay at before they die.
Can I give you 10? I would say either Raffles Singapore or the Sofitel Legend Cataract Aswan. It’s a 19th-century Victorian palace on the banks of the river Nile.