Undergraduate Focus: It’s about heart as much as head
Four specialists of the hospitality and tourism industry speak about the business of serving people.
Angeline Leo is a marketing communications manager at Per AQUUM, a luxury resort management company based in Singapore. She manages the public relations, digital marketing, social media, events, sponsorships, branding, partnership opportunities and other special projects for the group, including their properties in the Maldives, Dubai and soon Abu Dhabi.
“I remember going to a wedding when I was 15, and looking at all the bright lights, the shiny floor, the stunning flower arrangements, the gorgeous table settings and these immaculately dressed waiters serving amazing food, and that got me,” she says. “It looked like the most glamorous job in the world, and 13 years in the industry and I still think so”.
“Passion drives me. It is highly contagious when you’re working with a team. I had this crazy idea once to build a catwalk over an infinity pool, and when resources are limited, you have to work with what you’ve got. Building that catwalk was a challenge on its own, but we also had one shot at sinking it with only a minor guest interruption. It was a huge team effort from engineering to housekeeping to food & beverage, but we did it. The event was a success and it motivated the team.”
The hospitality and tourism industry is highly competitive, says Angeline, and unless the graduate is on a management training plan, they would have to work from the ground up. However, since the industry covers such a wide range of fields, the options are plenty – hotels and resorts to cruise ships and airlines, from luxury residences to safaris, from theme parks to destination spas. It would really help though, she says, to know which setting or speciality one prefers or works best in.
For example, if someone enjoys planning and co-ordinating events to the finest detail, then catering and guest entertainment could be a great fit. Alternatively, someone who loves engaging with guests in person on a daily basis would be well-suited to a position in service on the front lines. If you love cooking or baking and constantly stuff your family and friends with food, then culinary is your best bet.
“Many of my colleagues come from differing backgrounds and wide education and work experience,” says Angeline, “I believe if you have the right mindset, enthusiasm, and the ability to roll with the punches and effectively and thoughtfully transfer your skills from one situation to another, the hospitality industry can become your playground. Schools can prepare you in theory, but the classroom is out here. For those that have studied, it is satisfying to put theory into practise”.
“It’s not a myth,” she continues. “I wholeheartedly believe that you can work your way to the top. I know many colleagues who have worked their way up. Starting in more humble positions not only gives you the advantage and the credibility of knowing the operation in greater detail, but I believe it also builds character through perseverance and hard work.”
Tran Hoai Thanh
Travelling enables one to experience different cultures, personalities, architecture and art, and a million other tiny details that one would not typically notice. For Tran Hoai Thanh, it was this love of travel that prompted him to go into hospitality and tourism.
Tran is the manager, does the sales, plays receptionist and everything in between at Especen Hotel, one of the first hotels in Hanoi that opened in 1990. Business at the Especen is good enough for it to have opened two branches. He also organises tours around Vietnam to popular tourist destinations such as the Perfume Pagoda, Hoa Binh, and the scenic Ha Long Bay.
As a hotel manager, he says that sometimes he has to deal with irrational guests and those with armfuls of complaints. “Each of them has different problems to be solved. But it is of utmost importance to make those guests understand what the problem is.”
When asked about the prospects for hospitality and tourism, he says that there will certainly be more tourists and the field will continue expanding ‘more and more’. His final advice to students is: “do what you are interested in, you will succeed”.
Tony Yew currently works in The Sterling, a luxury boutique hotel in Malacca. He is the resident manager and his job requires him to ensure that the hotel is operating at set standards, which in turn determines the level of acceptability and comfort that guests enjoy.
He says that there are plenty of opportunities for graduates in this field and the competition to get a management training position is high, but it all depends on how far a person is willing to push himself.
“The service and hospitality industry is anything but routine. Meetings and planning may be routine, but your management skills in problem solving is always different,” he says.
Aptitude serves a more crucial role than qualification as in the industry, service comes from the heart, not just head, he continues. A fresh graduate can earn anything from RM1,500 upwards with other perks like duty allowances and meals along with laundry, which depends on the property they are working for. He also says that his chairman started out as a busboy and he rose through the ranks, eventually earning his hotel and management degree from a top university, getting him to where he is now.
Yew’s advice for those who want to venture into the service and hospitality industry is: “Service is not rocket science, and the need to answer honestly is probably the best policy. Are you willing to put someone’s well-being and comfort above and beyond yours when on duty? When you offer a service, is it something that you would accept if you are the guest? With this two questions answered, then perhaps one can honestly say that he is ready to serve”.
Peter Cheng is Laguna Redang Island Resort’s general manager and his job entails the entire general management of the resort.
“It is your own mindset that determines whether the job is interesting or routine. You must be prepared to do a good job and be inclined to serve your guest best. That will make your job interesting and once you feel it is interesting then it will not be routine,” he says.
With the aviation industry expanding, the world is nearer to us, assures Cheng. Tourism is forever there, and will never end. When a country prospers, the people will want to travel to see other parts of the world.
The future is very bright. He says that a fresh graduate can earn between RM1,500 and RM2,500 depending on which hotel and the position offered. He adds that fresh graduates have good prospects in the tourism industry locally.
The best choice if you want to work overseas in the hospitality and tourism industry is to enter an international hotel chain first then the chances of working in their chain hotel elsewhere are better.
“Work hard, work smart, do not be afraid to accept new challenges, be innovative and practice team work,” advises Cheng. “Always accept new tasks with an open heart so that you can learn more.Any extra knowledge gained by working will be useful later on.”