When Anita Chan graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Bachelor's degree in business administration, many of her classmates were moving on to jobs in various parts of the United States. She, though, recognised the potential for developing an exciting career in the hospitality industry, so she set her sights on returning to Hong Kong and breaking into the business. When a job came up as sales coordinator with the then Ramada Renaissance (now Langham Hotel Hong Kong), she readily accepted and has been on the fast track ever since.
After steadily assuming extra sales responsibilities, she moved on to become director of sales and marketing for The Kowloon Hotel and was subsequently appointed as general manager of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in March this year. As such, Ms Chan has the twin challenges of guiding business development and launching a boutique sister hotel, Cosmo, which will open in September.
"It's like going into labour, but is exciting as well," she jokes. Each working day now involves attention to pricing strategies, identifying target clients, image building and setting a clear direction for the business. "Though the second hotel is yet to open, we are already selling rooms and have some periods when we are fully booked," she says.
In Ms Chan's opinion, all this activity keeps people in the business young and energetic. "You learn from customers and the market on a daily basis," she explains. "Business trends and spending patterns are constantly changing, so you're always on your toes." She keeps an especially close eye on the branding and positioning of the two hotels to ensure that room occupancy rates and food and beverage outlets will meet sales targets.
Business trends and spending patterns are constantly changing, so you're always on your toes
As one of only a handful of female general managers in the hotel sector, Ms Chan gets tremendous satisfaction from her job. "You simply need the self-confidence to achieve your career goals," she explains. "You also have to create a strong team spirit because nobody can attain business objectives on their own. From my first day here, I've always told my colleagues that we all learn, grow and achieve together."
The working day usually starts around 7.30am in the hotel coffee shop. Since roughly 90 per cent of guests take breakfast there, this provides a perfect opportunity to meet people and check on the quality of food and services. Ms Chan then reads the newspapers and reports from the overnight manager before doing a quick tour of inspection and attending any scheduled meetings.
While working in the hospitality industry can undoubtedly be stressful, Ms Chan says that she deals with this by regarding difficulties as challenges to be overcome. She believes this can be done if her team has common goals and shares the same passion and enthusiasm for getting things done. "We judge our performance not just by measures of revenue but, more importantly, by how guests feel about their stay. It is my responsibility to ensure that staff are happy and that both our boss and the guests are completely satisfied," she says.
Ms Chan adds that self-motivation is important since success in the business does not come overnight. People must expect to start at the bottom, learn the basics thoroughly and work long hours.
As general manager, she still continues to upgrade her own skills. "What interests me most nowadays is engineering and other technical stuff," she says. "The subjects may not always be directly related to the job, but any knowledge can be put to use and a generally inquisitive mind is a definite plus for career development." With the likelihood that her current role will continue to expand, she is ready to tackle whatever comes next.
Describing herself as a determined person, Ms Chan has never yet contemplated a change of career. "I've always tried to face up to every challenge and taken the view that nothing is impossible," she says. "Customers and clients recognise that and it is something they appreciate as well."
With the rapid expansion of the hotel industry in China, career opportunities for experienced staff are literally there for the taking. Anyone who has trained and worked in Hong Kong generally has the advantage of international exposure and an understanding of the high standards of service expected in the top hotels. However, while there are many openings in the mainland, applicants should be prepared to accept lower salaries and fewer incentives.
Ms Chan also foresees good opportunities in Macau. "The market is expanding aggressively and the remuneration packages on offer are more compatible with those in Hong Kong," she says.