Upmarket hotels and their guests expect hotel workers to deliver impeccable service at all times and this requires a certain type of personality.
While an attentive mind is invaluable, the most important quality in a hotel worker is passion, says Fanny Man, front office manager at InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong.
Ms Man has been working in the hotel industry for 17 years, including eight at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong. Her interest in the industry began early. "I attended a dinner at a hotel when I graduated from primary school," she recalls. "The people working there impressed me with their professionalism and I started to dream of becoming one of them."
After she graduated with a degree in human resources Ms Man began to realise her dream, though like everyone she had to start at the bottom. "When I started as a concierge cashier I was responsible for check-ins and check-outs, and customer enquiries related to the hotel or Hong Kong as a tourist destination. I have always been interested in other cultures and in that job I was able to meet many tourists and people from different countries. I learned a lot about the world," she says.
As front office manager Ms Man oversees day-to-day administration. "Our frontline office has 75 staff in areas including guest relations, instant service, front desk, concierge desk, business centre and duty manager," she says. "We gather and receive requests made by guests and our staff from different departments follow up. It is extremely important for our communication to be efficient so that guests are not left waiting. For example, a guest may request an extra toothbrush or pillow through our front desk and the housekeeping department is notified through our computer system which helps us to ensure prompt delivery of service and also allows us to keep a record of different guests' preferences."
Prompt delivery and the personal touch have become more significant in the last decade as people have become better travelled. According to Ms Man, guests have also become more demanding. "Experience has taught them what they can expect from a world-class hotel and moreover they expect it in a timely fashion. Business travellers, especially, have limited time for their requests to be fulfilled," she notes.
Working in a hotel can be challenging at times such as being aware of guests' cultural differences. "Some guests have different requests relevant to their customs and of course we want to make them feel comfortable," Ms Man explains. "For instance, from sundown on Friday until Saturday evening, it is a Jewish custom that no electrical devices can be touched. So it's important that our staff are aware of this and that we know in advance which guests this might affect, to avoid embarrassment and so we can show our sensitivity."
Ms Man's job also includes some staff recruitment and training, which the InterContinental emphasises. Simon Sung, director of human resources notes, "We are serious about staff training. We have a learning centre on the 17th floor which includes two training rooms and a library which used to be guest rooms. It provides a complete range of in-house support for all aspects of the staff's many jobs. We believe that a lively and friendly work environment breeds cheerful staff members who will deliver pleasant service. Therefore we encourage our staff to take initiatives to become better people."
The hotel also offers more large-scale professional development. Ms Man, for instance, has been to Cornell University for a course and to InterContinental Hotel Grand Seoul in South Korea for further training.
Ms Man believes the most important prerequisite for hotel frontline staff is passion. "Academic qualifications count for something but mostly you have to really want to please the guest and encourage them to come back to Hong Kong and to your hotel. If you are that type of passionate person then this is a job that you will really enjoy."