The hotel industry often provides a very reliable measure of the strength of a local or even a national economy. In the case of Hong Kong, the link is immediately apparent. When business travellers are in town, it means new deals will follow; and when tourists fly in, they are here to spend. In each case the hospitality sector benefits directly and, at present, it is experiencing a genuine boom.
As a result, new hotels are opening, others are being upgraded, and guests are being offered a new range of services to meet their every need. Diana Schleiter, guest relations manager (GRM) at InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, knows all about this and her job is to do everything possible to satisfy any kind of customer request.
With 13 years of experience in the hotel business, Ms Schleiter has heard the full range of requests and complaints at one time or another. A talent for dealing with these calmly and efficiently led her to specialise in the area of guest relations. "Every time I talk to a guest and receive a request or comment, I always put myself in their shoes," she says. "If you do that and show you understand their situation, it makes the guest feel you are on their side. Even if you can't satisfy their request completely, they know you have tried your best."
What I like best is to be out there interacting with the guests
When Ms Schleiter first came to Hong Kong from the Philippines, she had no experience in either the hotel industry or the service sector. She admits to being "completely green" when she landed a job with her current employer as a guest relations officer (GRO), which required her to handle the check-in and assist guests on the club floors. Her obvious efficiency and ability to strike up an easy rapport with both guests and colleagues led to a series of promotions.
"By now, I know most of our guests, which makes it easier to anticipate their needs and make them happy," Ms Schleiter says. Positive customer feedback is always noticed by management and, of course, is borne in mind when the next round of staff moves is being decided.
After four years in her initial position, Ms Schleiter was promoted to senior GRO. Two more steps over the next five years saw her become a GRM. Though she finds the role fulfilling, she hopes to have the chance to use her experience to conduct more staff training. "At some point, I would like to take on a more senior role, perhaps as the director of guest relations services," she says. "What I like best is to be out there interacting with the guests."
As a GRM, Ms Schleiter and her team of five handle all the hotel's VIPs. The morning shift begins at 7am by making sure that everything is presentable and in good working order. This includes a review of the list of the day's expected arrivals and a check of each room to ensure it is perfectly set up and has whatever the VIP guest has stipulated or is known to prefer.
GRMs are expected to provide one-to-one service. They will assign a GRO to greet the guest on arrival, if they have booked an airport pick-up by limousine or Hotel Link, and to handle the in-room check-in. "We try to think of everything, such as checking prior to arrival that the room-key is working properly. That avoids possible embarrassment and delays if, when we escort the guest to the room, it turns out to be malfunctioning," she explains.
Ms Schleiter's team includes GROs who speak Japanese, Korean, Putonghua, German and English, which makes it easier to cater to the needs of guests from all over the world. Fluency in foreign languages is viewed as a definite asset. "However, a GRO's most important attribute is understanding that the role is all about offering service which comes from the heart, because that is what makes a difference for guests," she says.
Ms Schleiter explains that one of the best things about a career in guest relations is that it allows an individual to meet people with diverse backgrounds, while developing their own personality and self-confidence. "It gives me real satisfaction to make a guest happy by exceeding their expectations. Every time I receive a positive comment it still makes me feel good," she concludes.