Hotel / Catering

All in a day’s work

by Nicolette Wong

Rewards and open communication for staff in lifestyle business hotel
Willem van Emden, executive assistant manager
EAST Hong Kong
Photo: Dickie Tam
Lifestyle business hotel pushes the boundaries to offer a stylish but practical haven

In Hong Kong's competitive hospitality industry, it is crucial for both veteran hotels and newcomers to distinguish themselves as innovative service providers, while attracting the best and brightest young talent by offering a fun and flexible working environment.

Positioning itself as a "lifestyle business hotel" under the Swire Hotels umbrella, EAST Hong Kong seeks to fuse the city's vibrancy with the comfort and efficiency of a first-rate establishment.

All team members share the hotel's "The Way We Work" philosophy, says Willem van Emden, executive assistant manager, EAST Hong Kong, adding that EAST targets passionate employees that are enterprising, able to overcome challenges, capable of pushing the boundaries and have a creative and innovative mindset.

A sense of fun is essential—the hotel wants team members to enjoy what they do. Another important aspect is a sense of personal responsibility, while respect for others underpins all relationships.

"Importantly, we're unassuming about our work," Mr van Emden stresses. "We take pride in our hotel being a key player in this industry, but while our goal is to always do things well, we remain modest about it."

The drive to be innovative, flexible and practical, while continuously enhancing the guest experience, is at the heart of the hotel's culture, notes Mr van Emden. EAST stands out for its efficient but personalised service, he says. Job duties are not divided in the conventional way. Instead, team members may take up different roles as required to ensure guest needs are met—from paperless check-in and concierge services to booking concert tickets.

Rewards and participation

Care has been taken to decorate the hotel and its restaurants in a more personal style than is typical for a hospitality provider, reflecting a sense of luxury comprising more than its exquisite surroundings and service.

"It's about truly identifying and meeting our guests' expectations," says Mr van Emden. "For example, business travellers expect a fast check-in and an environment that is conducive to work. We provide complimentary Wi-Fi broadband Internet throughout, comfortable desk space and the latest iHome / iPod-touch room technology inside the guest rooms for their convenience."

To promote this culture, team members must be encouraged and rewarded for their hard work, he stresses. Employees wanting to compliment their colleagues have access to special well-done cards, while a number of rewards and recognition programmes are in place. Team members are invited to present their own proposals that can benefit the company, for example new strategies to increase hotel revenue.

This level of participation helps the workforce feel involved with the group and hotel's development and motivates them to go the extra mile. The company also has a range of training courses to help employees groom their skills, while external training on specific topics is also on offer. Apart from that, the International Management Trainee Programme is designed to attract talented, passionate and enthusiastic graduates to ultimately develop future global leaders.

Communication and development

EAST stresses open communications across the workforce to boost team spirit. Managers have an open-door policy and encourage team members to ask questions or offer their opinions directly. At monthly meetings, Mr van Emden and his colleagues consult all team members about areas of improvement, from training and work arrangements to individual career development opportunities. Senior executives join teams at various sports events and social get-togethers, such as seafood nights and outdoor barbecue events.

The mission of EAST is to keep improving guests' experiences and it therefore encourages internal promotions and transfers, as well as cross-training at other Swire Hotels properties. This sort of interaction not only broadens employees' vision, but inspires them to develop their leadership potential as the group expands.

"It's important to acknowledge talent," Mr van Emden emphasises. "Most of our team members fall in the Generation Y age group, and they're energetic professionals that value opportunities for career advancement."

Newcomers are immersed in the hotel culture by working closely with senior staff members that mentor and support them during the working day. Regular outings also strengthen team spirit. EAST emphasises a sense of fun among employees and often organises events such as boat trips that are more engaging and dynamic than regular team gatherings.

However, to establish a genuine sense of cohesion, the hotel must recruit the right people—those that are willing to learn and work well as part of a team. A passion for hospitality, an outgoing personality, a friendly attitude and the drive to go the extra mile are key attributes.

"We're very proud of our people. They're what make all the difference to our guests," Mr van Emden concludes.

Going full steam ahead

  • Employees should be enterprising, creative, willing to learn and good team players
  • The drive to be innovative, flexible and practical is at the heart of the hotel's culture
  • The goal is to identify and exceed guests' expectations
  • Training and open communication help develop and boost team spirit

Taken from Career Times 21 September 2012, B1

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