Executive Opportunities

Constant learning creates the right hotel environment

by Nicole Wong

Coleman Chui, director, human resources, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong

Executives in the hotel sector must update their skills to keep pace with industry developments

The hospitality industry in Hong Kong has seen an amazing recovery since the difficult times of 2003 and, with a number of new hotel openings already announced, the prospects for the next few years are looking bright. Amid this general optimism, however, leading employers are facing increased competition for managers and executives with the necessary level of experience and skills. They realise that attracting high-calibre candidates is not just a matter of offering good remuneration packages, but also of providing comprehensive training and genuine long-term career opportunities.

Coleman Chui, director of human resources for Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, confirms that management-level staff with experience at established or luxury hotels are currently in great demand. "They are well-versed in operations and management practices so, if joining a new hotel, their training mainly needs to focus on the corporate philosophy and culture of their new employer," he says.

In the case of Four Seasons, Mr Chui explains that a comprehensive introductory programme for new recruits has been developed by the head office and is in use at all group hotels around the world.

This ensures consistently high service standards and is reinforced with the help of external trainers, training managers and human resources directors, who arrange regular management courses for incoming and longer serving staff.
With their new property in Hong Kong set to open in early September, the current top priority for the human resources department is to establish the core standards of customer service which all Four Seasons guests expect. The relevant training includes technical aspects, such as the required procedure and time allowed for luggage delivery, and interpersonal skills, to ensure all staff have the right demeanour and attitude. Mr Chui and his colleagues realise that concentrating on this at the outset will help newcomers fit in more quickly and adapt to the hotel's culture.

"We will devote more resources to other areas of training and development after the opening," he explains. At that point, proficiency in Mandarin and understanding of mainland culture will also receive greater emphasis, in view of the increasing number of visitors from China.

High expectations

Even though career opportunities abound for those with experience in the hospitality sector, they must expect to continuously improve and add to their range of skills. "It is also a manager's responsibility, when overseeing the operations of a department, to ensure that employees are equipped with all the necessary tools and provided with adequate training," says Mr Chui.

He also points out that, as the sector becomes increasingly competitive, managers are expected to display real business acumen and to be familiar with the financial and investment side of their departments. Computer knowledge is also essential since so much now depends on systems. "Managers must keep up with advances in technology and make the best use of it," Mr Chui notes. "They can apply it to do their jobs more efficiently and to maintain effective communication with other members of staff."

Open communication

The necessary skills and management techniques can be taught, but the process really begins with recruiting the right candidates. "We have a rigorous recruitment process, during which we identify candidates who have the right skills and mentality," Mr Chui says. "We are more than happy to invest in their future career development, if they can show their talent, fit into our corporate culture and want to grow hand in hand with the hotel."

At Four Seasons, the exchange of information is seen as a key task. Departmental heads therefore hold regular meetings to update each other and learn about the latest developments. If there are any vacancies, details are posted on the notice board for three days and external recruitment takes place only if there are no suitable internal applicants. "It gives staff a clear idea about our requirements and expectations and shows that we are dedicated to promoting career development," Mr Chui says.

This heavy emphasis on open communication is very much in line with the changing style of management seen within the hotel industry in recent years. "Working relationships are now built on mutual respect, which is the only sure method of effective staff management," Mr Chui points out. "At Four Seasons, we follow the golden rule: treat others the way you would like them to treat you."

Changing management style

  • Most employers will expect a certain level of operational and management knowledge and will focus training on aspects of corporate and service culture
  • Department managers are expected to have skills in leadership, training others, and the use of the latest technology
  • The style of management now favoured within the industry requires executives to communicate well and build working relationships based on mutual respect

Taken from Career Times 12 August 2005
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