Engineering branded hospitality

by Maggie Tang

(from right to left) Janaka Wijayawardana, director of engineering
Haylie Chan, secretary, document control centre
Yvonne Lo, maintenance and operation engineer
Helena Chow, manager, training & development Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers
Photo: Wallace Chan

Top hotelier first to obtain internationally recognised certification in Hong Kong

Behind all the glamour of every five-star hotel is an engineering department working non-stop to ensure a seamless operation, ensuring customers experience the ultimate in convenience and comfort during their stay.

Recently, the engineering department at Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers, a member of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc, was awarded the ISO 9001 certification for exceptional management — the first hotel in Hong Kong to obtain the distinguished accreditation.

Sheraton's success did not happen overnight, however. The ISO certification is the result of tireless effort, determination and collaborative teamwork. "The whole process of certification has taken about three years. It involved substantial preparatory work, through which we demonstrated a commitment to exceeding customer expectations and conforming to regulatory requirements consistently. In particular, we have established, documented, implemented and maintained a quality management system and will enhance its effectiveness in accordance with changing requirements," explains Janaka Wijayawardana, Sheraton Hong Kong's director of engineering. "Standards provide the direction and benchmarks for quality products and services so that ultimately, customer satisfaction can be enhanced."

No compromise

A consultant was appointed to assist the department with the ISO certification process while an ISO team led the project. As the exhaustive audit process began, the team aligned departmental practice with the ISO standards in performance improvement, documentation, training, and financial and economic considerations. "The role of the consultant was one of guidance rather than instruction. We engaged our staff as much as possible in the process, so they could develop a sense of ownership in the hotel. More importantly, this greatly facilitated overall knowledge transfer," Mr Wijayawardana adds.

Inevitably there were obstacles along the way, according to Haylie Chan, secretary, document control centre. "One of the challenges in the course of ISO certification was uncertainty. We needed to play a supportive role with staff to help them adjust to the new standards," she recalls.

Yvonne Lo, a maintenance and operation engineer gives further details. She notes, "With the help of our consultant, we offered a training and awareness programme to involve staff and minimise resistance to change. The programme was organised into three parts: ISO awareness, implementation timeline and internal audit. Interestingly, mindset adjustment is one of the criteria of the ISO 9001 standard."

Mr Wijayawardana believes that seamless operations in the engineering department can contribute to greater business possibilities for the hotel. "We are confident our department will add value to the enterprise by embracing internationally recognised standards," he emphasises.

A class above

Sheraton Hong Kong currently employs 660 staff and prioritises staff training. "Our staff demonstrate the requisite skills, knowledge and attitude to work towards our common goal of 'building world class brands' (BWCB). To achieve this goal, we devote tremendous resources to staff training," says Helena Chow the hotel's training and development manager.

As such, regular in-house training, focusing on different areas, for example, customer service, emotional intelligence and personal development are organised. Additionally, the hotel sponsors specific external professional training in full, including courses related to welding, chillers, boilers, emergency generator testing and computer skills for its engineers.

Ms Chow remarks that the hotel's engineers also receive customer service training, "Sheraton is a global brand in the hospitality industry so customer service skills are important at every guest contact point, including technicians, carpenters and plumbers," she adds.

Subsidies are available to staff who pursue qualifications relevant to their individual positions. "To meet growing customer demands, we must see things from every perspective," says Ms Chow.

At Sheraton Hong Kong, a clear career blueprint is laid before members of the engineering department. Air-conditioning, electricity and mechanical technicians, plumbers and builders have the opportunity of promotion to supervisor and eventually senior supervisor following satisfactory performance and relevant qualifications. Duty engineer status is conferred on those who demonstrate effective skills and professional loyalty.

Relevant experience is an advantage when applying to work for Sheraton Hong Kong. However, the hotel welcomes talent from diverse backgrounds. "It is essentially an employer's job to nurture talent," concludes Mr Wijayawardana.


Taken from Career Times 15 February 2008
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