Five-star experiential experience

by Charles Mak

Ainslie Cheung, director of communications, InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan

Ongoing efforts in service enhancement and staff development help top Hong Kong hotel maintain competitive edge

To many leisure and business travellers, simply checking into a five-star hotel in Hong Kong is a guarantee of an enjoyable stay. But to maintain such a world-class reputation, hoteliers must constantly keep upgrading services and facilities.

The Hong Kong hotel industry has experienced rapid growth during the past five years. Ainslie Cheung, director of communications, InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong bears witness. "In 2001, there were 98 hotels offering approximately 42,000 rooms. By the end of 2006, there were 126 hotels and 51,000 rooms." Mr Cheung adds, "However, no matter how competitive the market becomes, such widespread growth is good news for the hotel and tourism industry. This confidence in the industry's future is all the more remarkable when it is considered that just a few years ago some hotels suffered significantly from the Asia financial crisis in terms of both occupancy and revenue."

To win in the increasingly competitive market, the 578-room luxury hotel offers not only the best harbour view, but also an "experiential experience" that exceeds all expectations.

"In general, guests look for a number of things in a hotel: a comfortable bed, superior food and beverages, security and so on — everything that a five-star hotel can provide," says Mr Cheung. "To make a difference, it's all about the experience; and the experience comes down to people. We want our staff to care deeply about our guests. By closing the distance between the guests, our staff can give them a feeling of being at home. Our frontline staff are always getting positive feedback for doing that."

Winning strategy

Services and facilities can be copied but an experience cannot, Mr Cheung notes. To create such an "experiential experience", the hotel has designed and will launch a series of special packages. These include personal shopping trips and private cruises around Victoria Harbour. "We want to offer authentic and enriching experiences to our guests so they will go home and talk about it to their families and friends. This is a unique concept," he says. Staff at the concierge desk are also trained to give tourist information to guests.

Among many sales and marketing campaigns, the hotel is set to attract tourists from the Middle East during the summer. "We will also keep flying in guest chefs from all around the world and launch initiatives such as promoting the 'slow-food movement' at the hotel's Italian restaurant The Mistral. This will give our guests something to talk about after their holidays," says Mr Cheung.

Today, the Internet has a huge impact on the hotel industry. A growing number of hotels use it as a global marketing tool and a sales channel. Mr Cheung stresses that online booking can be an effective way of getting business. As a result, he expects online portals to transform. "They are already becoming more person- and destination-oriented, instead of being just a simple introduction about the hotel. This again will help create expectation towards what potential guests will experience," he says.

Employer brand

Mr Cheung emphasises that the hotel's success doesn't just lie in the infrastructure or top-notch guest facilities. "Our biggest assets are our people," he says. "We can't differentiate ourselves simply on the facilities. We take a 360-degree people management approach and make sure that staff understand how the hotel looks after them and how they are enabled to look after one another."

Last year, the hotel recorded a low staff turnover rate of just 20 per cent — five per cent less than the market average. "Hotel employees today are looking for more than just monetary rewards. They want personal growth opportunities," Mr Cheung adds.

Besides a two-week orientation and on-the-job training for new recruits, all levels of staff receive an extra week's training every year. "We have one of the most highly-charged training departments in town, using a newly furnished training centre with a range of learning facilities," he says.

Each year, the hotel takes on a few management trainees. Experienced managers can also expect overseas management training and attachment opportunities at one of the hotel's sister properties outside Hong Kong. "We can even attract talents who didn't originally think of tapping into the hotel industry," says Mazy Cheng, the hotel's HR manager. "We also recruit from all over the world. In fact, our new F&B manager is from Singapore. Some of our front-line staff are from Egypt, Austria, Germany and Japan. People want to work with InterContinental. That gives us an edge in the recruitment market."

Mr Cheung believes that attitude and personal character are immensely important for those in the business. "Our staff must care for our guests and have a genuine passion for their jobs." Ms Cheng agrees, adding that work experience and academic qualifications in disciplines such as hotel management are always an advantage, although she believes these only come second.

"We have the right products and the right training for the right people," Mr Cheung concludes. "Besides maintaining a prominent position in the local hotel industry, we also adhere to our role as a preferred employer."

In 2006

  • Overall visitor arrivals to Hong Kong increased by 8.1 per cent to 25.25 million
  • Increase of around 30 per cent in arrivals to conventions and exhibitions
  • Tourist spending topped HK$117 billion
  • Top-tariff hotel occupancy rates reached 85 per cent
  • Hotel room supply increased by 7.4 per cent
Source: Hong Kong Tourism Board

Taken from Career Times 26 January 2007
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