"I want to be a tourist when I grow up," the 14 year-old Olivier Heuchenne told his parents when growing up in Cyprus. Studying Greek, English and French, young Heuchenne was already on his way to becoming a proficient linguist and wanted a career where he could put his languages to work, travel the world, meet people and never have to sit at a desk working a nine-to-five job. It looks like he got his wish.
More than just a tourist, Mr Heuchenne has been able to establish a successful career with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and also travel the world, making his line of work sound like a whole lot of fun.
Climbing the ladder
Mr Heuchenne began his career in hotel management by earning a Bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Denver in the US. The undergraduate programme provided a foundation of business knowledge and skills along with a major in hotel, restaurant and tourism management and, most importantly, one thousand hours of practical work experience. Armed with his diploma, Mr Heuchenne was ready to take on the hotel industry and immediately set a very high goal for himself - to be a general manager.
''Unlike rooms, [food and beverage] was more fun, creative, unpredictable, flexible and exciting''
At the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Hawaii he was initiated into the world of hotel management. "On my first day on the job I showed up in a suit and tie and very shortly ended up in polyester chef's pants, shirt and a cap," he laughs. Management training in the hotel business meant starting at the bottom and learning the ropes. He started out on the rooms-side of the house working in various departments including housekeeping, night auditing, concierge and front desk.
Food and beverage is where he found his calling. "Unlike rooms, it was more fun, creative, unpredictable, flexible and exciting," Mr Heuchenne explains. This area became the focus of his career. Whether it is rooms, sales, food and beverage, accounts or some other course, his advice to young professionals entering the field of hotel management is to decide which direction they want to take and excel in it.
Twelve years ago, Mr Heuchenne was selected to join The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. "You can have the best looking hotel, however, service without warmth is arrogance. At The Ritz-Carlton we strive to make our guests feel at home and we create magic for them," he says. The staff makes the difference at this hotel chain. "When you work at The Ritz-Carlton you are a part of a family. When I started working here I wasn't just a number in the company. I was Olivier."
He lives by the company motto: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. "It's exactly what I thought the hospitality industry would be," he adds.
Working as an assistant cafe manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Mauna Lani in Hawaii, Mr Heuchenne handled everything from room service to managing breakfast and dinner and eventually moved on to banquet services.
He continued his journey by moving to California and working at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. Initially, he worked in banqueting and was also exposed to outside catering. He then joined the conference services side of the business, where he put his food and beverage background to work and learned the art of sales.
His next stop was Cancun, Mexico. At the Ritz-Carlton resort on the Mexican Riviera Mr Heuchenne worked as the assistant food and beverage director and realised just how much he missed working in restaurants. Working from 10 am to midnight, he relished his new role and enjoyed customer contact.
Then it was time to leave the Americas for Asia. At The Ritz-Carlton, Millennia Singapore, he had to shift gears from running a beach resort to a busy city property.
Working at different hotel properties has presented interesting challenges for Mr Heuchenne, requiring him to adapt to new people, cultures, languages and ways of doing business. Hong Kong is the latest destination on Mr Heuchenne's itinerary. Working as the executive assistant manager - food and beverage at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, he is well on his way to meeting his goal of becoming a general manager.
Job opportunities abound in the hospitality industry in China. Hotels, restaurants, and suppliers are increasing in number coupled with a growth in the wine and beer industry. The current inventory of five-star hotels in China is not extensive, however, development of luxury hotels continues. The potential is unlimited, especially in Shanghai and Beijing, according to Mr Heuchenne. The Ritz-Carlton is operating a hotel in Shanghai and developing one in Beijing.
For those that want a change of pace and an opportunity to work in a different environment, Mr Heuchenne recommends considering a move to the mainland.