People working in the hotel industry never say no to their guests. "It's more about having the right mindset than following a norm," says Carmen Wong, executive housekeeper, Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay. "A hotel personnel's role entails more than just the responsibility to anticipate and entertain guest requests. Turning unfeasible requests into viable alternatives does more than exceed expectation. It projects a positive image to today's more discerning and sophisticated guests."
If this is the view of someone who never worked a day in her life before graduation, it explains the indisputable significance of Ms Wong's natural disposition to please. "When I left school in 1989, I had not the faintest idea of which way to go so I studied a housekeeping service programme at the Vocational Training Council," she says. After that, her career choice was clear.
It follows that Ms Wong became a room attendant of Holiday Inn Golden Mile, a member hotel of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), and worked her way up steadily.
She reached the top of her profession five years ago when she was invited to join the pre-opening team of Holiday Inn Express as executive housekeeper. "I never thought I'd stay this long in the industry but when you become part of a reputable hotels group that has more than 4,000 properties across the globe, you know there must be something in it for you," says Ms Wong, who was also made an IHG ambassador, modelling for a portfolio of group marketing and communication materials.
Early last year, Ms Wong celebrated her 20th year with the IHG. The occasion coincided with a secondment opportunity to Taiwan where she assisted with the pre-opening of the group's first Holiday Inn Express in the booming city. "Our regional general manager oversees IHG properties in Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and Zhuhai so when I was presented the opportunity I thought it natural to take it," she says. "The experience was more than worthwhile."
Another good turn awaited her here at home and this time it was the launch of Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay, the first of the Crowne Plaza brand in town. "Part of my job is to build our brand standards and make sure all new housekeeping staff will be on the same page," she notes, adding that nothing beats the challenge of assembling a new team.
"You need to keep your colleagues up to speed with things, listen to them and show a lot of respect along the way," she advises. "Success in this regard gives you great satisfaction."
Spick and span
Unashamedly, Ms Wong discloses that she prefers online games to household chores. At work, however, it is a very different story. In her current capacity, she manages staff matters alongside the operation of the entire housekeeping department, making sure that the hotel's laundry room and the linen room function to their maximum capability, and that guest rooms and public areas remain sparkling clean.
Recalling her first days at work, she is only too proud to say that she never shied away from guest interaction. "A housekeeper must be adept at dealing with people from all cultures and social backgrounds," she says. "I started a quiet person but my work offered me the best chance to get my hands dirty. In other words, it's the best training. I've gained so much confidence and competence, also thanks to the group's training and development programmes. Later in my career, there were also times that I had the opportunity to learn about general management from my predecessors," she remarks.
Operating around the clock like many other hotel departments and outlets, staff in the housekeeping department are required to work shifts. "Some of my colleagues prefer shift duty because it makes it easier for them to accommodate family obligations or study plans," she observes. For this reason, Ms Wong needs to stretch her nine-to-six daily schedule at times to carry out routine tasks like onsite spot-checks. "It is essential that I also take the opportunity to praise good performance," she says.
Laymen might be put off by the prospects of constant cleaning and scrubbing but Ms Wong says that there is more than meets the eye in a housekeeping job; and guarantees that guest rooms are tidier and cleaner than most households. "It may freak you out if your friends tell you that they clean their toilets and replace their towels and bed linen everyday," she points out. "People shouldn't label housekeepers as cleaners even though the bulk of our duties involve cleaning. We deliver service so that guests can enjoy their stay and the hotel will run smoothly."
Regardless of misperceptions, she believes housekeeping is a viable career choice for young people. "You just need to know the job and then you can excel in it. The important thing is to take that initial step and make an effort. You'll find yourself on the way up the top floor before you realise it," she states.