Shangri-La was the name chosen by writer James Hilton for the mythical Himalayan paradise which was the setting for his legendary novel Lost Horizon. The people living there were largely cut off from the rest of the world and enjoyed tranquility, sufficiency and great personal well-being.
While the chances of being isolated like that may be next to impossible in the modern world, one international hotel group, which adopted the same name, aims to create an environment in which guests can still experience something special. Whether their stay is for relaxation, business, special events or conferences, the objective of all staff is to provide comfort, efficiency and a level of service which help to deflect everyday concerns.
With over 10 years' experience with the group, Angela Fan, director of events management for the Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong, is more than familiar with the standards required. "Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be in the hotel industry," she says. "I used to travel overseas with my father and had the chance to stay at different hotels around the world. I was always most impressed by the places which tried hard to make you feel special."
The satisfaction comes from seeing the smiles of customers
In her current position, Ms Fan is responsible for overseeing marketing strategies, generating increased revenues, and ensuring smooth operations. "I had very good training in the sector by starting in the operations department and would recommend this for anyone who wants to gain experience quickly and work their way up," she says.
Ms Fan's first post in 1992 was as a front office agent for the Kowloon Shangri-La. From there, she was promoted to assistant manager of operations in 1995. "At that time, there was a lot of contact with guests as I was handling customer enquiries and dealing with frontline functions such as the check-in and check-out procedures," she explains. She then took on a series of roles in meeting services and events management before being appointed assistant director of events management.
This involved organising seminars, conferences, theme parties, charity events, and welcome dinners for visiting Chinese dignitaries. In July this year, she was transferred within the group to her current position which involves supervising around 15 staff.
While advancing in her career, Ms Fan also completed a number of distance learning diplomas and an associate degree in hospitality management. Her motto is to always exceed personal goals. "Self-assessment is essential for driving for better performance," she says.
Within the hotel business, new recruits often start in front office jobs to gain experience and give them a chance to assess which departments they might prefer to move into. "Someone who wants to succeed must have good knowledge of how the hotel works," Ms Fan says. "They should have a positive and outgoing personality, as well as the patience to deal with people from different cultural backgrounds."
Degree courses or educational attainments are not the main consideration when recruiting. "It's more important that candidates can demonstrate the right attitude. Hospitality-related courses are an advantage, but we do provide complete on-the-job training," Ms Fan explains.
She adds that there are opportunities for fresh graduates from all academic disciplines to enter the hotel industry. Their chances are improved if they can show leadership and interpersonal skills, and an interest in sales. Good language ability is also a must because staff come into contact with international guests from so many different countries. "We also look for people who are able to think out of the box," Ms Fan says, adding that future career development depends on aptitude and performance.
She explains that some of her projects take a full year to complete, but that each presents its own challenge. Handling them requires excellent teamwork and close coordination with colleagues from many other departments. "It is a very rewarding job and the satisfaction comes from seeing the smiles of customers, as well as getting their positive feedback," Ms Fan says.
Ms Fan says that the hotel industry is expanding rapidly in mainland China and that there are always openings for staff who are interested in accepting transfers. "The opportunities are certainly there, since there are many more business and leisure travellers visiting China and more multinational companies are organising their corporate events in mainland hotels. With more tourists also coming from the mainland to Hong Kong, it is really a win-win situation," she says.
Staff who have been trained in Hong Kong are therefore in a strong position to take advantage of the current boom, but should plan their moves carefully.