Five-star service starts with a heartfelt interest in the wellbeing of guests. This is the firm belief of hospitality veteran Alison Yau. Having joined the sector as a hotel receptionist at the age of 17, Ms Yau is now the director of business development for Rhombus International Hotels Group and general manager of Rhombus Fantasia Chengdu Hotel, Rhombus' new flagship hotel in mainland China.
Reflecting on a career spanning about 18 years, Ms Yau says, "My goal has always been to ensure that visitors to Hong Kong enjoy a happy and meaningful experience." Even as a teenaged student, she had a real passion for the industry. She has a master's degree in hotel and tourism management from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and over the years had gained diverse hotel experience in roles ranging from waitress, cashier and sales and marketing account manager to rooms division manager. These stints provided her with extensive and valuable customer-service exposure.
The big turning point came five years ago, when Ms Yau met the founder and CEO of Rhombus International Hotels Group, Calvin Mak, during an encounter at work. This led to a new chapter in her career. She joined Rhombus in 2005 and has since spent three years as general manager of Hotel LKF by Rhombus in Central, working long hours during the pre-opening stage, as well as on daily operations once the hotel became established as a top hospitality provider.
Two years ago, Ms Yau was offered the position of general manager of the hip, five-star, all-suite Rhombus Fantasia Chengdu Hotel, due to open in the heart of Chengdu's business district early next year. Over the past months, her duties have included overseeing the various aspects of the hotel's pre-opening, monitoring the construction process, setting up policies and procedures, recruitment and training, sales and marketing, and communicating with the hotel's owners.
"On any typical day, I may be involved in team meetings and liaising with the mainland media and authorities, as well as with our colleagues in Hong Kong. Hiring and interviews form an important part of my job, since I try to ensure that every new recruit shares our common goal," Ms Yau points out. "My work doesn't end when I go home at the end of the day. In the evenings, I spend time promoting the hotel via online social networks."
With the hotel due to open in early 2012, Ms Yau is also heavily involved in hospitality training in Chengdu. Working with the local government, various chambers and a number of local universities, the company has launched a Future Young Hoteliers programme to groom new talent for the industry. "Frankly, hospitality isn't a hugely popular career choice on the mainland at this stage, so one of my aims is to help revamp the profession through education and using our hotel's professionalism as a catalyst," she notes.
When it comes to aspiring young hoteliers in Hong Kong, an academic background in tourism is desirable, but most important is a positive attitude towards customer service, she says, adding that other essential attributes include the ability to work hard and operate as part of a team, a passion for learning and good English and Mandarin skills. Since promotional activities in the sector are becoming increasingly sophisticated and imaginative, it also helps to be creative.
There are plenty of opportunities for young people keen on joining the sector, since the labour supply in tourism and hotel management remains insufficient, especially on the mainland, Ms Yau points out. In addition, a number of hotels are expected to open or expand over the next few years, which will create even more demand for managerial talent.
Mainland China's burgeoning tourism industry is another driver for growth and aspiring hotel workers should concentrate on expanding their perspectives and skills to tap into this market.
Ms Yau views the upcoming opening of the Rhombus Fantasia Chengdu Hotel as a major highlight of her career. "I enjoy the hard work and treasure the chance to pursue my dream. Sometimes I feel that my boss is the one holding the string of the kite and I'm the one running after it. I know I'll succeed as long as I conduct the chase with passion and discipline. I see it as a gift that I've been given the chance to create something from nothing and, in the process, to contribute to the development of our motherland's hospitality sector."
Young candidates wanting to enter the industry should focus on their long-term career prospects and be committed to ongoing learning, Ms Yau advises. "Don't chase money; let money chase you," she says, quoting Rhombus founder Mr Mak, whom she regards as her mentor. "We all start out as nobodies, and it takes at least five years to really understand the basics. Work hard and your efforts will eventually pay off."
Taken from Career Times 21 October 2011, B8