Career Path

Trendsetter in working in China

by Ella Lee

Hotel General Manager
Benedict Chow
General Manager
Harbour Plaza North Point Hong Kong

Working in the hotel industry in China has always been a popular route to success for Hong Kong talent, as the country offers expatriates better opportunities for gaining experience and a faster track for promotion than Hong Kong.

But Benedict Chow, General Manager of the Harbour Plaza North Point Hong Kong is a definite trendsetter. He moved to China as early as 1984, just a few years after the mainland opened up its doors after the Cultural Revolution, and worked in hotels around the country for 18 years.

He resigned from his position as Reservation Manager in The Regent Hotel in Hong Kong and accepted an offer to work with the pre-opening team in the Garden Hotel which subsequently became a landmark in Guangzhou. Mr. Chow recalls: "It was a personal challenge, a new life experience and, actually, a promotion."

Chain of success

A series of success stories followed, as Mr. Chow joined several hotels managed by international hotel chains, including the Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing and the Sheraton Hua Ting in Shanghai. In 1991 he was appointed as General Manager of the Sheraton Guilin and in the following year the hotel obtained the Guilin Tourism Bureau's Best Service Award. Following that, he managed the Sheraton Tianjin and the Harbour Plaza Kuming, leading them to successfully upgrading from four-star to five-star rating.

As China developed over the years, the challenges of managing a hotel also changed. In the 80's the main issue was sourcing material. Hotels even imported tissue, toilet paper and stationery to guarantee the product quality. Since the early 90's, human resources have become the main concern. Mr. Chow explains: "With more job opportunities available from an increasing number of foreign enterprises, the hotel industry is not as popular as before among local talent."

"Continue to work hard and add value. It's a long-term commitment to your lifelong career."

Paradigm change

The hotel industry in Hong Kong has been undergoing rapid changes. Companies are striving to revive from the stagnation caused by the global economic recession. Mr. Chow says: "In the past, we just needed to focus on internal operations. But in these hard times, we have to think about proactive business strategy, strengthen the sales and marketing and keep pace with technological changes, incorporating all these elements into the hotel business."

As a result, industry professionals are also required to become more flexible and versatile. "Multi-function is the point. It is a paradigm change. One should no longer be restricted to one's own specialty, but updated with a set of skills and able to take up more duties. That's the way to justify your value to the organization and enhace your personal value," says Mr. Chow.

On the long run, sound business knowledge is the most important for running a hotel successfully, according to Mr. Chow. "It requires a smart and experienced businessman, who can make profit and control costs," he explains adding that candidates with a pleasant and outgoing character are always preferred.

Practical experience

One can choose from a wide range of job opportunities in a hotel, including human resources, sales and marketing, finance, front office, housekeeping as well as food and beverage, depending on one's strength and interest.

Mr. Chow believes, experience is much more important for long-term career development than a hotel management degree. He says: "Fresh graduates should prepare for hard work, starting at the bottom, regardless of their qualifications." Long-term commitment is essential too. Mr. Chow says: "You must have an interest in and passion for your lifelong career, take ownership and be willing to work hard. There is no easy job in a hotel, but there are jobs with long and irregular hours and pressure from the quick pace."

Multi-lingual capability provides the edge for career development in the hotel industry. Mr. Chow says: "If you speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin as most people do in Hong Kong, it won't be enough to make you stand out, unless you can master a fourth language, a European language or Japanese."

China Opportunities

With the Olympics to be held in Beijing in 2008, the hotel industry is set for growth. However, it does not necessarily mean that there will be more opportunities for expatriates, predicts Mr. Chow. Mainland hotels have been localizing for some time, employing fewer expatriates to cut costs. While benefits and allowances for expatriates have been reduced, the salary difference between expatriates and local managers remains significant.

The middle management is already entirely made up by local talent, but there are senior executive positions for expatriates. Experience is always the reason for mainland hotels to employ expatriates, says Mr. Chow. "Also, some hotels may think it offers a better image to have expatriates in senior management level." As a result, it is rather unlikely for a local or overseas fresh graduate to find employment in mainland hotels.

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 23 August 2002, p. 32
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