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HOTEL Asia Pacific - the region's leading trade magazine for hospitality training, education and recruitment - has partnered with Cornell University and the School of Hotel & Tourism Management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Our regular columns on the challenges and opportunities of working in the industry are essential reading for hotel professionals at all levels. Whatever your career path, HOTEL Asia Pacific is just the job.


Do you have what it takes to reach the top of the hospitality ladder? Michael Podolinsky asks six industry leaders in Asia how they got where they are today - and identifies key characteristics essential for making it to the GM's desk.

HAVING WORKED WITH HOTELS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS as a vendor and then a consultant and trainer, I can usually spot the GM of a great hotel or resort. She or he is the one who is always there. In the restaurant, checking on food, chatting with guests and noticing the crooked signboard or the missed sprig of parsley. At poolside, the impeccably dressed figure in the suit breezing through and reminding the towel boys to bring water to the guests. In the lobby greeting guests and upstairs, supervising the photo shoot for the new drinks menu and in-room dining photos. The GM just seems to be everywhere.

How did this GM get to be a GM and what makes for a great GM? Rather than give you my opinion, I went straight to the horse's mouth and surveyed half a dozen GMs in Asia that I have grown to respect over the years.

The following is what they say makes a great GM, what their job involves and what training and background got them to where they are at today.

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Surreal, man!

A small property with a big attitude claims it has the most high-tech features of any hotel in the region.

FOR SUCH A SMALL HOTEL, THE LUXE MANOR IN KOWLOON MAKES A MIGHTY BIG CLAIM. The 159-room, self-proclaimed "designer boutique" property says it has the "most high-tech features of any hotel in the region" - not to mention its "abstract interiors" and "make-believe gatekeepers", whatever they might be.

Another gem of a paragraph from its gushing press release: "The new luxury hotel features a 'surreal' concept and design: a modern reinterpretation of a European mansion featuring mythical characters within its architecture and design elements which recall the works of the 20th-century surrealists."

It gets better: "Designed to appeal to a uniquely stylish segment of luxury leisure and business travellers, the 14-floor, 159-room property - in the buzzing dining and entertainment district of Knutsford Terrace in Tsim Sha Tsui - is to be where the surreal slumber.

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100m room-night barrier set to be broken via GDS

WORLDWIDE ELECTRONIC HOTEL REVENUE from the global distribution systems and key internet sites increased 13.7% over the second quarter of 2005, according to TravelCLICK's Quarterly eMonitor.

The number of electronic room nights booked for the second quarter increased 5.7% over the same time last year, while the average daily rate increased by 7.6%. The average length of stay was 2.12 nights, nearly the same as last year.

According to TravelCLICK:

  • Travel-agency room nights through the GDS will continue the growth trend surpassing 100 million room night by the end of 2006;
  • Bookings through GDS-powered internet sites will continue to decline as merchant programmes expand their reach globally and technology advancements make it easier for hotels to do business direct with online wholesalers;
  • The GDS will continue to be one of the highest ADR channels, tracking more than 30% higher than its internet counterparts; and
  • Top markets, including Hong Kong, will continue to trend with their respective economies while new fast-growth markets emerge in 2007, including Shanghai, Beijing, Delhi and Bangalore.

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Workers with attitude

IN ASIA'S GATEWAY CITIES, with new hotels springing up on almost every corner, the challenge is to recruit and retain the calibre of staff that will provide the graceful attention to detail and service experience that is described so eloquently in the promotional material. All too often a luxury hotel opens and although the design and the interiors are luxurious and no expense has been spared in selecting fabrics, marble and other fittings, when it comes to the people working there it would appear that the only function of the interview must have been to check for a pulse.

It's not only in Asia. The current hotel-building boom confirms that most of the world is experiencing sustained economic growth. Even in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, there are indications that the existence of a comfortable hotel provides assurance of a return to some sort of normality.

The recently opened Kabul Serena Hotel demonstrates that, for Afghanistan, such a haven of hospitality is a precious milestone and underpins the efforts for peaceful development. When things go bad, a hotel can be the last refuge for those caught up in the fighting.

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Navigating Legal waves

Today's hotelier plays an inherently internationalised game. Not only do guests come from the four corners of the Earth, but the contracts and laws governing their stay have become, necessarily, cross-border and cross-jurisdictional. A recent decision by a Hong Kong court, however, illustrates some of the legal difficulties this may create and acts as a cautionary tale for the unwary hotelier doing business in more than one country.

In March, a District Court judge handed down judgment on Star Cruises. A Hong Kong customer who had purchased passage to Shanghai was suing the cruise company.

The company was attempting to move proceedings to Malaysia based on standard contractual terms and conditions purporting that the contract was governed by the law of Malaysia and giving jurisdiction to the courts of Malaysia.

The question: was it possible to force a consumer to take up the case in a Malaysian court when the contract was made in Hong Kong, between two Hong Kong parties and to be carried out in the PRC?

Ultimately, the judge held that the consumer should not be forced to use the Malaysian courts as doing so would not only greatly add to the costs and inconvenience, and neither party had any link with Malaysia.

The company's head office was based in Hong Kong, and the actual link with Malaysia is indirect through its parent, the Genting Group based in Malaysia.

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REIT time for Asia?

Despite their success elsewhere, the region might not be ready for these investment vehicles.

There's an old adage - often quoted to those investing in hotels by those working in other forms of property investment such as residential, commercial office space, or industrial - which says: "Public markets don't like hospitality". It's not a new remark and it's one that's often mindlessly repeated. But, as there is a great deal of debate about Asia's readiness for real estate investment trusts (REITs), it's worth remembering that it's not only institutional investors who often get drawn into hospitality unprepared and end up disappointed - the more gullible retail public also often ends up losing out.

REITS need be neither more hazardous nor unprofitable as other form of property, but care must be taken - and investments made in the right ones. Hotel REITs are now a successful model of hospitality investment - but, to date, mostly elsewhere in the world.

They take a variety of forms and names in other parts of the world, where investors have long had the opportunity to indirectly hold stock in a portfolio of hotel or serviced-apartment properties with the hope of improved or familiar returns, or as part of a varied investment portfolio.

Many such investors are also comfortable with them as a way of sharing in the benefits that also apply to hotel owners because they see strong distribution of profits under those structures.

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Walk on the wild side

Mark Shuda, senior F&B director for Wyndham Worldwide, has put together a global wine programme designed to surprise and excite.

MOST TRAVELLERS ARE FAMILIAR with the Wyndham brand, but not everyone knows Wyndham Worldwide. How did Cendant acquire the brand?

Wyndham is a brand with a great heritage and a very loyal customer base, spanning the major demographics of business travellers as well as leisure and vacation guests. Cendant purchased Wyndham Hotels, which included about 80 franchise hotels and 18 managed hotels, as well as the worldwide rights to the Wyndham brand for hotel and timeshare development.

The new Wyndham operates as a distinct entity focused on three key areas: the brand; its managed hotels; and franchise development. Accelerated expansion and enhanced performance will be the keystones of the Wyndham strategic plan. We are aggressively working with our operators to optimise the return on their assets.

Wyndham Worldwide will now transition from a pure franchiser into a diversified management and franchise company for the first time in its 15-year history.

Because we are a global hospitality company and we intend to have both company-owned and managed, franchised properties, as well as the largest timeshare company in the world, we named the new company Wyndham Worldwide.

We already have franchisees around the world, and Asia - particularly China - is a key development target moving forward.

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