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Spirit of adventure

Published on Friday, 04 Oct 2013
Eric Waldburger
Photo: Berton Chang

As Marco Polo Hotels expands in Asia, it encourages its staff to be bold and curious in what they do

After opening hotels in Cebu and Davao, Marco Polo Hotels (MPH) is getting ready to open its third property in the Philippines, with a new hotel in Manila due to commence operations in the first quarter of 2014.

Eric Waldburger, president of MPH, says that for an international hotel brand to be successful, its properties have to fit in with local culture. “When an outside brand is entering a new market, it must be proactive in adapting to local culture. International brands need to bear in mind that they are the visitors and they need to observe and respect local cultures and customs. A business can only be successful if it gets the support from the community,” he says.

Just as important for the hotel industry, he adds, is that government policy – especially in Asia – supports and promotes tourism. “In order to capitalise on the increasing opportunities that come with the fast-paced development of countries such as the mainland and India, governments around the globe must focus on supporting the tourism industry, especially in areas such as infrastructure development and travel-policy advancement,” he says.

In recent years, an influx of mainland tourists has spearheaded the growth of Hong Kong’s hotel industry. Hotel occupancy rates have stayed at high levels and new hotels have opened across the city. Waldburger predicts that this is a situation that will continue in the near future, but advises that it is always wise to think ahead. “The market is ever-changing. It is a blessing that we are doing well with mainland tourists, but someday it is likely to cool off somewhat, just like the huge Japanese tourist boom in the 1980s did. It is not advisable to put all the eggs in one basket,” he says.

Even now, affluent mainland tourists that travel for shopping are becoming more brand conscious and are increasingly choosing Europe or the US as alternative destinations. As such, MPH in Hong Kong is actively looking for business from other destinations. “To be successful in this business, one needs to be flexible and always look out for new opportunities,” Waldburger says.

Although the global economy remains subdued, Waldburger says MPH’s business performance is stable. “We don’t see a major decrease in terms of business, as our guests are mainly business travellers from the Asia-Pacific region,” he says.

Meanwhile, the boom of the hotel business on the mainland, he says, has led to keen competition for talent. “The overall demand for talent is a challenge across the hotel industry. It is not about specific positions, but more in terms of talent supply in different regions. In Hong Kong, our turnover is within the market range, but on the mainland, where hotel expansion is constant, it has become very competitive to recruit and retain talent,” he says.

Managerial talent is the hardest to recruit. “Managerial skill sets take more time to learn as managers need to split their time between daily operations and team management. For general line staff, the skills training is not as difficult and does not take as much time,” Waldburger says.

That is not to say that it is easy to find frontline people with the right attributes and skills. Waldburger says that MPH invests large amounts of money and time into training staff. As a result, however, MPH staff become very attractive to other hotel operators, and even other service industries.

Therefore, to retain and attract talent, MPH ensures that its employees know that they have good opportunities for career advancement within the hotel group. “We have defined a career path within Marco Polo Hotels that looks at employees from the entry level all the way up to general managers. At each stage we will offer the appropriate training and developmental opportunities,” Waldburger says.

Staff must complete 32 hours of training annually, either internally or through external providers, in addition to on-the-job training. “We look at a blended learning approach which includes classroom training, practical exercises, special assignments, cross-training and e-learning. Each property has a dedicated hotel trainer, along with designated departmental trainers, that provide training that is both mandated by Marco Polo Hotels and property-specific,” Waldburger says.

Waldburger has noticed that many fresh graduates find it challenging when they first get started in the industry because school life is very different to working life. “This is why it is crucial for hotels to be able to provide guidance to newcomers. The working culture at Marco Polo Hotels is to mentor and nurture associates to succeed. When the employee has performed well, he or she will be recognised. We are keen on promoting our own people, and this is how we keep our turnover rate low. If an employee is not 100 per cent ready for promotion, but we see that he or she is passionate to learn, we will give them the chance to take on the promoted role. Then we will help guide him or her to success,” he says.

Showing employees that they have bright prospects ahead is the key to keeping them loyal. “Our performance-appraisal process looks at not just the performance, but also the current development needs that will help the employee to be the best in their job,” Waldburger says.

Giving staff the opportunity to work in other hotels within the group is a key feature of developing talent. “The hotel business is about travel and adventure. We encourage our employees to be curious and adventurous to try new things and be bold in what they do. One of the highlights for our employees going through any customised management programme is that they have the choice to be mobile and be given the opportunity to work in different countries,” Waldburger says.


FIND YOUR FEET IN FARAWAY LANDS

Eric Waldburger shares what he believes international brands need to do to thrive in a new market

Embrace local culture “Take the initiative to blend in with local customs and traditions.”
Be flexible “Always look out for new business opportunities.”
Get the support of locals “Build working relationships with established local partners.”
Understand your clientele “Identify with and listen to your internal and external customers.”


 

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