Position title: Group Director of Project – Regal Hotels International
General Manager – Regal Hongkong Hotel
Company name: Regal Hongkong Hotel
When and why did you join the industry?
I joined the Hotel industry when I was 22 years old as a management trainee at Hilton in London. At that time the industry’s global profile was really just starting to explode and I wanted to join an industry where I could travel and see the world. Luxury hotels in the UK were very much located in London and it was to London that I headed for. Before long I had joined Hyatt International –a brand that was just developing the Grand Hyatt concept and so was very lucky to join a company that brought me quickly to Asia – ground zero in the explosion of hotels and resorts in the emerging cities and destinations of the fasting growing region of the world. Fortuitous timing – more by luck than design though.
What do you like most about your job?
The hotel business is a business model that includes many different revenue models under the same roof. Running a business operation with lodging, restaurants, spas and leasing can be very challenging. Add to that that there is a very interesting competitive dynamic with world-wide brands competing at the local level with local operators. Innovation within the industry is very dynamic and the shift that I have seen over the last twenty years has been tremendous. In twenty years’ time I foresee a similar shift happening. For an industry that seems at first very static – due to the nature of the permanent structure of hotels – this has been one of the pleasant surprises of working in hotels. As our customers’ lifestyle changes – so must our experience offering. There has been a convergence of design, entertainment, technology and leisure all driving dynamic change in both product and service.
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
In this high octane industry, with an abundance of fabulous entertainments, fancy restaurants and fast moving lifestyles, it is very easy for hoteliers to lose their health and footing. After many years it is my biggest achievement to have maintained a well-balanced lifestyle and in to be in good health both physically and mentally. There is a false glamour to this industry and it is very easy to be seduced by this glamour. Family is very much the anchor in my life. No matter what the pressures or challenge faced, it is my family that provide that sense of long term direction and mission.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
The best advice I have ever received was to leave a place having enriched the lives of team members and colleagues. Expanding the people capabilities matters far more than one-off policy or product improvements. Armed with an amazing people legacy a company’s long term performance is guaranteed. When I look around at the industry today I am proud to see many high flying executives who were once part of my leadership team. In some way I hope I had a positive influence on both their aspirations and confidence to embrace their vocation in this industry.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the industry?
I am not going to name specific people but rather the brands that have been great role models in shifting perceptions across the industry. Hyatt, my first overseas assignment, was a company first and foremost that believed in the training and development of people. They helped shift the relationship of team members out of the ‘unseen service provider’ mode into a more ‘experience provider’ mode. As a result they achieved great customer success. Of course they were not the only ones; the American brands in general have brought a new dynamic to the people product and the team culture of brands where team members are ever more challenged to express their mastery.
What can people expect from your company and what sets it apart from the rest?
Plentiful development plans are taking place in the Regal Hotels International group (RHI). I believe RHI will continue to broaden its hotel categories on offer and provide more choice across the lifestyle aspiration for different customer profiles visiting Hong Kong. As for Regal Hongkong Hotel, we as the flagship of the group are very much engaged in pushing personal warmth as a differentiating factor. We genuinely want our customers to have a great experience in Hong Kong. Their hotel choice is critical to that experience and with hotel rating providers, like Trip Advisor, individual customer sentiment is very much part of every brand’s story. Each individual customer is part of our hotel narrative; as the saying goes – we really are only as good as our last stay!
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
Some 20 year ago I visited Vietnam. This was a great time to visit the place; less well travelled and unspoilt by mass tourism. It is a paradox I know working in an industry that all about opening up new destinations to mass tourism; nevertheless, I wish to see places that are still pretty much how they have been for generations. Africa is perhaps the place I would like to go while the wild beasts are still free to roam on the savannah.
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)?
One of my most memorable travel experiences was in Darjeeling, located in the North East of India, famous for its tea. Situated at the foothills of Himalayas and standing in the middle of a tea plantation – with no lights for many miles – it was so magical to view the sky at night. With so many visible stars one really feels the majesty of the universe – something you will never find in Hong Kong or any other city around the world for that matter.
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
I will bring my money of course, without it you will not be able to go far these days. Second, I will bring along recommendations from my friends who live or who have visited a particular place. Travel guide books are good, but I love to try things which only locals do which may not be included in guide books. Finally I always bring my camera. I love to look back at what amazing experiences I’ve had, people met and stunning places visited. As you hit your 50’s you are never sure if you will come back to a destination!
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
I’d love to go to Pebble Beach, a very famous golf course at California and if possible play a round with Tom Watson. He is a man who has amazing grace and humility on the golf course and I am sure would tolerate playing with a ‘Sunday hacker ‘like myself for a day.
What direction do you see the industry heading in over the next five to ten years?
I think we are going to see growing numbers of independent hotels and resorts – offering ever diverse lifestyle experiences. Far more boutique hotels with strong design elements will be built and more of an authentic family feel of service will be provided. Homestays will be marketed for their authenticity of rural experience.
In the branded arena Asia will start to launch its own global brands that will spread around the world – very much as the American chains did from the 60’s onwards. The Chinese business and leisure traveller will be the driving force behind this expansion. Time for hoteliers’, world-wide, to brush up on their Mandarin.
Peter Martin, Group Director of Project – Regal Hotels International