It is All About People

Floyd Cowan

  • 23-May-15

In the more than 10 years that I have been writing about the hospitality industry in Asia I have been fascinated by the extensive and rapid growth in the number of hotels, spas, bars and restaurants throughout Asia. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don't receive a press release or get a notice in one of the many newsletters that are sent to me that the opening of a new hotel or restaurant is announced.

With the increasing number of travellers there is a need for the great range of accommodation coming on line. The big challenge is finding the people to work in all these new facilities. The Singapore government has made it very clear that they believe the answer to a shortage of workers is for business to find new technologies and equipment that will reduce the need for a large work force. The trucking industry is doing its best by developing trucks that can drive themselves, but when I am in a romantic restaurant, maybe celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, I don't want to be served by a robot.

A well-trained waiter or waitress adds to the experience of dining out. Not only are they engaging, but they can make recommendations and answer your questions about the food being served. If you replace them, it becomes an entirely different experience - and not one that I want. 

Many of the new owners of restaurants, and the new managers, have worked in other areas of the restaurant. Owners have often been waiters or managers and then venture out on their own to become entrepreneurs operating their own f&b.

The position of General Manager of a hotel is unique. It requires a variety of skills, people skills and management skills. A general manager must have his finger on the pulse of every aspect of the operation - which means knowing how it works and how things should be done. I have seen a change in a hotel in less than a month when a new GM has taken the reigns.

I have met some truly exceptional GMs that understand their relationship in making a cold objective facility into a truly charming place for visitors to spend their holidays. Some of the very best managers have come up through the ranks, some working in the kitchen as their entry level job. The very best mechanical dishwasher is never going to become a hotel general manager.

For the many hotels springing up around Asia it is challenge enough to get enough people to change the sheets and clean the rooms. It becomes more and more challenging when you want to fill the middle and upper management positions. There are schools training people in hospitality, there are people working in the industry, but there is a gap between what is needed and what is available. In Singapore this has been added to because the government is limiting the number of foreigners who can work in these positions.

Travellers may or may not realize that their holiday has been affected by the quality of the people in the hotel or resort they are staying in. Sometime mediocrity is enough. You don't miss that person who is engaging and insightful, you get your meal and you get out. You don't miss that innovative manager who might have created a new and better experience when you are quite happy with the same old same old.

It is people that make the difference. I never thought Singapore or Singaporeans  would be satisfied with the mediocre.

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