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Holiday Spirit at the Holiday Inn Aqua City


Holiday Spirit at the Holiday Inn

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Holiday Inn is part of the British InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). It is one of the world's largest hotel chains with 3,414 hotels and over 400,000 rooms globally. Currently in China, Holiday Inn operates 85 hotels and is continuing to expand rapidly within the Chinese market.

Recently, Tianjin Plus had a chance to sit down with the newly appointed General Manager of the Holiday Inn at Aqua City, Kelvin Mah. Mr. Mah, a Malaysian born Chinese gentleman, has had a long and successful career within the hotel industry. He shared with us a candid insight into his past and also gave a vivid picture of what life is like as a GM in this demanding industry.

Please tell our readers a little bit about your background- including how you got started in the hospitality industry.

In my younger days, I would travel during the summer holiday with my family. On these family outings we would travel and, of course, stay at hotels. I remember seeing the employees at the hotel wearing fancy suits and thinking to myself, this line of work seems quite prestigious and interesting. This gave me a long lasting first impression of what it was like to work at a hotel. Later when I went to university, many of my classmates and friends wanted to concentrate their studies in accounting. My father, who was a successful accountant for many years, knew my personality, strengths and abilities quite well. He warned me, "Find another industry that interests you. If you choose to become an accountant, you will make me bankrupt!" I took his words seriously and considered other opportunities. I had some other classmates who convinced me to join the hotel management course. I started taking courses on hotels and catering, and found them quite interesting. I have now been working in this industry for 12 years.

Can you run us through what a typical day as general manager is like at the Holiday Inn Tianjin Aqua City?

I typically wake up at 7 am and come down from my room around 7:45. The first thing I will do is go to my back office and start checking new e-mails and looking at the results from the previous evening, occupancy rates and other important figures. After looking over the figures I will do my rounds around the hotel, making sure that everyone and everything is ready to seize the day. Around lunchtime I might meet up with some clients and eat lunch with them, otherwise I will have lunch with my colleague in the staff cafe. During the afternoon I will usually be engaged in various meetings with different departments within the hotel. In the late afternoon I will do another set of rounds that will take me 45 minutes or so. During this time I will make sure that the restaurant is clean and restocked.. Around 6 I will go back to my office and start planning and preparing what I will do the next day; creating checklists, responding to e-mails, and completing other paperwork. I will normally finish this at about 8-8:30 at which point I will finally have my dinner.

Tell us about your previous experience of working in China? Of the places in China you have worked in, which was your favourite and why?

My first encounter with China was back in 1999 when I was sent to work in Harbin. After that, I went back to Malaysia for about seven years. I came back to China to work in Macau from 2008 to 2011, and then I spent a year in Shenyang. Finally I came to Tianjin just a couple of months ago. My favourite place was of course Macau. It is a vibrant city that never sleeps! Also, although I was born in Malaysia, my ancestors are from southern China. So the southern lifestyle; the way of eating, communicating, etc. is quite similar to life back home in Malaysia. I really like working in Tianjin. People from the north of China are very straight forward and will express how they feel on their face and with their words; making communication easier. People in the south tend to be more reserved and ’hide’ their true feelings and opinions about the matter at hand.

What do you feel has been the biggest challenge with regards to living and working in China?


I think the biggest challenge of working in China is to fully understand China and the culture. If you are a newcomer to this country, you will need to spend a lot of time and effort in order to learn about Chinese culture and the way of doing business here. As a manager, it is crucial to fully understand these cultural differences- not only to be successful, but also to avoid potentially offending your staff.

Another main challenge has to do with staffing. Because the industry is growing so fast we are continually short on staff. Even though we are able to recruit new employees, we need to spend a lot of time educating and training them. And because the industry is expanding rapidly, the moment you have adequately trained certain people, they will take another job.

Can you comment on the growing demand for hotels in the Chinese market?


The hotel industry has been growing in China at an incredible rate. The latest reports show that China will account for more than 50% of the growth within the Asian hotel industry over the next three years. IHG is looking to open over 150 hotels in China within the next 2-3 years. However, despite all these numbers, the world economy and China's economy are starting to slow down and we are seeing some cities where the hotel market is over-saturated. Tianjin is one of those markets- especially within the luxury five star hotel segment. Within the next year or so the Four Seasons, Banyon Tree, another Crown Plaza, Shangri-La, and the Ritz Carlton will open in Tianjin. This means that this market is going to get even tougher! I think that the hotels that will be the most profitable over the next few years will be the hotels in the 3 to 4 star range. These hotels that offer high quality and a reasonable price will better match the demand within China.

How do you feel about living in Tianjin? Do you have a favorite place in the city?


I think Tianjin is a nice city that is clean, energetic, and has its own unique character..

Actually I have not been to many places in Tianjin but the place I have found the most enjoyable is the Italian Style Town. The area really gives you a sense of being in Europe, while at the same time having some Chinese elements such as the people and music. This gives you an interesting east meets west feeling. Also, the food and the German beer that they serve are quite excellent!

What do you do in your spare time to relax?


On the weekends I get out of the hotel and explore Tianjin in order to relax my mind. On most weekends I will try to play a round of golf. I also like to drive around the city and explore new places and understand where the major landmarks are in relation to the hotel.


 

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