Marketing Their Way to the Top.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Saturday, 27th February 2010
There's a new breed of general managers in town and they have risen from the ranks of sales and marketing, as Yeoh Siew Hoon discovers.

SEVeNth Lounge at Lan Kwai Fong Hotel

I was sitting at 32 Wyndham, a new restaurant and bar in Central, Hong Kong, right opposite the rather fancy-looking Hotel LKF – notice how everything trendy these days is reduced to numbers and alphabets – and reflecting on how much more interesting the hospitality scene is these days.

Across me and sipping on a rather suspicious-looking greenish non-alcoholic cocktail was Rebecca Kwan, general manager of Lan Kwai Fong Hotel. I had actually mistaken Hotel LKF for hers but she says, "Mine has the full spelling."

It can get confusing for the customer because when you google "LKH Hotel Hong Kong", both hotels come up on the first page and one listing has "Lan Kwai Fong – Hotel LKF", just to make things more interesting.

But once you know, you know.

Rebecca (pictured right) is one of the new generation general managers that are popping up in Asia. She comes from a sales and marketing background, she's worked her way up in a big chain – Ritz-Carlton – and often to make the move or break into operations, folks like her often have to move out of a chain into a more independent environment.

Addison Wong is another example. I've known Addison through most of his career, first at Westin, then at Marriott where he had a marketing role for nearly two decades. And now he's opening the Yue Shanghai Hotel, described as a "HIP" (Highly Individual Place).

Yue and Lan Kwai Fong Hotel are owned by Far East Consortium, which manages hotels under Dorsett Hotel Management Services. Both are part of WORLDHOTELS.

Rebecca tells me it's a bit of a trend these days – sales and marketing people being approached to become general managers of smaller, non-branded hotels.

In the past, I recall when sales and marketing professionals wanted to make the move into operations, it was often difficult within the same company. Then, you had to go down to go up, if you get what I mean. These days, with the maturity of the hotel business and more independents entering the market, it has become easier for younger, local marketers to make their next career move.

Rebecca tells me it's been a great learning experience for her the last four years, as she picked up new skills about operations. But most of her time is still spent on sales and marketing. "It's still about filling rooms – that's the basic job."

There's a natural fit really between having a sales and marketing background, being an independent, non-branded hotel and the changes taking place in the marketing landscape.

The Internet has empowered smaller businesses to scale their reach and these sales and marketing professionals have the skills and, more importantly, the aptitude to adapt to the rapid changes in marketing and distribution.

In many ways, they have the advantage over the more traditional general managers who have come up through food & beverage and operations when it comes to adapting to the new marketing landscape.

Of course, they may not have the skills of operations or the knowledge of food & beverage but times have changed and, if you are a good leader, you know how to cover up for your weaknesses.

Asked how he was adapting to being a general manager, Addison says it's about getting the basics right as well. It's not that complicated, he adds. "You must make sure the rooms are tidy and clean, provide good service and good food & beverage and do that all with a smile."

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com

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