The Yum List chats with Hanley Chew about his latest publication, Hotel Tales, and some of his own stories from behind the scenes of the hotel industry.
How did you get into the hotel industry?
I got into the industry by accident. After graduation, I worked in a travel agency and a foreign airline company. I was in my mid-20s and at that stage in my life, I was proud and thought I knew everything. I started my own small company doing hotel reservations. Well, you guessed right. I was cheated by foreign travel agents who made bookings through my company but did not pay up. I lost all my savings and at that point, a good hotelier friend, Jalifah Fenner from Ramada Melaka asked if I wanted a job in Sandakan. I was not even sure where Sandakan was. I thought it was in Indonesia! I told her I would do anything and immediately jumped at the opportunity and worked at Renaissance Sandakan Hotel on 1 April 1994. The rest, as they say, is history.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
As a hotelier, we meet people from all walks of life. When hoteliers get together, we share so many stories and experiences we encounter with our guests and I thought it might be a great idea to compile these stories into a book. I tried many ways to get these stories from hoteliers, even providing them with a template to write on. This method yielded zero success and I now realize hotels do not like to write but are ever willing to share their stories if you will spend time and listen to them. I then changed my method by engaging them over coffee and let them pour out their stories and I will write them.
What’s the best & worst part of your job?
Best Part? People. Worst Part? People. In hotel operations, every day is indeed a new day. We meet all kinds of people; be it, guests or staff. I have learned to understand that everyone somewhat thinks they are different from others. And indeed they are! Our conventional way of training staff using SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) to handle guests are no more applicable as everyone should be treated differently. A simple smile can be perceived as good service for some easy guests but for others, even going out of your normal service standards is not good enough.
What’s the most memorable moment in your journey towards publishing Hotel Tales?
I must say the moment I heard the announcement that Hotel Tales is the first prize winner in the 2012 The Popular-Star Readers’ Choice Awards. I literally jumped off the chair in disbelief. My simple objective for the book was to share the “behind the hotel scenes” to hoteliers and non-hoteliers alike but to win a book award was out of my imagination.
The perfect day off would be…
A day in the life of a hotel entrepreneur is…
Looking calm at the hotel front while a storm is brewing at the back office.
What do you do for fun?
Explore new hotel concepts. The latest is “social hotels,” where a community is created through designs provoking guests to play, dine and interact (but not sleep) together.
What’s something you’d like everyone to know about Hotel Tales?
The main objective for Hotel Tales has been and will always be to share with the public a collection of real stories from the hotel community. These light reading collection of stories of untold experiences of hoteliers are fun, intriguing, mysterious and provide some accidental twists and lessons.
What’s your view on the hospitality industry in Kuala Lumpur or in Asia?
The hotel industry in Kuala Lumpur is not yet fully matured. Contrary to what many hotel developers will say, I believe KL can still take a few thousand more rooms. Hotel occupancies and rates are not as high as our Asian neighbours as we have not attracted the right business segments into the country.
We operate a hotel consultancy division, under SPACE Hospitality, and we have spoken to (and advised) many hotel owners on this aspect. Our findings are that as a city, we are not attracting the higher yield segment which is conferences. It is now the best time to invest in the hotel industry in Malaysia as the development costs are still considered low.
What’s in store for you/Hotel Tales in the upcoming months?
My team and I have plans to take Hotel Tales to the next level. We will be branching out to compile stories by regions. Watch this space.
Find more on people similar to Hanley Chew and Malaysia’s vibrant hotel industry here.