People person with a keen eye for detail
Choo-Leng Goh fits to a "T" her new position as manager at the Royal Orchid Sheraton. A Singaporean national, she has worked for Starwood Hotels & Resorts for close to a decade and prior to her recent promotion was the Royal Orchid Sheraton's regional director for sales and marketing (Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) for five years. She is the first Asian woman in the company to be elevated to the post of hotel manager.
The seasoned, 45-year-old executive had this to say about the public perception of women like her: "Female, Asian hotel managers are still relatively uncommon in this part of the world, so I sometimes see people raise their eyebrows when they find out that a woman is running a five-star establishment. In all fairness, I feel [that having a] female [as] hotel manager is definitely a plus - you have to agree that women have a keen eye for detail!"
Living in Thailand for close to two decades now, and married with two children, Goh says that to juggle the demands of a high-pressure career with the responsibilities of raising a family takes a lot of patience, perseverance and passion.
What's been the biggest challenge for you, so far, as a hotel manager?
I've been in my current job for just a month, so getting to know the 700 members of staff personally [will be] a big challenge. However, I'm looking forward to that. I speak Thai, so that makes it easier to bridge the culture gap.
Have your leisure-travel habits changed since you entered the hotel industry?
I've begun to prefer destinations which are less frequented by tourists - places which offer picturesque, natural surroundings. I don't plan extensively for family vacations any more; I like to go with the flow.
How have your experiences as a traveller assisted you in your work?
Being a guest in another hotel always helps in better understanding the requirements of hotel guests. Both my business- and leisure-travel experiences have helped me get a better picture of the various types of guest profiles to expect, and I have adjusted our hotel services accordingly.
What, in your opinion, are the strengths of the Thai hotel industry?
It definitely has to be the people! Thais are naturally suited to working in the service industry; that's why this country is known as the Land of Smiles! We can build beautiful hotels with the latest technology, but it's meaningless if the service culture isn't there! The majority of compliments we receive from guests focus on our service-minded staff; there's hardly ever any mention of the 'hardware' of the hotel.
How much of an impact has the volatile political situation had on hotels under the Starwood banner?
Business has indeed slowed a little but this [can be attributed to] many factors. The world economy has slowed down and the high fuel surcharge on air tickets, etc, have held off some decisions on leisure travelling. Of course, having a stable political situation would help to increase demand [for holidays] to Thailand, as safety and security is one of the highest priorities for both leisure and business travellers.
Hoteliers have to stay on top of their game to succeed during hard times such as these!
Tell us about your dream destination.
With two young girls - aged five and nine - my husband and I are now limited to Disneyland, ski resorts and child-friendly leisure destinations! But when the kids grow older I'd like, perhaps, to revisit some of our favourite holiday spots.
What's your idea of the perfect vacation?
[It] would mean balancing my time, [being able] to both relax and to enjoy activities that I'm passionate about such as snorkelling, mountain trekking, skiing and, of course, shopping! Good food and wine is also a must.
What are your views on pet-friendly hotels?
I think as long as the hotel is able to keep the hygiene [up to standard] and have the right facilities and amenities for the pets, it's fine. Bringing a pet as a companion on a holiday is getting common nowadays. The trend has become increasingly popular because, for a lot of people, pets are just like children. For me, going on a holiday without my children would be devastating, so I can wholeheartedly empathise with pet lovers. I don't think this trend has caught on in Thailand yet, but maybe in the next couple of years ...
In the US, some of our Starwood hotels are pet-friendly, especially our "W" brand [hotels and resorts group].
Which province, or provinces, in Thailand are you most fond of?
I have to be biased, here: Chiang Rai is my favourite because that's where my husband and I fell in love! We love the natural surroundings in Chiang Rai. And the Golden Triangle, where the three countries meet, never fails to brighten my spirits. I'm very excited that Starwood is going to build a Le Meridien in Chiang Rai in the next two months.
In what ways could the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) better assist the domestic hotel industry?
TAT has always been very supportive of us. Change and growth are an integral part of breaking into new markets [so] I'd like to see better cooperation between key international hotel chains, especially during hard times such as these, in expanding each other's customer-distribution network. As a country, we have more to offer tourists than just Bangkok and Phuket. Promoting other provinces in Thailand will surely help in establishing markets in Europe and Asia, because people are always looking for new places to visit.
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