INTERVIEW | Founder & CEO, TIA Wellness Resort, Thân Thục Quyên: The “intermediary” for spiritual values - NỮ DOANH NHÂN - BusinessWoman Magazine

INTERVIEW | Founder & CEO, TIA Wellness Resort, Thân Thục Quyên: The “intermediary” for spiritual values

As the complicated developments of the Covid-19 pandemic unfold, the Businesswoman Magazine is pleased to exchange conversation with a true female “hotelier” – whose field of work is one of the most heavily struck by the recent waves of crisis. Fierce as they are, it seems that they fail to douse the fire of passion within this young businesswoman – Than Thuc Quyen, who firmly believes that every experience, no matter how terrible, gives her the strength to grow up, head on and do something for the community.

Founder Sanouva Hotel, Thân Thục Quyên

Greetings Ms. Thân Thục Quyên, with over 10 years in the hotel business, what kind of impression has this “hospitality” industry left upon you?

A rather distinctive trait of the hotel business, which has made a strong impression on me since the early days, is the fact that the hotel environment is a miniature replicate of the society itself. With a huge body of staff and numerous departments that work in cooperation with each other in a constant effort, the hotel “society” consists of virtually every fundamental line of work and is a host of interpersonal relationships. Running a hotel, therefore, feels like governing a very special form of society, in which my responsibility is to come up with the optimal model for its development and bring about happiness to every member of it. Although this was not my starting point, its diverse and ever-evolving environment has allowed me to hone my skills and vision as a manager, a professional “hotelier”, and encouraged me to pursue this career so far.

Lacking the training or background in the hotel industry, what did you bear in mind when first entering this field of business? And how did you acquire the knowledge specific to it?

My education background is in commerce, but my passion is for diplomatics. That said, the fact that I took over as manager of my family’s first Sanouva Hotel was a mere coincidence when the previous hotelier suddenly withdrew from the position just 2 days prior to the grand opening. Despite my concerns and lack of experience, I had to step up for it and ensure that the opening ceremony goes smoothly, but only as a temporary manager. After a few unsatisfying interviews for the GM position as the candidates couldn’t find a common voice with me, I began to embark on this journey myself and kept moving on up until today. What a rough start, right? (laughs)

Those are the days I will never forget. I was under a lot of pressure, being the head of such a huge business while barely having any professional knowledge about it. I still remember some of the interviews with senior position candidates when I could only inquire about their general skills and failed to measure their field specialty, for I myself was just a novice and was not competent enough to recognize their potentials. Despite gaining some early achievements and constantly striving for more knowledge, there were times when I was uncertain of my decisions and felt that I hadn’t learnt enough. After some serious thoughts on whether or not I should continue to pursue this career, I came up with an answer. “Yes”, and that was when I decided to hit the pause button, applied for a position in a 5-star hotel and signed up for an online hotel management course, which took me a year to become fully equipped and well-prepared for the journey ahead. I had to work 12, 13 hours nearly every day while trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible until I was confident enough to say, I have learnt everything I needed to learn: how to run a hotel. After 10 years of struggle and hardship, Thân Thục Quyên just want to say: I’m grateful to life for giving me this ideal job.

CEO TIA Wellness Resort

Why did Thân Thục Quyên choose the 3-star hotel market section in the beginning? With a rather large pool of competitors, how do you plan to make your hotel stand out?

When the Sanouva Sai Gon hotel first came out, the boutique hotel model in Vietnam was not as common, and we saw it as an opportunity to aim for this new but highly potential market niche. It’s true that I opted for the 3-star hotel section, but with the boutique style, I hoped to bring about an optimized experience and higher quality services than people normally would think of such a hotel. The plan didn’t sound convincing enough for my parents as first, but I was determined to give it a try. You’ll never know if you never try, right?

And the results, within 4 months under my command, Sanouva went through some major shifts, including a new procedure, adjusted room pricing and the introduction of several special-feature additional services, all of which helped us score the highest rating in many online booking platforms, as compared to other hotels in the same market section. This also helped me earn the trust of my parents and bolstered my passion for this career.

Founder Thân Thục Quyên

What goals did Thân Thục Quyên set out to achieve in those early days? And how far have you gotten on this rather unexpected journey?

To be honest, my initial goal was to simply… prove myself to my parents (laughs). The young me was yearning for a challenge, a “wall” to hit my head upon. But with the results I got, I started to want more, to spread my wings and soar higher with bigger goals.

While continuing to develop the Sanouva Hotel chain in HCMC and Danang, I stepped over to the 5-star resort section with the opening of Fusion Maia Resort and Spa in Danang in 2010. I can proudly say that this is the first resort in Vietnam to include a spa package in room service and allow guests to have breakfast whenever and wherever they want. The idea is based on my personal experience and preference from many other resorts I have stayed. The Fusion Maia Danang has recently undergone a massive overhaul and is now rebranded as TIA Wellness Resort, continuing to deliver a comprehensive spa package that promotes a healthier life by incorporating special restorative therapies into the stay experience, with an aim to help its guests boost their creativity and adopt a new perspective for their goals in life.

The domestic success of resort and spa model encouraged me to go international. And that is how the Bhutanese Spirit Sanctuary came to be, a peaceful resort located in the lovely country of happiness, Bhutan. For me, the hotel business is the bridge for cultural access and exchange between nations, where service providers such as myself can create products that does not only cater for our guests’ physical needs, but also enriches their spiritual experience. To establish a hotel in this particularly spiritually rich country, I had to spend a great deal of time learning about their history and culture. Along with the co-founders, I decided to build a resort that reflects the spiritual essence of the land it is located on, combining the Bhutanese cultural beliefs with an abundance of indigenous herbs from the Himalayans to offer a unique “comprehensive spa” service that enhances your well-being, both physically and mentally.

Founder Sanouva Hotel, Thân Thục Quyên

It is obvious that you put quite an emphasis on the spiritual aspect of your business operation, don’t you?

I always believe that the mind decides everything that is human. Through my work, I’ve come to know many women, including my staff and others, who put on a display of strength and competence, being an all-round achiever. But sometimes they forget the most important thing: taking the time to take care of yourself. That is why, in 2017, I became co-founder of a social business called She Will Be Strong, with an aim to empower women, both physically and mentally. Our main activities include self-defense courses, dance, and Yoga classes for female office workers. In addition, we also commit to donate 51% of our business profits to support single-mom shelters, sexual assault and domestic violence victims, and fight for a lower abortion rate in Vietnam. In every business project that I’m currently running, building and developing the community’s spiritual values will always be a common goal that we strive to achieve.

Considering the long-standing business tradition in your family, is there a philosophy that you pursue? And under the shadow of your family’s reputation, how do you make the name “Than Thuc Quyen” be heard?

Inheriting the family’s business tradition, I have learnt a lot from my father’s stories throughout my childhood. This knowledge has been imprinted on my mind and become the basis for my strategic thinking and business acuity. One fundamental and essential element in building a business strategy and acquiring leadership skills that our family remind each other from time to time: always observe the business ethics.

This is the philosophy that I pursue and uphold when I started running my own business. For me, inheritance means evolution, not replacement. As an heir to the family tradition, I yearn to further extend the definition of “ethics”, adding more practical values to it and displaying a community mindset through my every project. For this reason, although I expected great challenges ahead, Iinsisted on the investment in Bhutan and in the social business idea. Turning an idea into reality is not an easy feat, even impossible at times. But through all the pressure and risk of failure, I found the resilience to keep moving forward, while holding on to the belief that it will reward me with valuable lessons.             

Founder Sanouva Hotel, Thân Thục Quyên
Founder Sanouva Hotel, Thân Thục Quyên

The past two years of Covid-19 has been rather challenging, if not devastating, for the hotel industry. Have you ever found your determination wavered? And what business strategy have you adopted to thrive in this new circumstance?

When the pandemic first hit, it did not really shake my grounds, as I believed that it would be controlled and dealt with soon. But as the situation became more serious and Vietnam had to apply social distancing, I became nervous and concerned. Now realizing that this would be a long-drawn-out battle, Thân Thục Quyên knew that I needed to act immediately if the business was to survive. More than ever, this is the time for every business owner to prove their adaptability to any challenge that the market may throw at their face.

My adjusting strategies during this period were applied on a daily or weekly basis, and not quarterly or yearly anymore. The goal is to flexibly adapt to the pandemic’s unpredictable developments and diversify our revenues. Closing the hotel is an easy decision but keeping it open post-social-distancing is a challenging one. To do this, we shifted our target section to domestic visitors, while looking into introducing a number of “takeaway” service packages like hotel-standard home cleaning service, food and afternoon tea catering at the customer’s location… to maximize the hotel’s available human resources and ensure minimum wages for my staff. 

What are the key principles that you set out for yourself as a manager to ensure a smooth business operation?

My first principle is “dedication”, a must-have for any head of business. Dedication is needed to put my heart and soul into what I do, discover my passion, and eventually deliver, with the help of my associates, products and services of highest quality to our customers. Next up, a manager must never lack a “fighting spirit”. For the last 10 years, Thân Thục Quyên have never turned off my phone, and have bravely fought with every hardship even when I least expected them. Finally, there’s “gratitude”. A business manager, more than anyone, must be grateful, to life, to their customers, and to their staff. With gratitude guiding my way, I wake up every morning with a renewed excitement for life. Besides these three principles, Thân Thục Quyên also highly appreciate “creativity”. In this ever evolving and harshly competitive field, I myself have to be creative in coming up with new products, in managing my staff and also in treating the surrounding others.

Being both the “owner” and “manager” of your business, how do keep these roles apart from each other?

This is indeed an issue worthy of consideration for every business owner. In the early days, I also went through the difficulty of explaining to my staff that they are working with me as a manager, not as an owner who merely invests in the business. I had to prove to them my ability to be the captain of the corporate ship, setting up standard protocols and procedures and establishing an impartial and professional set of principles. In my work, I have always been a dedicated manager who walks with her staff through every thick and thin. Most of my boutique hotels started out as a family business, but I want it to be a professional one, where there is no place for sentimental behavior or biased favor. One of my duties as a manager is to keep an updated analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the business and find a way to improve them, with an ultimate goal of a professional and standardized working environment.

Founder Sanouva Hotel, Thân Thục Quyên

Stepping into the hotel industry before you even find a passion for it, how did you discover and nurture that passion?

As I mentioned before, I thought that diplomatics was dream until I realized that it was the service industry that suits me best. The feeling of passion did not come too quickly, but at the right time and with the right amount. The more challenges I faced, the more attracted I became to this career and the more certain I was of my decision. Passion, however, was not the only reason that kept me on this journey. After, isn’t there a saying that goes “a hungry belly has no ears”? Each of my business is always encouraged to come up with business ideas that are inspired by personal interest and preference, but they must always ensure a productive operation, that is, securing financial stability for both themselves and their employee. People always say they’re willing to work for passion, but for me, passion and success have to come hand in hand with each other. Passion without success is simply a hobby. But if passion can lead to success, I’m certain that it will only become stronger and stronger.

What are your “losses” and “gains” when becoming a businesswoman? If you could choose again, would you still make the same choice?

For me, the gains far outweigh the losses. This job has taught me many things that no school can teach. I have also established a network of relationships, friends, and partners, I have learnt the lessons of failure in management and in life. As for the losses, perhaps it is the sacrifice of my personal time and the struggle in my early days, trying to improve my professional knowledge. With this in mind, if I could choose again, I would choose to walk down this path in the very first place, gathering knowledge and making the best preparations so that I could tread on more steadily, and go faster and further than I am now.

Founder Sanouva Hotel, Thân Thục Quyên

“Ambition” is necessary in business, but too much of it can become “greed”. Do you fear the latter?

Surely there are times in business when you are torn between being and not being greedy. If I ever find myself in this situation, I will remain in control by looking to the family’s business guiding principles, “Morality and Ethics”. When making a business decision, you must always take into account how negatively that decision affects those who are involved, from your business partners, clienteles to your staff. My go-to is always a win-win decision. With business ethics at your top priority, you will always find the anchor of kindness amidst the alluring temptation of greed, which keeps your mind clear and sharp in order to find the most appropriate solution.

There’s a rather trendy term among the youth nowadays: “Being born at the finish line” to refer to those born in well-off families. As someone who has also enjoyed abundant support from her family, what is your take on it?

From my understanding, the term literally means being born with everything at the ready and not having to make any effort. However, looking deeper into its meaning, I believe that someone who was born at the finish line might need to try even harder. They are fortunate because they don’t have to struggle much in life, but this privilege comes with an invisible duty that compels them to exert an even greater effort to uphold the values that their predecessors have passed on to them. In my case, I learned to be independent at a very young age because my parents were almost always away on business trips. Therefore, I strive for independence in life and do not want people to think that I have to rely on my family. Just because you already have everything does not mean you don’t have to do anything, because as society and people move forward, doing nothing is going backward. So, instead of finding out what I already have, I am more concerned with what I can contribute to the society and make an effort to help those around me find their own “finish line”.

Founder Sanouva Hotel, Thân Thục Quyên


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