INTERVIEW | Winston Gong – General Manager, Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc: Growing up is learning from your mistakes

INTERVIEW | Winston Gong – General Manager, Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc: Growing up is learning from your mistakes

Winston Gong sharing story

Winston Gong - General Manager, Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc

Greetings, Mr Winston Gong! With years of experience in the hospitality industry and in this new position of General Manager at the Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay, how do you expect this to become a milestone in your career?

Throughout my career journey, I have spent over 25 years working in several different countries and have achieved certain milestones in the field of hospitality. Taking on the new general manager position at Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay is an opportunity for me to visit and experience this most renowned island in Vietnam. While getting to know this land, I have realized that Phu Quoc is indeed a crave-worthy resort paradise for Asian visitors, standing in the ranks of other famous islands in the area like Bali, Langkawi… Now, with the emergence of the Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay hotel on the North side of the island, both we, the managing corporation IHG, and the project investor MIK are optimistic that this resort will play an important role in making an impact and taking the high-end resort section on this beautiful island to a new level. Thanks to such advantages, I have strong faith in and am honored to be a part of this resort’s development, thus marking another memorable milestone in my career.

Phu Quoc is often considered to be a hectic high-end resort paradise. What do you suppose will make Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay stand out?

Our guests are looking for more flexibility to rebalance their lives and we’re focused to provide the lives they want to live. Of the 15 hotels and resorts all over the world that I have worked with, 7 of them are from the Crowne Plaza brand. As of right now, I can say that Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay is one of the best resorts I have ever worked at. It has great facilities and a great location.

It possesses the beautiful, primitive Dai beach with crystal clear water and a primeval forest. In addition, not only can they immerse fully in nature, but our guests can also visit the exotic amusement parks nearby with ease, making us the perfect choice for family and MICE groups. Why shouldn’t traveling for work also be a great time to connect with family or spend time with friends?

We have hosted several guest groups from the US, Thailand, Korea… as well as surveyed tourism agencies, and all of them were extremely satisfied with our facilities and services, especially the restaurants by the beach, Amber Sands and Horizons. What’s more, the Olympic-size 50m swimming pool is also a proud feature that makes Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay stand out. The resort is also located merely 5 minutes away from one of the best golf courses in the north side of the island, a strong potential advantage when it comes to attracting “golfers” to stay at an international standard hotel like Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay. In addition, “business travelers” who combine working and relaxing into one trip are also one of the key customer segments that we focus on.

Winston Gong - General Manager, Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay

What are you and your crew focusing on to make Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay even better?

No matter the business strategy, the key for me is service quality. Sales strategy can bring in many customers, but if the service quality does not match, the guest will not return a second time. That’s why, besides high-quality facilities, what I want our guests to be reminded of when choosing to stay at our resort is the services that we deliver. In order to achieve this, we put an effort into bringing about personalized experiences for each customer, showing them their values and letting them feel respected. However, that does not mean something too formal and distant, but rather the friendly interaction and connection with our staff that will make for a better experience, like when the staff remembers their name, hobbies, or special needs.

To uphold these principles of quality, at IHG, we have created a brand service culture through a training called “True Hospitality Service Skills”. This is a basic but extremely effective training course and has become the foundation for every hotel run by IHG. This, along with the Crowne Plaza Service experience of Dare to Connect, differentiates us from the competition. Another important thing is attracting the right colleagues and putting them in the right position to ensure the delivery of the best services to our guests. That is the quality-based business philosophy that I hope to achieve at Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay.

At the moment, what customer segment are you and your crew aiming for?

The Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay is perfectly situated to meet the blended needs of the modern business traveler, whether they are attending a MICE event at our resort or balancing work and life with a well-deserved and fulfilling break. We continue to grow our business through the domestic tourism market, which is taking up the major proportion of it. At the same time, we are also paying attention to the foreign tourist influx that is growing with the reopening of borders. For every foreign market that “lands” in Vietnam, we adjust our strategy accordingly to meet the different needs for resort experience, adapting to the current travel trend that requires a lot of flexibility.

Winston Gong sharing story

After many years working in the service industry, how has your leading style changed? What is the management principle that you honor the most?

My leading style is always changing to fit the time and place where I work. Each position that I take on also calls for a different leadership style. From my own experience, this change gives me more confidence in not only leading and communicating with my crew, but when on the negotiation table. I have reaped a lot of valuable experiences and lessons since the day I became a manager for the first time, but one principle has stayed with me when running one’s crew, that is, give them the feeling of being listened to and respected. Everyone has their own characteristics and personal life besides their job. So, by listening to the stories and sharing of my staff, I’m giving them the feeling of care and sympathy, and that encourages them to commit and contribute their best to the company.

Winston Gong - General Manager, Crowne Plaza Phu Quoc Starbay

When assuming this new position, what did you focus onat first to get closer to your crew and help them adapt to your working style? How would you treat an employee when they make a mistake?

Following the Crowne Plaza brand’s motto “Dare to Connect”, I have put it to use in how I treat my staff since the first day by remembering their names, recognizing the department they work in, and paying attention to their difficulties. I also share this with every department head and encourage them to listen more to their staff’s needs and always be present to clear up any questions so that they can work better.

As for when they make a mistake, my belief is that nobody is perfect and anyone can make mistakes. What is important is the lesson and experience we draw from those mistakes. If the problem has to be resolved, I always try to explain to them that when a cog in a machine malfunctions, it does not only affect itself but also other related parts. I have been through various positions in different companies, so I know that no position is free from mistakes.

The important thing is what lesson we learn and how we grow from that mistake. Many staff fear being heavily reprimanded for their shortcomings, but I know their situation well. I want to show them sympathy and give them a second chance. I want to see them keep on trying instead of being crushed by harsh scolding.

Besides the common standards in the hotel industry as well as set out by the IHG, what personal standards do you hold regarding your staff’s development?

My personal standard for my staff is to do the best they can and learn from everything; from your mistakes, from your colleagues, from the guests, and from anyone you meet. In the hotel industry, the staff can learn many valuable lessons from their very guests. Even the smallest piece of feedback could be a profound experience for the service provider. Therefore, an employee who dares not learn and step forward will never have enough experience in such a demanding field as this one. In addition, I also expect my staff to adjust flexibly to each specific situation. In this period when the hotel industry must make swift changes to suit the ever-shifting situation, a new hotel with new management needs a staff that is very flexible and willing to change in order to stick to the overall plan.

For the young generation who seek to advance in the hotel area, what advice would you give them?

There is no easy job. You will have good and tough days, but what really counts is how much you learn from them. I know many successful general managers who started from scratch, just like myself, who began his career as a server. Gender also does not matter; you can become a leader as long as you never stop trying and striving for a single goal or ideal. Be yourself and have no fear. In your journey of career development, you must understand that there will be dark moments, but also wonderful ones, as long as you keep pushing through.

Winston Gong sharing story

Looking back at your journey so far, what do you take most pride in as a “hotelier”?

What I am most proud of is the ability to persuade a complaining guest to become one who adores our hotel. This is considered a huge success for those in the hotel industry like myself. I also take pride in my personnel development work and being able to connect and share my experience with my associates. In addition, I also feel fortunate to have met my wife, who is also a true “hotelier”, and my two children are fond of this area. I often have the habit of bringing back the key cards after each business trip. My children love them and often play with those key cards, a way of saying how proud they are to have a father working in the hotel industry. During major holidays, we may be a bit busier than other people may be as we have either to celebrate them earlier or later to take care of our guests during the holiday, but we always feel happy and content whenever we are together. Those are the most joyful moments for those working in the hospitality industry like us.

Have you ever felt that you are sacrificing a part of your personal life when working in the hotel industry?

This emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy balance in your life once more. To maintain a work-life balance, I often get up early and go to the gym or play my favorite sport. Golf is one of my favorite sports, and it is a future direction for our resort as we seek to attract golfing guests. Playing golf allows me to meet many people who may become future customers. At work, I am also focusing on training replacement personnel who will take over their colleagues’ jobs when they are absent. I also respect my employees’ personal lives and time. When someone is on leave, the rest of the team must be able to cover their responsibilities. I understand that everyone requires time to recover and regenerate their working capacity. I never interfere with their time off in the hopes that when they return, they will perform even better.

Thank you for your sharing!

Winston Gong sharing story

Text: JENNI VÕ, HỒNG ĐẶNG | Creative Director: HIEPLEDUC | Thiết kế: GIA HUY | Photo: THẠC TRƯỜNG GIANG

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