Michael Thomas has extensive experience in premium 5-Star Hospitality, having worked with some of the world's top brands in postings all around the world. One notable property that he ran was the spectacular Banyan Tree, Lijiang, China which was recognized as one of the WOrld's 500 best hotels by Travel and Leisure magazine, as well as Best Spa Resort in China by TTG. He held the role as COO at Fico Corp., Thailand and was instrumental in creating the award winning Medici Kitchen and Bar at Hotel Muse (M Gallery), Bangkok. Michael also held the role of Executive GM of Accor Thailand and Marketplace Champion for Accor Bangkok and the region. In 2012, Michael received the Most illustrious Hotel General Manager, Golden Olive Award, by China Travel Industry Association.
Michael Thomas is currently the General Manager at Accor's Pullman and Mercure Albert Park-Melbourne, Australia and has received the title of Hotelintel.co 'Hotelier of the Month' this month. Michael has shared with us some of the secrets that a lifetime of being a hotelier across Asia has taught him.
What's the most challenging aspect of running a hotel?
I reckon each country or city and property have different challenges. The challenges I faced in managing hotels in Thailand were different to my challenges in China or now in Australia. I would say that the common challenge regardless of where you are or which property, is to manage the financial expectations from owners to Management Company to the property itself. This is the key challenge wherever you happen to manage hotels. In order to realize that, the specific country, city, property has to have the ability to support the financial expectations. If for any one or more reasons the property cannot deliver expectations, the General Manager's biggest challenge would become the performance of the hotel.
Often in such circumstances, depending on relationships, understanding and maturity from owners to management companies, the property performance comes under scrutiny.
Again, depending on the staying power of the owners on financial commitments, decisions can be made for changes. A good example of this is the recent fallout between a very high-end Hong Kong brand and the Thai owners of the property based in Bangkok.
So to conclude, the financial performance of the hotel/properties is a key challenge for a General Manager. If the property/s are financially healthy most of the other challenges could be overcome.
What are your unique selling points?
If you are referring to my own unique selling points, as a personal brand, it is my tenacity to deliver commitments. Whether this is in relation to financial performance, or employee engagement, or Guest experience my tenacity is to deliver promises. I am known for my ability to have harmony and to build relationships between all relevant parties which is critical for any General Manager.
I believe in a strong triangle that involves owners, management company and employees. If this triangle can be well established that the delivery to customers become less complicated and a happy customer would, of course, bring value, further strengthening the triangle.
Unique selling points for my current properties are the Accor brand behind us and the fact that we are one of the largest convention hotels in Victoria with 33 meetings/event spaces. Our location, Albert Park is the home for Formula 1 Grand Prix and Melbourne being one of the most livable countries in the World, I am blessed with this unique combination.
You have been in Asia for a long time, do you have to adapt to the new environment when you come back to Australia?
Absolutely. This was a major culture shock in spite of my in-depth knowledge of our country. I doubt if I could ever adapt to the Australian standards, having managed some top-end properties in Asia as the cost of running hotels in Australia is very high. This prevents us from providing some of the services provided in Asia or expectations from an Asian perspective.
Payroll is a key cost factor and people are an essential part of hospitality. With the very high payroll and rigid labour regulations, adapting to the new environment is critical for success.
What are the challenges you have faced when it comes to managing people?
Without any disrespect to any country or culture, the Asian sense for hospitality is unsurpassable. Due to the severe lack of labour, we need to manage with various restrictions. We offer employment to students who are allowed to work 20 hours.
While we enjoy the responsibility, students need to focus on their studies and the 20 hours do now give them sufficient time to be proficient in certain complex tasks.
We also employ Holiday Work Visa holder who come are allowed to work for 6 months. Here again the commitment and loyalty are limited. These are challenges in managing people.
Another key factor is that the industry often has 4 to 5 generations employed in one workplace. Each generation's expectations and attitude are different and as a leader one needs to understand, listen and adapt well to be successful.
We have followed you everywhere, and you are known for your hospitality. What does 'service' mean to you? - and what do you see lacking in today's hospitality world? How can we improve that?
I am an old school hotelier. I believe that our generation of hoteliers will be phased out soon. We were immersed with the notion that the Guest is everything.
Today's hoteliers may not have the same opinion. This is also attributed to the generational differences in attitude. Combined with severe financial pressures that G.M's are subject to, the true hospitality or the service that you mention has got severely diluted. Because of corporate/ owners demands in managing the "Business" rather than the "Service".
Today's General Managers are more office-based and immersed in reports and data. We are forever bogged down in reports much so that we hardly greet or spend time with guests.
General Managers are expected to produce reports that take them away from guests while junior staff such as Guest Relations are assigned to take care of guests.
This is a disconnect. Today’s younger generation hoteliers are developed with having to generate data and reports. The industry, therefore, has drifted away from the traditional service in many aspects.