|18 Apr 2022|
After graduating high school I studied for one year of an Engineering Foundation program (2005 - 2006) at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. I did this to test the waters and try something outside of the family business.” It didn't take him long to discover that hospitality was where his heart was. His entire family is in the hospitality industry and it took going back to the family business to discover that this was his strength. He moved to Adelaide, Australia where he enrolled to study at the International College of Hotel Management (ICHM) hospitality school and pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in International Hotel Management (2006 - 2009). “It was at this stage of my life where I began the journey into my hospitality career and putting what I had learned into practice.” JP spent three years learning the ins and outs of this high paced world and was fortunate to be part of the ICHM Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placements available. These placements enabled him to travel interstate and internationally where he gained a wider understanding of the industry. “My first position was working as a receptionist at the Hilton in Adelaide, Australia. I did participate in the WIL program which was made up of two, six month internships. My first one was in Brisbane, Australia and my second one was in Shanghai, China. I was able to pick the location I wanted and the school helped put me in connection with people they knew there, then I did the job application myself”.
Upon completion at ICHM, JP started his career at the Hilton, Adelaide where he stayed for 7 years. He then moved to London to pursue a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) in International Hospitality and Service Industries Management at the Glion London campus. “I spent that year enhancing my skills in the hospitality sector. After my MBA, I had the opportunity to stay another two and a half years in London where I worked at the Park Plaza Riverbank and Intercontinental Park Lane as Guest Relations Manager.”
Transition from ISKL to further studies:
He describes his transition from ISKL to University as a smooth one reminiscing, “As I had the ability to have international exposure and friends, I was more familiar with other cultures than local ones, therefore fitting into my overseas education was simple.” He looks back saying rather than having a single favorite class in ISKL his favorite moments were in fact the social events such as the Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asia Schools (IASAS) programs whereby sports competitions are arranged between five international schools in the Southeast Asia region. JP explains “It was where you would meet other students, coaches, and administrators from the other schools and we would compete against them in sport, have a cultural convention as well as other competitions and conferences for clubs such as Model United Nations (MUN). Despite the rivalries, we were still able to be friends with each other. It was always nice to be able to connect with them for the short time we had. This made it very comfortable for me to approach and interact with others in the same way in the hospitality industry.”
Overall ISKL helped set his path by encouraging participation in school-wide opportunities such as IASAS tennis and volleyball. “Being able to represent your school and travel to another country to compete was amazing“. By the time he had gone overseas to Australia and London to further his studies he felt the environment was similar to what ISKL offered and adjusted well to new environments.
In order to expand his career further, JP decided to return home to Malaysia and arrived just before the Covid lockdown started in 2020. As he settles back, he can’t help but to compare how the hospitality industry has been affected by the pandemic. “One of the major changes is the amount of business. After the pandemic struck, people were not allowed to travel, meaning less business, which then led to the budget needing to be looked at, to look for ways you can cut back costs without compromising service, and even though this was not possible, it had to be done! It was almost like being asked to pull a rabbit out of a hat!”.
Another rather significant change was also with the cleaning process. Since the movement control order, he further explains “It has become crucial to ensure things are even cleaner than before. I felt that pre-, hotels were able to get away with rooms being a bit dirtier but now with social media more present in everyday use, if anything goes wrong the whole world will know about it with a touch of a button.” Lastly, the way people interact has changed. Seeing guests with masks, and still having to smile even when they cannot see it can seem weird, but it’s important because that smile comes through your eyes. This part of the human body became more important in the hotel industry, as this was the one physical facial feature people could see! Translating his enthusiasm through his eyes is an aspect JP puts emphasis on, getting used to and greeting people with that window to your soul is the best first impression for any guest and a language everyone understands more so now.
After 15 years in the industry, not all that glitters is gold. Prepare for the laughs:
Upon his return he says “I was fortunate enough to get a job as the Assistant Front Office Manager at EQ Hotel on Jalan Sultan Ismail followed by the Front Office Manager at the Ritz-Carlton on Jalan Imbi.” Thinking back on his extensive experience JP has witnessed the good and the not-so-glamorous situations of the hotel industry. He laughs as he shares his three most memorable moments as a glimpse into the unpredictable nature of working with people on a daily basis. Once he had a guest who decided to park on the public road outside of the hotel but was visiting a guest in JP’s hotel. He then returned to the car where he found a parking ticket. He then came into the hotel asking the front desk to pay for it because he was here to visit a guest who had checked-in to this hotel. “I rejected the payment and explained he was not on hotel grounds and that we also offered self parking at a reasonable price”. Unhappy, the guest started shouting and creating a scene possibly thinking that it would change JP’s mind but “I waited until he was done with his performance and still informed him we would not pay. The guest then tried his luck again and once more was told “no”. He then completely changed his demeanor to very cheerful and said “Well, at least I tried” and simply walked off”.
Another interesting experience was one day when suddenly the STAR Force (Australian SWAT Police) all burst through the hotel and shut off all access. “So you can imagine the hotel was surrounded by a large number of police. Staff were unaware of what was happening but when we were finally able to speak with the police they told us someone reported seeing a man carrying a knife and walking around the hotel”. After some time the police apprehended the man and discovered it was a fake knife. Coincidentally it was October 31st, Halloween, and there were a lot of people all dressed up for the occasion, which left the police slightly frustrated when they showed up for a fake knife. “Fake knife or not, procedures were followed and I’m glad that nobody was hurt in the end”.
This goes to show the unpredictability of working in hospitality but it is also that very reason that this job prepares you for dealing with people from all walks of life. There is a certain degree of discipline required, and it teaches you to be patient. When applied properly it can help you manage challenges outside of the workplace too. This goes to show that with the glamor of the hotel industry such as traveling and working in high-end hotels there also comes times when you have to toughen up, but JP would not have changed the course of his career.
After 15 years of gaining experience overseas his most recent achievement is his promotion to Director of Rooms at a new hotel due to open in KL in May 2022 called Else Retreats based in Chinatown. Overall hospitality is a very competitive industry, most who have experience in it have often heard or even said it themselves, “You have to know someone who knows someone who works in the industry” or “You were just at the right place at the right time” and JP says “...both ring very true in the hospitality industry. This promotion was all about timing, in fact, my current General Manager (GM) was a friend of my sister's. We had been out on casual occasions for a few drinks and caught up from time to time when he started talking about this new job opportunity he had and one thing led to another and now I am working for him.”
For those looking into starting a career in hospitality, JP suggests first to join extra-curricular activities such as IASAS where it forces you to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people. “You already have the privilege of studying in an international environment so you’ve already begun your journey.” Doing an internship program like he did which was only six months will help you choose what aspect of the hospitality industry is the best fit. . “This way it gives you a glimpse of what you can look forward to and if you like it then it’s a great starting step and if not, then it was only six months and still worth the time spent because you will have learned what not to pursue. This pandemic has definitely changed the way the hospitality industry operates and having that overseas international exposure which was deeply rooted in his time at ISKL, helped JP to adjust and adapt to the different ways things are done. Being able to stay open and adaptive to changes is extremely crucial in order to stay afloat in this ever-fragile industry.
Are you interested in sharing your professional experience or becoming a mentor? Join the ISKL mentor network on the alumni portal at https://alumni.iskl.edu.my/careers or write to us at [email protected].