“China is a different beast”, Jack Widagdo explains his new experiences.
Jack Widagdo won BMIHMS Hotelier of the Year at the 2017 Alumni Awards. Third year bachelor degree student and Sydney Campus Marketing Ambassador, Rei, had a Skype call with Jack to find out what makes this alumnus a success.
Can you tell me about your current role, the property, and location that you are currently in?
I am currently General Manager for the preopening of Alila Hotels and Resorts, 79 suites and villa property in Tianxi lake China. It is an hour and a half drive away from Hangzhou, it will open in the middle of 2018.
Could you please tell me why you chose to work in China? As you mentioned in your acceptance speech as Hotelier of the Year, “China is a different beast”. Can you expand on that?
The first time I worked in China, 5 years ago, I worked with Kempinski on Hainan island. During that time, I realised that great hoteliers all had one thing in common – their experience working in China or the Middle East. I knew I needed to gain more experience here. My roots are Chinese Indonesian and I have a home in Bali and Sydney. As China is always on the news, the center of attention with such a large economy, it interests me.
At an executive level, I work with the owners. Unlike Australia where you have to go through reporting lines and other people to get things done. This can be challenging but makes working life more diverse in China.
The work force is relatively young, where talent stay on average 6 to 12 months. A high turnover is inevitable. Therefore, it is important to motivate staff and ensure they receive adequate training so they want to stay. The spirit of making people happy cascades down to the line staff and this is what keeps the hotel running. I personally find that recruiting the right people is difficult because what may look good on paper does not translate to their real passion.
Sydney is a matured market where you don’t build new hotels every month. In China, you build hotels every week (Jack chuckles). We have a massive population who want to stay in hotels, the growth is rapid. That’s what I mean when I say China is a different beast.
What is most exciting about the Chinese hospitality industry?
The workforce is young and they want to learn, but at the same time are very mobile. Talent comes from all over China, they have different provincial backgrounds, languages (dialects) and therefore different capabilities they bring to the table.
From a development perspective, China is exciting! It is growing left, right, up and center so there is a lot of room to grow.
How can hoteliers benefit from working in a Chinese environment?
You learn to deal with a different speed. You learn that speed matters in China. China is a fast-moving economy. For example, the lead time until a guest arrives at a hotel can be short, even in resort locations. Guests at a resort can arrive, enter the lobby and book a room in the moment on their phone.
It is easier to make bookings in China than in Australia. There is no need to get credit card information and scan identification because guests have WeChat Pay or Ali Pay. You can occasionally remove the counter and instead float around to engage with guests. It’s a different speed because of the different level of technology. When I go back to Australia I struggle with manual EFTPOS and credit cards. It is too slow. Apple Pay may grow but it won’t be as strong.
Would you have any advice for students contemplating working, or even undertaking an Industry Placement in China?
In Chinese culture, relationships matter. Who you know is important. Here we say ‘Guanxi’, the relationship is key to success. It depends on personality and the willingness to learn the culture. It is important that you don’t come in with your own rules, but come in with a new set of eyes and accept the differences. You must accept the big differences and start again.
Language is also important. Foreigners cannot just come and expect people to understand them. They must show empathy and learn the local language
China is a big country, so students can also travel. There are differences within regions. There are many scenic locations; mountains, beautiful lakes, religious sites, the desert in the west, river towns in the east, then you have the Li River, and also the tropical Hainan that looks like Phuket or Bali.
I think work is work, but it is important to take time to explore.
Hear more about Study Abroad – Student Spotlight: Kate Faulkner – Study Abroad, China
What do you look for when hiring?
We always look for people that have different ideas. We encourage people to have multi-brand experience. Personally, I enjoy out of the box thinking of people. I don’t necessarily look at the resume and say this student/person hasn’t had enough experience. In fact, I have gone through that myself so I don’t impose the same.
If you have worked for a resort, that’s helpful but not the only criteria. It’s usually visible through interviews – phone conversations where you can feel an applicant’s passion.
Passion is like fuel to the car and your experience ‘on paper’ is like the specs of the car. You can run 300km an hour, be a full-bodied red Ferarri, but with no fuel, the car won’t run. With passion, human nature tends to change. It starts with the individual. It is important to have this fuel in this industry because it is a people industry.
Until next time, Rei