Name : Helen Jacobe
Position : Cluster General Manager at Hilton Nay
Since I was young, I always wanted to work in hotels. I started at an early age in a very low entry level position and worked my way up over many years experiencing all departments of a hotel. I have worked in several countries, particularly in South East Asia and Myanmar is the seventh country.
When was your first visit to Myanmar?
How has your impression changed since your first arrival? My first visit was October 2014. The country has seen rapid change since then such as the new international airport terminal in Yangon, visas on line and use of credit cards which have all impacted positively the hotel industry.
How did you end up as the General Manager of your Hotel?
I was working in Japan for three years and ready to take on a new challenge and Myanmar was of great interest as it was just opening up. When we signed the landmark deal of opening five Hilton hotels in Myanmar in June 2014, the opportunity to open our first Hilton hotel in Nay Pyi Taw came up and I seized the opportunity right away. My appointment as cluster general manager for the Hilton hotels in Myanmar reaffirms the company’s pledge to greater diversity in our organization which underscores our commitment to groom our very own talents and giving them opportunities to realize their career goals within the company.
What are your role and responsibilities?
I take on an important role of leading my team of more than 300 team members to fly the Hilton flag high in Myanmar. Being responsible for two of our first hotels – Hilton Nay Pyi Taw and Hilton Ngapali Resort, I see this as a great privilege and honor to operate in a market where the Hilton brand is continuing its ‘pioneering’ and ‘leadership’ legacy, and opening hotels so that travelers from around the world can be rest assured that by staying with a Hilton, they will enjoy the same world-class hospitality the brand is renowned for. As we are in the business of people serving people, it is extremely important that I focus on providing our team members adequate training and hone their skills so that they can be successful in their roles, and beyond that I see that with the development pipeline of hotels we have in Myanmar, it is critical to groom and develop them so that they can grow their careers with us.
When did Hilton establish its hospitality line in Myanmar?
And please tell us more about Hilton’s hotels in different parts of the country.
We continue to build upon the pioneering spirit of our founding father, Conrad Hilton, by entering new and exciting markets, and are delighted to add five Hilton Hotels & Resorts flags in attractive destinations within the emerging market of Myanmar by signing a landmark agreement with the Eden Group in 2014. This allows us to continue providing culturally-relevant, modern accommodations and a complete range of facilities and services to meet the needs of savvy global travelers visiting this beautiful country.
Our first hotel opened in October 2014 and there are currently several other hotels under development around the country; Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan to name a few.
What is the current room occupancy like and what is your future expectation?
The hotel in Ngapali had a very strong season this year and the market is diversifying into other areas besides purely beach tourism, such as corporate incentive groups, eco-tourism and the lucrative wedding market. The Nay Pyi Taw property is also performing much better than last year. We see a steady long term positive trend for the future of Nay Pyi Taw.
What is the target market segment for Hilton hotels in Myanmar?
We are, quite simply, where our guests want to be. Myanmar is increasingly an appealing destination to travelers, as demonstrated by the record number of visitors last year. Our expanding presence in Myanmar provides new options for travelers, reinforces our unmatched position as a global hospitality leader, and elevates hospitality standards and services. We are focused on serving any guest for any travel need they have anywhere they want to be and are diligent about providing culturally-relevant, modern accommodations and a complete range of facilities and services guests want.
What are the differences between working in Myanmar and other countries?
There are some similarities to other neighboring South East Asian countries but many differences have developed through historical factors, such as geography and the British influence but mostly due to the recent political isolation there are some challenges. For the young generation, we need to guide and open their awareness to future career possibilities for them. They are naturally hospitable and I think they are going to catch up fast. Which is why in the month of May, we organized a ‘Bright Futures’ event as part of Careers @ Hilton Live: Youth in Hospitality month, an annual Hilton World wide global career event showcasing the many opportunities available in the hospitality industry for young people. The initiative builds on our Open Door commitment to positively impact at least one million young people by 2019 and better prepare them to reach their full potential .
How do you train your local staff to control the quality of an international brand like Hilton?
We are very committed to training and all team members undergo continuous training in various methods throughout their career with us, eg. online Hilton Worldwide University courses, practical on-the-job training with a buddy, classroom style in our vocational training center, mentoring programs, management and leadership training programs, subject specific training etc. This is a hallmark of Hilton and there are opportunities to attend training overseas for more senior levels. We find that ‘growing our own’ is very successful. Hilton has many formal audit processes, eg. Quality Assurance but in all disciplines that ensures the standards are being met.
Is there any plan to expand the Hilton brand in other major cities?
Through our portfolio of 13 award-winning brands that span across the lodging sector from luxury and full-service hotels and resorts to extended-stay suites and focused-service hotels, we are always looking out for opportunities to expand our footprint in both existing and new markets, and in destinations where today’s travelers are headed to. We will continue to find suitable partners in Myanmar to tap on the vast opportunities in multiple segments of the market, which would see us enter new destinations within the country.
From a business standpoint, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing you and your team in Myanmar in next 1-3 years?
Capacity building in general, English communication ability, use of technology. Slowly the business environment is becoming more streamlined.
What do you think are the consequences of the sudden influx of foreign companies/ nationals brought into the country?
From a Hilton perspective, as we expand our footprint in Myanmar, we place great importance in managing our use of natural resources, creating opportunities for our team members and strengthening our local communities. This builds on our global corporate responsibility strategy, Travel with Purpose, to create shared value for our business and communities, and in so doing, contribute towards Myanmar’s continued social and economic progress. Please give your comment on the market potential of the country’s tourism business. I think the potential is enormous and would agree with the projected statistics of 5 million tourists expected this year.
If you could change one major government policy, what would it be?
The authorities have effected much progress over a short period of time and this development is really commendable. I am thrilled that there has been some movement towards establishing museums and documenting of the cultural traditions such as the rich history of puppetry and other art forms and hand crafts. This is very exciting and an area I have a personal interest in. This is the heritage of the whole country and must be preserved.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking up to start up a business and invest in Myanmar’s hospitality sector?
Must have a long-term view and choice of your business partner is very important.
We are very fortunate to be partnered with Eden Group who are very supportive How are you enjoying your days in Myanmar?
Being Australian I am accustomed to the hot weather and I enjoy very much the large open landscapes and natural surroundings that you have. I like to visit the cultural and historic sites and learn as much as I can about the variety of traditions and of course the food is very nice.