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Interview with William Costley Vice President of Operations Southeast Asia and India, Hilton Worldwide

Name : William Costley

Position : Vice President of Operations- Southeast Asia and India, Hilton Worldwide


What inspired Hilton Worldwide to set up Hilton Vocational Training Center in Myanmar?

We officially opened Hilton Nay Pyi Taw on October 17, 2014. From between June to October 2014, I’ve been coming very often and realized that one of the big opportunities we had was to have a vocational training center because traditionally we train people all over the world. We were less applicable at that time, a lot of international companies trained team members online. Obviously a lot of people didn’t even get access to online. Lots of people didn’t even heard of training in computer. We try to change the way it train people. My dream is to develop Hilton Vocational Training Center where we can bring in international Hilton people couple with English training because this is big challenge for hospitality in Myanmar. Also there is lack of English ability. People who live in Nay Pyi Taw will have an opportunity to work in international environment. Obviously we have to provide accommodation, we have to feed the team members, we have to clothe them as well, and give them access to work. The vocational training center gives them a chance to get a small salary, food and accommodation and learn the same time. It was my dream. It is very different way we train people in the country. Between Hilton and Eden Group we invested half a million dollars over two years. That’s a lot of money for 40 team members. Half a million dollar! We focus on 40 team members at that time. That is how much we prepare. They are also training the development of team members. So it is great. We’ve these students and we’ve dedicated to two years training and we guarantee job after the training. They have opportunity to work with international people.

We are so happy; we can see transformation in these young people’s lives, not just confidence. From one year ago, they are different human beings, their English is getting much better and they gain confidence. For me it is biggest achievement if you change someone’s life. Seeing a human being developing is fantastic.

Could you elaborate further about the trainings provided at the center?

Sure, obviously in term of vocational, that means work experience and vocational. We have the Head of the school Korn Jamie from Thailand. She is responsible for the vocational training center and then we have the front office trainer, we have food and beverages trainer, we have housekeeping trainer, we have kitchen trainer and we also have pastry trainer. Basically we develop this curriculum. We have specific trainers for each department. On top of all that we have English teacher; also it is very very important. Both classroom training and on-job training are where they work in a department because vocational training that is what you do. And then online training! We have Hilton University, which is online, and it is free for everybody. All students and trainers and team members of the hotel have access to that. It is a really combination of work, classroom training and online training. Every course has exam and they must pass. It is very similar to formal education. We have sometimes guest trainers. They come and train students. Food and beverages trainer from Malaysia came and trained chef students. We are bringing senior managers to Nay Pyi Taw to train students.

How did you determine who gets accepted to the training?

There was an assessment center. They selected only 40 people chosen by the staff. Hundreds of people applied. Basically they go through an assessment process. We chose the students we thought best. Regional people from Singapore came to help. Historically, working in a hotel has been just a job to get money. What we were looking for is people with passion. They really want to work for the industry and dedicate their lives. Anyone can cook, but to be a good chef needs passion. We got 300 applicants for management training program. We are going to take two people, very blessed people. It is less difficult to get. We have budget. It is very difficult to access to management training program. For the vocational training center, we look for passion and attitude. We train the attitude and then train the skill.

I have noted that Hilton is set to open more properties in next three or four years. Are they all going to be Hilton Hotel and Resorts or is there any plan to expand other Hilton Brands in Myanmar?

When we signed with Eden Group, we have been committed to complete Hilton Nay Pyi Taw, Hilton Nagapali and Resorts, Hilton Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandalay. We have Hilton Nay Pyi Taw and Hilton Ngapali already. We are setting up more branches, we have luxury branches-Double Tree, which has full service, and Hilton Garden. How we determine branches is based on location. When we want to build a particular hotel, for example we have a story about luxury hotels in Mandalay, which charge very high price. But we decided to open a Hilton hotel in Mandalay with Eden Group two and half years ago. So we will continue to do that but there may be another opportunity for Hilton Garden in Mandalay. May be an opportunity for Hilton Garden in Mandalay plus Hilton in Yangon because it is very big city and different location. We are very particular in term of the location. Ngapali is not mature yet one hotel is enough. Hilton is very nice. I will say Hilton Garden is a potential for Mandalay and in Yangon as well. Tourism growth is more mature when we consider other branches.

What are current occupancy rates like in Myanmar?

Well, I cannot share specific occupancy rate. What I could suggest is that a source called STR, where some companies publicly release statistics. Occupancy rate for Yangon has not declined. In term of specific number, you can search and you will definitely find it. It can be more specific. It is public and then you can have a look. Nay Pyi Taw hotel has been two years and Ngapali hotel and resort turns nearly two years. From last October to May, we had triple in reservation. So we are extremely positive in term of year on year. Business level has three times much more in Ngapali same time last year. For Nay Pyi Taw, otherwise everyone knows it is very tough market. Our business has doubled. So I can only talk about Hilton, we have seen very positive increases in Nay Pyi Taw and Ngapali.

What are the differences between operating in Myanmar and other Southeast Asia countries?

Wow, we could tell Myanmar to Singapore and Myanmar to Thailand and Myanmar to Malaysia. These are the countries developing and these are the countries much more mature in infrastructure. It is difficult to compare. These are destinations that millions of tourists arrive, much more obvious than Myanmar. Every country is unique. One thing is that team members in Myanmar probably get less experience working with international guests. That would be one clear difference between Myanmar and other ASEAN countries. Team members have less exposure to working with international customers. We have more than 150 countries in the world. The big challenges Myanmar has are the capacity of human capital. That’s why we spend more time, that’s why we have vocational training center, that’s why we invest more money in training. That’s why we bring a lot of people to Myanmar to train. Most of our energy is focused on building human resource and the country.

From business point, what are the other challenges for Hilton in Myanmar in next one to three years?

For me, the biggest challenge is that I want to open hotels and I want to move fast. Speed to market is fundamental. Speed to market is important. My biggest challenge is to open hotels in Bagan, Mandalay and Inle as quickly as possible. That is good for Hilton and good for Myanmar people because Myanmar is key destination for international guests. In term of running business that Nay Pyi Taw is not a tourist destination, government moved there. People told Nay Pyi Taw is boring. Actually Nay Pyi Taw is not boring. Nay Pyi Taw is very nice. They have golf clubs, a museum; there is no traffic jam. Our hotel has 100 acre of land, a beautiful pool and garden. It is really relaxing. There are many opportunities. The government and industry must work together to promote both domestic travelers and international travelers. Nay Pyi Taw is much more than government city. I can tell you in five-year time there will be guests going there. There is the biggest challenge, to convince people to go to the Nay Pyi Taw. It is really relaxing and wonderful. Nagapali is also a challenge. There are not enough planes. For the demand of the tourists, sometimes even though hotels have availability, planes are not available. Ngapali is truly the only resort destination in Myanmar. You build a bigger runway, and build a terminal, you will definitely get more tourists. Hotels there all will be filled up.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking up to start a career in hospitality?

The most important thing is you must have a passion. Many people work for money. If you work in hospitality and you do not have a passion, you will not succeed. The thing I want to say anybody who works in hospitality in Myanmar, don’t just stay in Myanmar, they travel the world. You can travel many countries and experience different cultures.