Tony Chisholm realised the importance of teamwork at an early age, playing team sports at the highest international level as a young adult. Now, as the chief operating officer at GCP Hospitality, he knows that working closely with his colleagues – and local communities – is more crucial that ever, and he and his C-level management team aim to be “as supportive and available to the hotel teams as possible”.
We spoke to him to learn more – about not just teamwork, but how each market presents its own unique challenges, and how ‘Instagrammabilty’ is the new essential aspect of any hotel:
TD: What was your background before you came to GCP Hospitality? How does that help you in your role?
TC: I have worked in the hospitality industry since I was 17 years of age when I commenced this exciting journey with Hyatt hotels as a telephone operator. I have been lucky enough throughout my career to work in several exciting cities and countries ranging from Bangkok, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, to name few.
The best part of my journey is the opportunity I had to work with an amazing diversity of people and teams at each hotel. I have always loved playing team sports and was lucky to play some sports at the highest international level representing my country, so having a competitive and passionate spirit has helped me progress in this business because like playing sport, it’s all about teamwork.
Success in this industry as a leader would not be possible without teamwork. Owners have successful investments if their hotels are running efficiently and no one else but the employees and hotel teams drive guest service, engagement and loyalty while executing the day-to-day operational performance.
What challenges have you overcome in your career and how?
I will compartmentalise this in three boxes. The challenges for any hotel to being successful are linked to market conditions and each market’s unique challenges, which could range from location, low flight loads, seasonality, political unrest or an oversupply of new hotels.
Every owner expects the highest return from their hotel and they desire this over a long term, not just one good year, there has been a massive increase in additional hotels in Asia Pacific in the last 15 years and the arrival of numerous new brands.
Staying ahead of the competition to ensure a hotel’s market share is achieved is always a challenge. Ideally, the first step would be reaching a hotel’s fair share in the market. Then, of course, the chance to take a hotel to the next level and overachieve fair share in any market should always be the ultimate goal to fuel motivation within a hotel culture.
Developing employee engagement is another critical challenge, staying up-to-date with what employees are expecting from their employer is a priority, since the further engaged employees are, the greater chance a hotel or business has to be successful. Engagement drivers are different from one country to another, what works in Australia, for example, might not work in Asia.
“Traditional employee benefits have been superseded by the ‘work-life balance’ approach”
Ensuring that the employees or associates have access to their career advancement, training and opportunities to garner higher positions or advancement are key today with so many young graduates seeking out a career in hospitality. Over the years, the traditional employee’s benefits have been superseded by the ‘work-life balance’ approach where ensuring employees have time with their families and friends is critical.
Six or five and half days are slowly becoming a thing of the past in many locations in Asia. The Internet has made the world smaller helped by the low-cost airline carriers, and employees want to explore the world more than ever. Therefore travelling and making use of time away from work, is a priority as is company staff rates for staff to take advantage of when travelling.
Hiring the right talent is the most critical step when creating a great service culture in a hotel but retaining that talent has to be a strategy led by hotels and supported at a corporate office level. I think most senior leaders would say that the challenge to recruit, train and retain great people is number one on their list of things that keep them awake at night.
What has changed the most during your time in the travel industry? How do you and GCP Hospitality stay ahead of the curve?
I am sure most hoteliers would tell you the same answer: the thirst for “a unique and local experience”. From a marketing perspective, one of the biggest changes has been how to try and create something as social media-worthy as possible, from design elements to food and beverage and of course guest experiences.
There is so much communication through digital channels these days that hoteliers really have to put themselves in the customers’ shoes and try to think of these dimensions that encourage guests to return for more of those memorable moments. GCPH is constantly researching customer feedback to ensure we stay ahead of the curve or even try to create new trends that can positively affect our hotel business streams.
As an example, our Hotel G Singapore was featured on BBC for just how ‘Instagrammable’ it is.
Indeed, the rooms showcase colourful handmade dream-catchers chandeliers aiming to bring a night of restful sleep, while the walls sport picture frames from YellowKorner.
The rest of the hotel features design and artistic elements that are sure to catch the eye.
I’d say that the other major change that has occurred is an ever-growing reliance on mobile technology to make hotel bookings.
Today, 70% to 80% of Internet access is through mobile phones. Hence it is crucial to ensure that the way we communicate, promote and market our hotel is customisable for mobile use.
For anyone looking to follow a similar career path to yours, what advice would you give them? What should they include in any job application?
Creativity and passion. Hotels need passionate people to have that desire to make great guest service touch points for guests and continue being passionate about the guest experience. A job application is usually amongst a high number of applicants so being able to communicate passion and creativity in an application will be a huge advantage.
“A professional photo is worth a thousand words”
What surprised and delighted the guests or what they love to experience in a hotel can be the difference when making a decision to return to that hotel. I also think that a professional photo is worth a thousand words as it gives the recruiter a chance to read an application and match to the person’s profile. The right photo can really reflect an applicant’s personality.
I think everyone has to follow their own path, as it’s difficult or sometimes not relevant to follow others. What I do suggest, is to try and have a mentor along the way that can offer advice and feedback according to the performance and decisions that are required in building a career. I was very lucky to have some mentors helping me over the years and for me, this was an advantage I definitely had over others.
What is your personal goal for the product for the next six months and then two years? How will you get there?
I love this question because it’s really at the heart of what we are striving to achieve with our general managers and respective hotel teams. Our mutual goal is to be as supportive and available to the hotel teams as possible, something we emphasise on every day through meetings, conference calls, and business trips.
Hotel G Singapore gym
Our goals are to ensure that we have a competitor and market differentiation in our hotels being distinctive as brands via unique designs that are very ‘Instagrammable’ and in line with our millennial clientele. We are already known for our strong food and beverage concepts but we are also keen on creating new ones moving forward, that will continue to keep guests front of mind in every market.
We want to continue our great strategic partnerships for arts, music, fashion and food beverage in regards to collaborations with award-winning guest chefs. We also want to be close to our hotel community and add value and interest for the communities surrounding our hotels as well as adding value to hotel clients.
We launched our G Talk series this year providing free insightful presentations and specific topics of interest relevant to each hotel. We will continue to challenge ourselves to be even more dynamic and creative while remaining true to the customer in regards to listening to their changing needs so that our hotels and products are always relevant and front of mind.