BORN to HOST
Jean-philippe De Haes has been honing his hospitality skills all over the world with the Hilton brand for 12 years, but his welcoming personality was developed to perfection a long time before. Now as the general manager of Hilton Garden Inn Bali Ngurah R
Q: You’ve been in the industry for quite a long time, how did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
A: When I was little, we had so many family parties, and I was running around, making sure everybody had some food, drinks, and playing the host. At about 15, I started working in a restaurant called A La Vieille Forge in Remicourt, a small village in Belgium where I came from, which was also a function space, so I served for weddings and different kinds of events. What I really enjoyed was, just for one moment, I was part of another person's life. When I was working for weddings for instance, we had to start very early and finish very late, but it was rewarding because I felt like a part of their family, making sure they had this memorable moment. I was only serving, nothing extraordinary, but I was doing it from my heart. I realised I wanted to make people happy, making sure they felt good and ate well. I knew from then that I would be in the hospitality business. You have to be passionate and work a lot of hours, but the smiles of the people are rewarding.
Q: What would you say are the highlights of your career?
A: I have had the chance to play different roles with Hilton, which have been essential to build my experience and knowledge as I cover many areas. I was the director of finance for quite a long time, the director of business development in France and also the director of operations at the amazing and unique Hilton Pattaya. The brand gave me these opportunities and it has always supported me. The other highlight is to have worked in many different countries, in Europe, in the US and now in Asia. I have to say I don't know how to move away from Asia. I've worked in Thailand before, and now in Bali, Indonesia, it's just super nice.
Q: Do you have any memorable moment from your journey in the hospitality scene that you want to share?
A: When I was working at Hilton Strasbourg in France, I was staying in the hotel that night, and they called me at 2AM to inform me that Lionel Richie was at the reception and asked me to help. I thought it was a joke. I put on my shirt and tie – it was a red tie, I remember. I came down and Lionel Richie was there. He was with his crew, they had a concert
in Germany – near the border – and had a technical problem with their jet, so they were looking for the closest hotel and were sure to be welcomed at any time in a Hilton. I was there with the barman who was finishing his shift, and we had to cook because there was no one else there. We both made some club sandwiches, French fries, and hot chocolate for them. They were so friendly and really thankful.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve ever faced?
A: It was actually here, when we were about to open the hotel. I arrived exactly 51 days before the opening, so in a very short time, I had to get to know the hotel, what was ongoing and what needed to be done. The opening itself was my biggest challenge – from which I learned so many different things. All went well as I had the support from the brand, my team and family.
Q: Bearing in mind Hilton’s strong identity, do you think it’s difficult to bring in new ideas and innovations?
A: Yes, it is, but innovation is essential. We continually strive to anticipate and cater to the evolving needs and preferences of our guests. At our core, we are a business of people serving people, so our team members provide exceptional experiences. The thing is, competitors can copy us, but they can't copy our team members. So we focus a lot on the culture and the different opportunities for each of them. We can see so many positive comments on the hotel in social media, especially on the helpfulness of the staff, which makes me proud of them.
Q: What do you think of the hospitality trend in Bali?
A: There's a bright future for Bali. In 2016 Bali had a more than 20 percent increase in visitors. And the island has so much to offer: amazing culture, food and the beach. The trend is positive for Bali, I can see it continuing to grow. I hope it will keep its spirit, though. You have to live here in Bali to understand it, really. There's something here that you can't describe, and I hope it's going to stay that way forever.
Q: What advice would you give to new, young hoteliers trying to make a break in the industry?
A: Communication is key. Also, sometimes young people want to get many responsibilities very fast. Yes, it's good they're ambitious, but they also have to take the time. In my career it has helped to get some experience first. And speak different languages. English for sure, but Chinese would be a great asset in the future.