At your ser­vice

A ho­tel gen­eral man­ager finds it re­ward­ing to en­sure cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - by WOnG LI ZA

WORK­ING in dif­fer­ent ho­tels in Switzer­land, Singapore and Malaysia ex­posed Depesh Seth to var­i­ous sets of chal­lenges. How­ever, it was in China’s Sichuan prov­ince that he en­coun­tered an earth-shat­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, lit­er­ally speak­ing.

The year was 2008 and the date, May 12, the day a mag­ni­tude-8.0 earth­quake hit.

Depesh, 35, was at the time ho­tel man­ager and act­ing gen­eral man­ager of the Sher­a­ton Chengdu Lido Ho­tel in Chengdu, cap­i­tal of Sichuan. “The earth­quake hap­pened at 2.28pm. The mag­ni­tude of 8.0 not only rocked the en­tire prov­ince but tremors were also felt in Bei­jing and Bangkok. Dur­ing that pe­riod, we were run­ning at a high oc­cu­pancy of 90%. We were (in the thick of a) cri­sis and I had to en­sure that the wel­fare of my team and cus­tomers were taken care of,” re­lated Depesh, via

e-mail.

The city was in chaos and Depesh and his staff knew they had to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion to bring the sit­u­a­tion un­der con­trol at the ho­tel.

First, they evac­u­ated the en­tire ho­tel and moved ev­ery­one to a sta­dium next door. Then they combed through the ho­tel build­ing and did a head count of team mem­bers and guests.

“Al­though some guests in­sisted on go­ing back to their rooms dur­ing the evac­u­a­tion, we had to stand firm for the ben­e­fit of their safety.

“We had never been trained in or han­dled such a cri­sis be­fore but thank­fully, with sheer ded­i­ca­tion, self­less pro­fes­sion­al­ism and strong courage of my team mem­bers, none of us nor our cus­tomers were in­jured. My team was out­stand­ing and we stood by each other, risk­ing our lives to en­sure that ev­ery­body was taken care of,” he said.

Depesh later re­ceived a spe­cial recog­ni­tion award from Star­wood World­wide (the group that owns Sher­a­ton) for han­dling the en­tire cri­sis pro­fes­sion­ally and risk­ing per­sonal life.

A for­mer stu­dent of St Paul’s In­sti­tu­tion in Seremban, Depesh grad­u­ated with a Diploma in Ho­tel and Tourism Man­age­ment from DCT Uni­ver­sity Cen­tre in Switzer­land in 1993.

He then worked at two ho­tels in Zurich be­fore com­ing back to the Asian re­gion in 1995 where he was based in dif­fer­ent ho­tels in Singapore and Malaysia, at­tached to the food and bev­er­age, and ban­quet de­part­ments.

In 2005, he be­came ho­tel man­ager of Sher­a­ton Chengdu Lido, Sichuan, his first post­ing in China.

“Chengdu is a great life­style city and its motto of ‘A City You Never Say Good­bye To’ truly speaks for it­self,” said Depesh, who is sin­gle.

In De­cem­ber 2008, he was ap­pointed gen­eral man­ager of the Sher­a­ton Xian Ho­tel in Xian, Shaanxi prov­ince, be­com­ing Star­wood group’s youngest gen­eral man­ager in Asia Pa­cific.

The ho­tel line is un­doubt­edly com­pet­i­tive, some­thing Depesh can read­ily at­test to.

“Cur­rently, ev­ery city in China is boom­ing and de­vel­op­ing at a very fast pace. For ho­tels, com­pe­ti­tion is get­ting stiff and devel­op­ment and avail­abil­ity of tal­ent is not (on par) with the growth of ho­tels. Hence, re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion of our great tal­ents is a huge chal­lenge.” Depesh’s cur­rent role is multi-prong. “As a gen­eral man­ager, you are re­quired to be a jack-of-all-trades in good or bad times to en­sure that you are man­ag­ing a well-run ho­tel and en­sur­ing staff and cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion.”

How­ever, he en­joys meet­ing peo­ple from var­i­ous back­grounds through his job even though he has to of­ten work dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­sons.

“Most of the time, you are work­ing when ev­ery­one is cel­e­brat­ing and cher­ish­ing spe­cial oc­ca­sions. How­ever, when cus­tomers’ events are suc­cess­ful, there is no com­par­i­son to the sat­is­fac­tion gained.”

Depesh, who likes to read mag­a­zines re­lated to travel, trends, ad­ven­ture and hos­pi­tal­ity, plans to make the best of his time in Xian.

“Xian is an amaz­ing city with a rich cul­ture and his­tory that dates back 13 dy­nas­ties. It also has the best of both moder­nity and au­then­tic­ity,” he said.

Depesh’s per­sonal goals in life in­clude tak­ing a month’s leave to go for the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

“And my last job would be to man­age a chic bou­tique ho­tel at an ex­otic lo­ca­tion be­fore I call it a day,” said Depesh, who likes lounge, chill out and R&B mu­sic.

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