While the Swiss, Austrians, German and French all take pride in managing exquisite hotels, one Malaysian in Cambodia wants to add Malaysians to that list of the world’s great hoteliers.
Malaysian Thomas Lam has just joined the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort in Kampot Province after having served as advisor for Canadia Group’s hospitality division, including a stint as general manager of the Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville.
Lam was also served as group director of sales and marketing with responsibility for the new Dara Airport Hotel located at Ratana Plaza on the road to Phnom Penh International Airport.
Reflecting on his experiences, Lam says Cambodia needs more brand and destination awareness.
“If you don’t promote, people will never know,” Lam said. “If you don’t do advertising, many people won’t know about your hotel. It is a good move to advertise in the media when you are a hotel.”
Lam says because Cambodia has new destinations like Bokor Mountain Resort, it is lucky there are more new flights arriving in Cambodia like Tiger Airways from Singapore and additional new scheduled air services from Pattaya to Siem Reap.
Lam says it can be psychologically better to be number two than number one, because you’re always striving to be better and have more room for improvement.
“For those people who always want to be number one and perfect, I feel that in this world, you can’t always have things perfect in life. For me I always feel you can achieve more if you’re number two. I like to think of diversified business; not only focus on one particular market. Every tourist or business coming in to Cambodia is our potential guest, regardless of race, religion or nationality,” he said.
For example, Lam said the new Dara Airport Hotel was already fully booked for the ASEAN summit, with customers including embassies of the United States and Japan.
“Dara Airport Hotel is already forecasting up to 60 per cent occupancy for next year,” he said, adding that the new hotel’s adjacent Diamond Wing would be open for business by the end of October.
Born in 1971 in Penang, Malaysia, Lam is a middle child with one older sister- Agnes Lam and one younger brother, Weng Yu. His father runs the famous Chong Heng Restaurant in Seberang Jaya, at Butterworth in the northern state of Penang, Malaysia.
“Our family restaurant is very famous for local Malaysian Chinese food: prawns with noodles. Every Monday to Saturday lots of corporate factory people will go there to have lunch and dinner,” Lam said.
Lam’s sister Agnes works at Kuala Lumpur International Airport as a retail supervisor for the duty free shops and his brother helps his father manage the family restaurant.
As for Lam, his aspiration is to be a top Malaysian hotelier.
“Our goal as we progress in life should be to do our best whatever we’re doing. If I’m a hotelier, I want to be a top hotelier from Malaysia. This is my goal. I think I’m almost there,” he said.
“Learn as much as you can, be a good listener and set your aspirations to being really good at what you have passion about, and most of the time, the progression will take care of itself,” Lam said. “Never be shy to ask when you want to know more general knowledge and be ready to accept feedback and improve yourself.”
Lam started his career in the sales office of Resort World in Penang, in charge of the market for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).
At age 20, he went to work for the Sheraton Penang Hotel as guest service agent.
“Sheraton Hotel Penang is a good company to get international exposure,” he said. Later he worked at the Radisson in Kuala Lumpur and then at the Sunway Hotel Seberang Jaya in Penang in 1997. Next, Lam went to work for what was then called the Mutiara Hotels and Resort Group on Langkawi Island.
“Langkawi Island is a world - famous island destination and I was there for almost five years,” Lam said.
From Langkawi, Lam got an offer to join Naga World in Phnom Penh and stayed there over a year, before joining the Independence Hotel as general manager and later group director of sales and marketing for Canadia.
Listening is a primary skill for a general manager, Lam says.
“Always be ready to accept both positive and negative feedback,” he says. “Try to improve and never turn down people and say no, because your guest is the one who pays your salary. Our employees are our most valuable asset. We depend upon their skills, service and commitment as well. Teamwork is one element that every general manager should have. You always need to have a positive mindset and you must have a great passion for your career. You always need to do a lot of networking to know people in the city where you work and you need to know what’s happening around you,” Lam said.
“If they make a mistake, evaluate the issue, listen to the feedback and see whether you can settle with him or her. I believe that every problem will have a solution for sure. Also you need to understand the local culture, which in Cambodia is unique. What’s unique is they have patience to listen and learn and accept.”
What Cambodians really need, according to Lam, is the confidence given by guidance.
“Never let them be alone. Walk beside them and coach them. If I can be a successful Malaysian hotelier, so can the Cambodian new generation also make it happen because hoteliers now are focused on global hotel careers.
“You must give them confidence because I feel that until today lots of new players lack confidence. You need to back them up and guide them. I still need to go out with them to do sales calls which I find very interesting. If you help the locals, the locals will help you to have better communications. As long as you have a positive mindset you will never feel worries.”
“If you give the poor a drink, they will drink for a day; but if you teach and guide them how to get the water source from the water well, they will drink for a lifetime and always not only depend on single water source.”
Lam says Cambodia has a lot of potential and he hopes more international brand hotels will come here.
“The main issue in Cambodia is that it is very hard to get good English-speaking staff to work with you. The majority of guests are coming in from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Japan, and Russia and all the Southeast Asian market is coming in to Cambodia. It is very challenging.” Other than English languages, other languages also very important as well. The more languages you known are better.”
In his new role at Bokor Mountain Resort, Lam is focussing on the elements of the destination including heritage and nature tours.
“This is a new challenging job for me and I look at it in a very positive way because a lot of new products will be coming up for Cambodia as a new destination. I think the Bokor Mountain Resort can concentrate on nature and heritage. In future they’re going to build convention and meeting centers and it is an ideal destination because they get very good fresh air there.”
Lam takes up his new job at Bokor Mountain Resort tomorrow, on September 1. “I’m proud to be a Malaysian,” Lam said.
“The main thing is we know many languages. My mother tongue is Cantonese. Languages are very important. They give you a lot of exposure to work overseas. Malaysia is a multi-cultural environment. In Malaysia we have lots of good food, infrastructure, tourism destination and Penang especially is a good destination for food.”
Lam said part of Malaysia’s uniqueness is mutual respect for other religions and heritage culture.
“After the Ramadan month, the Malaysian Muslims celebrate and all Malaysians in regard of others religion or races join in. We visit the homes of friends. You can have Malaysian cuisine and we respect each other. At Chinese New Year, Malays, Indians come to visit the Chinese people. Malaysian people celebrate Deepavali festival, Chinese New Year, Thaipusam, Christmas and very important our August 31, our Malaysia Independence Day too. Everybody respects each other’s culture and religion. I would say Malaysia is very open-minded to give and accept different cultures and live in harmonious concepts,” Lam said.