Defining a Hotelier; The Hotel Professional Has Gone Through a Major Transition Over the Past 20 Yea

by Mark Keith | HVS International

A decade ago, hotel owner and operator Leona Helmsley appeared in a series of highly successful ad campaigns as a demanding “queen”, with a reputation that any transgressions by employees would be met with scathing contempt, ridicule and banishment from her realm.
Not many of her employees were too upset when the “Queen of Mean” was jailed for 18 months for tax evasion.

Hoteliers have often been described as kings in their castles, dispensing summary justice to their subjects, but the industry has gone through a major transition over the past 20 years.

At the start of the 1980s, most hotels were run by professionals who had spent their formative years in a craft apprenticeship, either in the kitchens, restaurant service or front-desk.

They had worked their way up through a series of jobs of increasing responsibility. Long hours and extreme dedication were the hallmarks of their success, and they expected no less from their subordinates. Through their excellent apprenticeship systems, Switzerland, Germany, France and Austria produced a surplus of ambitious hoteliers who soon left their native lands to gain experience internationally. Their hands-on, detail-orientated, operational style became the role model for today’s successful hoteliers.

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Around that time, British hoteliers began to appear on the scene, many of whom were beneficiaries of a UK initiative which levied companies and encouraged systematic training, with the “training of trainers” and rebates or grants for companies that adopted sound training practices.

Nowadays, it is common to see senior hoteliers from North America but, years ago, these were the exceptions.

Hotel companies today are looking for strengths in leadership, and communication skills which mobilize the energy and resources of a management team.

Leaders are now expected to be visionaries, who see the future clearly and can articulate this vision so that others are inspired to follow.

Effective leaders see the relationships among various ideas and information. They articulate, follow a clear mission and are guided by broad goals, as well as more short-term objectives.

They spend time anticipating the future, as well as dealing with the present. They surround themselves with experts and are able to analyze and interpret the information they receive so that they can make wise decisions for their organizations.

Sensitivity to, and appreciation of, diversity in individuals is an area in which the hotel industry is particularly attuned. (All too often, a promising career has been brought to a sudden halt by the intervention of a local partner, owner’s family member or representative who exercises his/her authority following some perceived insult or personal affront.).

Orientation to service may seem an obvious prerequisite for a hotelier but, these days, this also encompasses an internal service culture that measures employee satisfaction, knowing that high morale is critical to high customer satisfaction. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of ethical practices, and today’s industry leaders must demonstrate an awareness of the ethical dimensions embedded in their daily activities.

Managers who are perceived as having a great deal of integrity receive more respect from their employees and, consequently, more influence.

Creativity and innovation are becoming recognized as highly valued management characteristics and, with the increasing rate of change, managers who respond creatively to new challenges and opportunities will be in demand in the next decade.

Those individuals will look for new ways of solving recurring problems, take a creative approach to their tasks, will be able to innovate when required, move their organizations forward and help maintain a competitive advantage.

Fresh Perspectives

Creative managers bring fresh perspectives to organizations and inspire those around them to think out of the box.

Certain hoteliers are described as “having presence”, or “filling the space around them”. This is a consequence of their confidence to perform the specific tasks relevant to their roles. They feel empowered and proud of their contributions, and tend do be independent and self-directed.

They do not depend on constant recognition from others to feel good about their jobs. They believe they can handle their job requirements under a wide range of conditions, and tend to seek new and challenging tasks. They have realistic self-assessments.

One is reminded of the old Chinese saying:“A half-empty barrel makes the most noise”. In the interests of another much-valued characteristic - humility - the final word goes to Rudyard Kipling and this except from his classic verse, The Man In The Glass:


“When you get what you want in your struggle for self And the world makes you king for a day Just go to the mirror and look at yourself And see what that man has to say For it isn’t your father or mother or wife Who’s judgement upon you must pass The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life Is the one staring back from the glass.”

Mark Keith is Managing Director of HVS Executive Search in Hong Kong and oversees search assignments throughout South East Asia, Australia and the Pacific. Mr Keith has over twenty five years of experience in international human resource management and prior to joining HVS he headed up the human resource function for a luxury hotel group in Hong Kong. Mr Keith is a recognised authority on recruitment and selection, psychometric assessment, international compensation, training and development and cross-cultural management. For the past twenty years he has lived in Hong Kong, working within Asia and the USA. He has a Master of Science degree from the University of Leicester and has also lived and worked in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.


HVS International is a hospitality services firm providing industry skill and knowledge worldwide. The organization and its specialists possess a wide range of expertise and offer market feasibility studies, valuations, strategic analyses, development planning, and litigation support. Additionally, HVS International supplies unique knowledge in the areas of executive search, investment banking, environmental sustainability, timeshare consulting, food and beverage operations, interior design, gaming, technology strategies, organizational assessments, operational management, strategy development, convention facilities consulting, marketing communications, property tax appeals and investment consulting. Since 1980, HVS International has provided hospitality services to more than 10,000 hotels throughout the world. Principals and associates of the firm have authored textbooks and thousands of articles regarding all aspects of the hospitality industry. Click here for more…


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