A new voice in Macau

17 August 2001

Akram Touma, general manager of Macau’s Westin Resort, says Macau is “Asia’s best-kept” secret but someone needs to get the message out that Macau is really a place of its own, not just an extension of Hong Kong.

“Macau adds value to what Hong Kong has, but it really needs to become a place in its own right,” Touma says. “We have the European element that is so unique.”

Touma sees Macau from the fresh eyes of a visitor. He does not like the thought of becoming a specialist in a region because new places offer so much.

“There are many different cultures to learn about and the idea of rotation gives you a new pair of eyes to see things. You learn so much from moving around, and it enriches your experience.”

But with four months in the Westin seat, he says he just might want to become a “resort specialist”.

He came to the resort in March this year from his previous role as pre-opening general manager at the Sheraton Shenyang Lido Hotel, set in an industrial region of China’s northeast.

Quite a change, to jump from a city hotel to a resort property nestled in the serene, southeastern corner of Coloane, one of Macau’s outlying islands.

He says management at a Starwood resort requires a different discipline but he applies the same corporate models.

“This is my first resort, and that’s why I’m 100 percent excited about it. I’ve been in six to seven different countries, each with different challenges. I’m not really a resorty kind of guy. I was born wearing a suit. Starwood applies the same school of thought here with three modules: how to notice like children, focus and act.”

What were the lessons learned in China? “The China experience teaches you to be patient and creative at finding solutions,” he says. “You must be sensitive to limited resources, facilities and find new ways of doing things. I felt privileged to work there and experience it. China is a country evolving overnight.”

Touma went to China from Australia without preconceived notions. “I didn’t have the same expectations and I found a greatness in hospitality. It was a challenge but now we’re bringing the Chinese here to work for us.”

One important personal philosophy Touma has brought with him to each destination, is the need for communication.

Touma has made himself visible on every travel trade board in his location; he’s a Global Hotelier’s Club member; active in charity events and Toastmasters International, a club designed to teach people communication and leadership skills.

He wants to start a Toastmasters Club in Macau and hopes to have one up and running toward the end of this year.

He commends the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) for promoting Macau at all levels to travel agents in the region.

He says because of MGTO’s efforts, “arrivals are increasing, the figures are looking great, average figures are up and occupancy is up. This is also due in part to the Fisherman’s Wharf, A-ma temple and some other projects this year.”

The Westin, he says, dominates Macau’s hotel industry in terms of RevPAR. “Our average rate including service charge is HK$1,400 (US$179) at this time of year.”

He says the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty programme contributes about 20 percent to business. “I find more and more, I’m becoming a believer of loyalty programs; there is so much to be won from them,” he says.

The resort’s management is in search of new markets beyond the traditionally strong Hong Kong market. It is clear about positioning it as a resort on weekends and a corporate venue throughout the week. “Our goal now is to position ourselves as the best resort in greater China,” Touma says.

Touma is now communicating a new message for the hotel. “A spa is on the roll,” he says.

The basic plan is to build a spa and swimming pool in a 600 sqm area using sea and sand to create a feeling of Bali. If all goes well, the Westin could have this new spa by mid-2002. “This is going to be the real McCoy,” he said.

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