It felt almost like the old days. I had just returned from a trip to
Siem Reap and I was on my way to have drinks with Jennifer Cronin,
president of Wharf Hotels Group, who had flown into Singapore from
Australia, enroute to Hong Kong, and Singapore actor Hossan Leong, who
was catching a flight that night to Sydney to catch the Mardi Gras
The familiar criss-crossing of friendships in the night that we in
travel were so used to pre-2020 – 'Oh, you’re in town? Let’s catch up'
or 'Oh, I know someone else who’s in town, let’s grab them.'
Except this was no ordinary day. Cronin had just announced her
resignation, effective April 30, from a position she’s held for six
years and an organisation she’s been with for eight years in total, and
leaving behind a career in hospitality she’s pursued almost her entire
In many ways, it was a decision that was almost expected and perhaps
will come to be accepted as part of the Great Resignation wave that’s
sweeping the travel industry.
Covid has taken a toll on everyone, particularly chief executives
who’ve had to keep organisations together and spirits high, even when
your own may be flagging, and people are asking questions they never had
time for. “Is this all there is to life?”, “What else could I be
doing?”, “Is there something more meaningful I can do?”
From Siem Reap to London to Hong Kong and Singapore, I sense many
executives, of all ranks, are asking these questions. In Siem Reap, I
met a chief executive who told me he’s thinking of selling his business
so he can pursue a quieter life, building a house in a village, so he
and his wife can spend more time together “learning to do nothing”.
In Cronin’s case, she’s spent the past two years fighting the
pandemic, keeping the group together, and keeping morale high, while
living in a city that today is facing its most challenging Covid test
with record daily infections and a mounting death toll. Its borders
remain closed while others in the region have opened up, leading many to
question its future in the post-pandemic age.
This report in February quotes a survey by the American Chamber of
Commerce which shows that 44% of members were thinking of leaving Hong
Kong due to the territory’s strict pandemic rules. Of the companies
surveyed, 26% said they were considering relocation.
WIT founder and editor Yeoh Siew Hoon catching up with Hossan Leong and Jennifer Cronin at Andaz Singapore
Cronin, who flew in from her hometown of Gold Coast, Queensland,
where she’s spent the past couple of months on a break as well as
working remotely, is spending the required “wash out” period of 14 days
in Singapore before returning to Hong Kong where she will spend time in
quarantine before returning to office end of March to serve her notice
and pack up her life in Hong Kong to return to Australia.
She had spent the entire day on Zoom calls, speaking to owners,
colleagues and partners, before the word got out and you could tell it’s
been an emotional, harrowing experience. This is a huge decision for a
professional hotelier who’s spent more than 20 years working in Asia,
and spending unfettered energy the last six strengthening the foundation
of the former Marco Polo Hotels and introducing the new brand, Niccolo
In the press statement, Cronin says she believes the timing is right
for a seamless transition – her successor is Thomas Saig, currently vice
president, operations. “Together with an inspiring group of hoteliers
across our group, we have punched above our weight and built an
organisation by adopting best practices that are the envy of larger
international hotel groups,” she said.
“At the heart of the organisation are our dynamic, hard working and
passionate leaders who have prepared their hotels for the post pandemic
travel environment, and will most certainly be ahead of the curve. I
could not be more proud of their efforts especially over the past two
years and I am confident that the longterm future is bright for travel
Personally, she told me, “I am torn between two loves.”
As hard as the decision has been, Cronin is looking forward to
returning to Queensland where she and her husband have built a new home,
and she will take time out before contemplating her next move, her
Second Summit, as it were.
For the hospitality industry in Asia, Cronin’s departure is a big
loss. She’s been a constant champion of Hong Kong through the pandemic,
played a central role in the first days of the pandemic when her hotel
in Wuhan, the Marco Polo, became the command centre and is an active
member of the Global Hotel Alliance Discovery network.
not only taking its toll on chief executives, but on employees from all
walks of life. The World Travel & Tourism Council estimated that 62
million travel jobs were lost in 2020, representing a drop of 18.5%
with only two million of those jobs recovered last year.
In Siem Reap, I met a tour guide to whom I was his first client in
two years. After having survived on zero income for two years he says
he’s seen the abyss and is no longer afraid to face the future, even if
it means giving up his job to do something else.
In Singapore, the staff who are left in hospitality are burnt out.
With Covid infections at an all-time high, colleagues are catching Covid
that the joke now is, who hasn’t got it? The anxiety of isolation, of
infecting elderly family members, is adding to the work challenge and
hoteliers in the city are grappling with a monumental labour shortage,
even as travel begins to pick up.
It is clear travel companies will have to really up their game to
attract and retain employees at all levels at this time – to make it
worthwhile for talented people to join and stay and be part of what will
hopefully be The Great Recovery and Renewal to come.