Hotelier Gino Tan believes in three fundamental rules when it comes to making an impression on his hotel guests: a warm welcome, a fond farewell and an exceptional breakfast experience. He shares his memories, experiences and learning opportunities from his years in the service industry.
For Gino Tan, General Manager at the Pan Pacific Singapore, a typical day of work begins at 7am. The first thing on his agenda?
Greeting his employees.
With over 29 years of experience in the service and hospitality industry, Gino understands the importance of staff satisfaction and showing appreciation for the people who keep the engines well-oiled and running.
“It’s something I’ve always subscribed to,” said Gino, referring to the notion that happy staff equals happy guests. “So whenever [my] schedule permits at 7.30am, I will be at the Associate entrance, welcoming my employees and associates. This includes the long serving mature Singaporean colleagues who have been working with us for the past 30 years.”
Gino’s interest in the hotel industry began when he was flying with Singapore Airlines as a flight steward in the 1980s.
“It gave me a very good grounding with exposure to international clientele as well as food and beverage operations,” said Gino. “It had introduced me to the wide spectrum of the hospitality industry, whether it’s on the plane, or on the ground. We stayed in many great five-star hotels in our travels, and that had inspired me to pursue that career once I left the airline almost four years later.”
Gino as a flight steward. Photo courtesy of Gino Tan
After his stint as flight steward, he joined the Omni Marco Polo Hotel, handling corporate accounts for the establishment, and has since worked his way through various roles at other hotels. This included Raffles Hotel, then managed by Raffles International’s Merchant Court Hotel as well as four other overseas postings that had taken him to Beijing and London in the capacity of General Manager (GM) before returning to Singapore to become GM of PARKROYAL on Pickering. He is currently the Area General Manager (Singapore) of the Pan Pacific Hotels Group, managing a total of five Singapore hotels.
In Gino’s opinion, Singapore has come a long way in terms of what she has to offer visitors.
“In the early days, other than Orchard Road, and the then up-and-coming Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, Singapore didn’t have much to offer,” recounted Gino. “Chinatown was not what it is today, and we didn’t have the Integrated Resorts, Night Safari, Gardens by the Bay, nor the Marina Barrage. We have certainly reinvented ourselves consistently to have a year on year increase in visitor arrivals to Singapore today.”
“Singapore back then was well-known as a stopover hub,” continued Gino. He explained that before the existence of long-haul flights, Singapore was a pit stop for many tourists headed for further-flung destinations, such as the United Kingdom. What used to be short layovers for these tourists, have evolved into longer stay-overs as Singapore continued to churn out more sightseeing options and experiences for people to enjoy.
Gino’s passion for his work is evident in the way that he relates some of the most memorable moments throughout his years in the hotel industry.
“Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth had stayed with us when I was at Raffles Hotel (I was the Executive Assistant Manager or EAM Marketing then),” said Gino. “I had the pleasure of spending time with Her Majesty and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, during a tour of the hotel. Her Majesty was very cordial and courteous, and she had a fantastic memory. She had just turned 80 then, and she’d remembered the names of the three butlers who served her from the day she arrived, to the day she departed.”
In the foreground, Queen Elizabeth II (left) and Gino Tan (right). Following behind them is the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. Photo courtesy of Gino Tan
“She had such a great experience with us that her head warden wrote to thank us and invited us for a collaboration with Buckingham Palace, where we would each send two of our associates to learn from each other. This was indeed a unique opportunity for this rare cross-cultural, cross-institution training, it was such an honour and great recognition for the hotel.”
Hosting Her Majesty was no mean feat. Ensuring her safety was on the top of everybody’s agenda. “For her stay, we had to work with the Singapore Police Force and the authorities – and that was quite a challenge,” Gino continued. “How do you prevent Raffles Hotel from looking like Fort Knox? Because of the high profile of the VVIPS, there were many suggestions to secure the premises with hard physical structures, thereby affecting the beauty of the façade.”
A moment of quiet for the busy Gino, but it’s clear that his mind is never not working. Photo by: Lynette Lee
“So we came up with this brilliant idea to do concrete, rectangular bollards, box it up, and put planters on top so that it blended into the Raffles Hotel landscaping,” said Gino. “It had nice orchids on top, while providing blast-proof protection.”
Some other notable celebrities and dignitaries that he has hosted included Singapore’s first Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew (“He loved his meeting rooms to be specifically at 23 degrees, not more, not less.”), a Vatican Cardinal (“When he asked about the last time I went for confession, I felt like the elevator was taking ages to reach the third floor.”), and Star Wars creator, George Lucas.
Gino had also been very involved with the International Olympics Committee (IOC). He was the Resident Manager of the Raffles Beijing Hotel when it was appointed the official IOC Family Hotel for board members during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“We were home to many dignitaries, including then IOC President Jacques Rogge, Emeritus IOC President, the late Juan Antonio Samaranch, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne of the United Kingdom, Dr Henry Kissinger and many other luminaries. To have all of them residing for more than two weeks in our hotel was certainly a very tall order and we were honoured to have received numerous accolades from their stay with us.”
Gino (left) with IOC Emeritus President, the late Juan Antonio Samaranch (right). Photo Courtesy of Gino Tan
Gino shared that he has taken it upon himself to try and develop as many Singaporean talents for the industry as possible. Even though it is important to continue growing, Gino opined that if we were to keep going forward without taking the time to groom the people from within the industry, there would be a big problem of not having sufficient local talent to front hotels in Singapore. He is a member of the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) Sectorial Tripartite Committee and a participant of Singapore Hotel Association’s (SHA) inaugural Mentorship programme.
“We have to maintain a good balance of employing both expatriates and Singaporeans in key senior roles. I want to ensure that we pave a good path for Singaporeans to enter this wonderful and exciting industry.”
Gino sharing his work experiences with students at travel trade show, ITB Asia 2017. Photo courtesy of Gino Tan
In a survey that Gino has conducted with a management consultancy company, he’s learned that millennials love to travel overseas and that they want things done fast – almost instantaneously. Acting on this insight, he’s taken it on himself to attract, identify, groom and develop millennials wherever opportunity arises, and provide them the chance to work overseas within the organisation that he represents.
“Hopefully, they will learn something, and bring it back home,” said Gino. “I’ve been a product of very good mentorship and I took inspiration from what my mentors have accomplished – now, I am in that position to make a difference for others looking to move up.”
Written by: FJ Sai
This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign