Compiled by SIRIMA EAMTAKO
From rock bottom to success
One of the most respected Thai tourism industry leaders, Pornthip (Addie) Hirunkate has led a true “rock bottom to success” story. Holding a business diploma from a local polytechnic college, she began her career 38 years ago as a tour guide at Tour East Thailand and left a general manager. She co-founded Destination Asia (Thailand)
16 years ago and has transformed it into one of the country’s top five destination management companies.
What inspired you to start out as a tour guide?
I had just graduated. I needed a job. More foreign tourists have visited Thailand. There was a need for tour guides. I earned my English skills from a Holy Redeemer school. There was no need for a licence to become a tour guide. I got a tour guide job at Tour East Thailand, received three months of on-the-job training and worked in that position for 12 years.
How did you progress from a tour guide to an office position (operations)?
I wanted a career development and my boss also recognised my potential. After some years in operations, I moved to sales and marketing and landed my last position as general manager.
What inspired you to start your own business?
There were changes at Tour East. I co-founded Destination Asia (Thailand) because I wanted to continue doing what I love and to be able to offer employment to all my team members. Starting with a team of 17, Destination Asia (Thailand) has 128 staff now.
What’s your biggest career achievement?
My staff says they have everything in life today because of DA. I have happy staff and that’s why the company has grown and made profit. I don’t desert my staff during up or down times. I asked my staff to endure a pay cut to avoid layoffs during the Thai political crisis in 2010. I gave them a three-month bonus last year as business rebounded.
I was once an employee. I know the needs of an employee. I am now an employer. I see to those needs such as provident fund, health insurance, group insurance and company’s shares.
What is your advice to new faces in the tourism industry?
Start from rock bottom. Learn from the experiences. Be humble. Believe in team work. Remember that tourists can go anywhere, but there is a reason why they choose a particular destination. We must try to make tourists happy and impressed, so that they will always come back.
Compiled by KRISTIE THONG
Behind the rosy exterior
A hospitality industry veteran of nearly 30 years, Serene Law is currently the director of sales and marketing at Marina Mandarin Singapore, winner of the Singapore Luxury Business Hotel 2012 awarded by World Luxury Hotel.
Ms Law’s key responsibilities include strategising sales and marketing plans, creating promotional sales programmes and formulating collaboration initiatives.
With her vast experience in hospitality and tourism industries, she has the opportunities to lead corporate sales, catering sales, MICE and leisure sales teams.
What do you love about your role that gets you up in the morning?
My sales team: nurturing and mentoring them and watching them develop into sales professionals and growing into better, well-rounded individuals.
What are some tough decisions that you need to make on a regular basis, and how do you tackle them?
As a sales professional, I am always in the process of making deals. One of the
toughest decisions I face would be to selectively maximise revenue by choosing the right business, at the right price, and at the right time for the hotel. To make such decisions, I keep myself updated with the market conditions and trends, and leverage the use of technology. It is equally important to work closely with the revenue panel to get consensus on difficult decisions.
What are some misconceptions about the hospitality industry that you’ve come across?
The hospitality industry is often perceived as glamorous and exciting, with constant jet setting and plenty of gourmet dining. In fact, behind all the glitz and glamour, a lot of hard work and long hours go into planning and service delivery.
If you could change just one thing in the industry and its talent, what would it be?
The hospitality and tourism field is an extremely vast one, and I have always felt that hoteliers should have an opportunity to expand their experience in other aspects of the industry. I’ve had the opportunity to work for one of the major tourist attractions in Singapore and found that the experience has greatly enhanced my ability to see the dynamics of the tourism business and understand it on a deeper level.
Apart from work, what do you do to continue growing as a person and leader?
As a leader, I make it a point to have a short, non-work related conversation with my team members every day. As a person, I regularly take stock of my life and appreciate what I have and how far I have come. I also do my best to give back to society in my own way. Most recently, I volunteered my time to share my work experience with aspiring young entrepreneurs in Siem Reap, Cambodia.