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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 23, 2005

What it takes to become a hotel executive

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

So you're considering a career in the hotel industry, but not sure whether it's the path to riches or just a dead-end, low-paying job.

Local hotel executives who moved up the ranks contend that opportunities are abundant. But you need to make your objectives clear to the people who count and you need to get the right training to prepare you for a top job.

Several hotel executives contacted by The Honolulu Advertiser offered the following advice:

• Don't be shy: Many young local people just entering the visitor industry tend to underestimate themselves and not realize they have a lot to contribute, said Rosa Say, a management consultant and former executive of the Hualalai Resort and other resorts.

"Employees need to understand that they're a conduit of sorts in which they can really bridge community and workplace by really just being very honest in communicating who they are, what they have to offer and how they feel about our sense of place in the Islands," she said.

• Be flexible: Broaden your experience by working in various departments of a hotel, from food and beverage to front desk to housekeeping. Many hotel management trainee programs include work in several departments.

"You have this ability to learn so many diverse and different disciplines but you have the advantage of actually working for one employer while you're doing that," Say said. "At the end of the day when someone's looking for a general manager, to them that's very valuable work experience."

• Work in different properties and destinations: Starting a career in the Islands is important, but working on the Mainland or abroad for a period of time can provide invaluable experience. Large hotel chains offer the opportunity to work at different properties.

"If we're going to serve (visitors) and understand them, we need to understand their culture," said Ernest Nishizaki, executive vice president and COO of Kyo-ya Company Ltd. "If you're going to work in a hotel that serves a lot of Japanese, or your job is to serve the Japanese, what better place to learn about the Japanese people than in Japan. No different than going to the Mainland."

• Broaden your skills: Hotel executives need to be skilled in finance, marketing and real estate.

"The industry has changed so significantly that ... you're really an asset manager, you're somebody responsible to your owners in terms of showing a reasonable, if not high, rate of return," said Walter Jamieson, dean of the University of Hawai'i's School of Travel Industry Management. Those already in the industry can seek professional development programs, he said.

With the increasing conversions of hotels to condominiums and time shares, "your ability to understand the real estate market and understand the dynamics of how investment decisions are made is really important," Jamieson said.

• Volunteer: Volunteer yourself for projects, from testing a new program to organizing a charity event, even if you're not being compensated for it. It's an effective way to develop teamwork and leadership skills, while networking with other people in the community.

• Hone your math skills: Understanding numbers is a key part of building profitability.

"Every owner is pretty much the same; they want financial results," said HTH Corp. regional general manager Robert "Mick" Minicola. "You can't do it unless you understand formulas and then you have to apply it to the actual operations. I find that the people who don't go very far struggle in that area. They can't understand the profit and loss statements and how the numbers work for their departments."