Name: Cheah HT
Position: General Manager
Company: Holiday Inn Johor Bahru City
With over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Cheah Hooi Theng’s career began in finance department but gradually shifted to the front-line after appreciating the value of dealing with people.
Having graduated from the University of New South Wales, Australia with a bachelor’s degree, it did not occur to Cheah to see himself invested in the hospitality industry as a front-liner. From being the financial controller at the Sunway Hotel in his home state of Penang to travelling across to neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Philippines, and slowly embracing hospitality as his passion, Cheah returned to Malaysia to take the helm of a upcoming hotel set to fill up the Johor Bahru City Centre skyline – the Holiday Inn Johor Bahru City Centre.
You are the new kid on the block! Tell us more about Holiday Inn Johor Bahru City Centre.
Holiday Inn Johor Bahru City Centre (Holiday Inn JBCC) is one of the brands under the InterContinental Hotel Group or IHG that will be officially unveiled in October 2020. Located right at the centre of Johor Bahru City Centre, on top of a retail mall – KOMTAR JBCC, and within close proximity to the Customs, Immigrations and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex, Holiday Inn JBCC is the newest attraction in town, not forgetting it is a well-established brand name. We are targeting two major groups, namely families and also Singaporeans, after the borders are open, as this brand is quite a favourite among the people of the Lion City looking for a staycation.
What is the most important element in running a hotel in the city centre?
Whenever you say hotel, the next few words that comes to mind would revolve around hospitality and service. An important element to take note is that this is a people-oriented business. We must take care of everyone – Not only our guests, but also our colleagues too. Happy employees yield a higher rate of efficiency that will in turn personalise and accentuate the human touch rendered in everyday tasks.
Located directly above KOMTAR JBCC, how do you see this relationship between retail and hospitality pan out?
Oh, I think it will be a great synergetic and dynamic relationship having a hotel above a retail mall. Our guests will be able to enjoy the ease of accessing the city centre as well. Currently, we are in discussion with KOMTAR JBCC to create attractive packages for hotel guests to enjoy during their stay.
How does Holiday Inn JBCC plan to act as a catalyst or collaborate with other stakeholders to boost the local economy?
I believe that in the past, Johor Bahru or Johor as a whole has always been labelled as a transit town, especially for local and international tourists going back and forth from Kuala Lumpur (KL), Melaka or to Singapore. Therefore, in order to change this perception, Holiday Inn JBCC looks to attract more people to stay longer in Johor Bahru and experience the local culture and flavours here. This is actually a personal passion of mine because whenever I go to a new place, I try my best to embrace the local experience and cuisine, and get to know more about the identity of the destination. I’m already making a list of local food spots!
Hotels vs Airbnb? What is your take if Airbnbs are regulated?
Haha (laughs) this is a tricky one! Generally, there are differences of opinion at the current stage. Interesting part of your question is “if Airbnbs are regulated”? Honestly, I do not see an issue if it was regulated. That would actually fix things and make people more at ease. Sure, there are groups who prefer the competitive prices as well as cosy setting, but to compare an apple with an orange is not fair. Hotels are staffed with trained personnel who are at the guests’ disposal 24/7. That is a significant difference but at the end of the day, and it is a matter of preference.
COVID-19? What do you think we should do?
Of course, as you can observe in the news and surroundings, this COVID-19 is a serious matter. The solution is definitely simple and to some very trivial – personal hygiene. Just wash hands, wear masks, take preventive and corrective measures, as well as follow the instructions of the authorities. We will get through this, eventually.
On a personal note, how and why did you choose to venture into the hospitality industry?
It was by accident so to say. I am from finance and accounting background, initially graduating from University of New South Wales in Commerce. I initially joined the finance department at Sunway Hotel in Penang, but slowly, I ventured further into the Front of House operations, and it rather grew on me. It was not really love at first sight, but I learnt to admire and appreciate the activities, operations and interactions when it comes to people-oriented jobs. That’s how it all began.
What do in your free time?
I am a coffee and food lover. As I mentioned earlier, local food is what hits the spot. Thus, I enjoy asking my colleagues or even strangers for suggestions of local hawkers or eateries so I can indulge in the flavours.