How do you define success?
For many, it may be defined by wealth, notoriety, or influence. But to Julian Wong, success is more than just a job well done. It's about going above and beyond for his guests and staff and creating a positive impact in the community.
Originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Julian graduated with a major in Financial Accounting and began his professional journey as an auditor before realizing he wanted something more. His passion for people and travel led him to a career he’s loved for over 27 years now.
Since assuming the role of General Manager at Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers in November 2021, Julian has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to elevating the hotel's success. Within a short period, his leadership has been instrumental in catapulting the property to the forefront of the hospitality industry in Vietnam, with an impressive array of accolades to attest to its standing. Julian's team-centric approach to management has fostered a culture of camaraderie and mutual support among the hotel's staff, a testament to his exceptional leadership skills.
He firmly believes caring for his people is the key to the hotel's success. The “Marriott veteran” deeply understands his team's needs and strives to create a supportive and empowering work environment.
As the Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers marks its 20th anniversary, Julian looks back on his achievements with pride and is determined to continue driving the hotel forward with a strong focus on sustainability and innovation. Looking ahead, he is steadfast in his resolve to build on Sheraton's illustrious 20-year legacy and steer the hotel toward a path of continued prosperity and distinction.
With over 25 years of experience at Marriott, can you share some of the most valuable lessons you've learned in your career?
From the company perspective, when Marriott acquired Starwood (Sheraton Saigon’s then management), they have always been about people. The company could have done the processes and transition differently, but they ensured the employees were valued. For instance, none of us were retrenched on the property level. Yes, Marriott is the world’s biggest hotel chain right now, but at that time, the company was still starting, and it was a tough time for the global economy, but they have not failed to care for its people.
There was a time when we were facing an economic crisis, the Regional VP for Sales and Marketing called me directly, and while I was ready to give him an update about my tasks, he told me that was not the reason he was calling. Instead, he asked how I was doing and if I ever needed anything; his doors were open.
To me, it was so touching and genuine. From then on, I became a true believer in the company. The kind of leaders Marriott has inspires me to become just like them — authentic, approachable, and kind.
As for personal takeaways, it’s resilience. Resilience is not just about bouncing back from failure or adversity but also about learning from these experiences and using them to grow and become stronger. I have seen a lot, from global economic crisis to health threats, but thanks to the Marriott management and staff, we are able to recover and come back stronger.
What for you is the most rewarding part of working in the hospitality industry, and how do you motivate your team to deliver excellent service?
To me, the greatest reward in our industry is not merely financial, but lies in being a part of an organization that aligns with our personal values and belief systems. Working alongside colleagues from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures allows us to broaden our horizons, develop new perspectives, and grow as individuals. With my staff in mind, I continue to strive to build cohesive teams united in their commitment to delivering exceptional guest experiences and upholding the highest service standards. The satisfaction of working with such accomplished individuals who share my passion for the hospitality industry is the ultimate reward.
Can you describe your leadership style and how it has contributed to the success of the hotels you have managed?
It is important to me to approach every interaction with humility and an appreciation for the diversity of experiences and viewpoints in our industry and the world at large. I make it a point to talk to everyone, from associates to trainees, in an authentic and approachable manner. It wasn't always my strong suit, but I have learned to be patient over the years.
As a leader, I firmly believe in the importance of integrity, which means always striving to be honest and transparent in everything we do. I love hearing about and learning from other people’s experiences, and I'm always open to feedback from colleagues and partners.
One thing I have learned to do better over time is to listen more actively and positively. I do my best to understand different perspectives and be receptive to positive and negative feedback to continuously improve and grow as a leader.
How do you measure success for your hotel, and what goals are you working towards?
At Sheraton Saigon, we measure success through a balanced approach that takes into account several key areas, including revenue, guest experience, loyalty, and profitability. While financial metrics and KPIs are essential indicators, we prioritize market performance and revenue streams to evaluate our overall success.
At the same time, delivering exceptional guest experiences is always top of mind. We place great importance on gathering feedback from guests through various channels and consistently striving to enhance their stay.
Building a strong reputation and fostering a culture of loyalty among customers and employees is another critical aspect of our success. Our many longstanding associates are a testament to the positive culture we have created at the hotel. We are encouraged by the positive feedback we have received from both customers and industry leaders and remain committed to continuous improvement in all areas of our operation.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of the guest experience, and how do you and your staff prioritize it?
To me, the most crucial element of the guest experience is consistency. We prioritize this by breaking it down into five key areas: pre-arrival, arrival, during the stay, departure, and enforcement of departure. We make sure to provide a service that is tailored to each guest's specific preferences and needs, which can be challenging at times.
One way we ensure consistency is by engaging with guests even before they arrive, sending confirmation and replacement memos, and starting the conversation ahead of time. We also have a system called GXP (Guest Experience Platform, with the guest’s consent), which we use to evaluate our performance and identify areas for improvement.
As we strive to optimize the guest experience, we always look for new ways to enhance our service. For example, we're currently exploring implementing mobile keys, allowing guests to use their cell phones to open their rooms. We're constantly reviewing guest feedback and working to improve our processes to ensure every guest has a positive and memorable experience.
Sheraton Saigon has won multiple awards and recognitions over the years. What do you think sets it apart from other hotels in the city, and how do you maintain its high standards?
Our hotel sets itself apart by prioritizing growth and always looking toward the future. We believe that success is never final and continually seek ways to improve. One key aspect of our approach is focusing on guest feedback, utilizing available platforms and breakthroughs to deliver exceptional experiences.
However, our success is ultimately driven by our people. We prioritize investing in our associates and providing them with growth opportunities. This approach has helped us build a culture of excellence that has earned us numerous awards and recognition.
How do you ensure your hotel is environmentally sustainable, and what steps have you taken to reduce your carbon footprint?
All of us at Sheraton Saigon, regardless of which department we’re in, prioritize environmental sustainability and strive to reduce our carbon footprint. We have implemented various initiatives, such as not using single-use, disposable hygiene products like shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel, to reduce plastic bottle waste. To further decrease our use of plastic bottles, we are exploring alternatives in the supply chain, such as milk carton-like containers.
To avoid plastic bottle waste, we have also introduced water dispensers in event spaces and large dispensers in guest rooms. Additionally, we have switched to biodegradable straws and are evaluating the possibility of replacing plastic bottles with glass ones. Dry amenities like toothbrushes and combs have replaced plastic amenities in guest rooms.
Regarding food supply, we are making efforts to purchase seafood from sustainable sources and avoid wastage due to heat. We are also seeking to procure cruelty-free products like cage-free chickens.
We have a business council dedicated to promoting sustainability messages and seeking more sustainable options, such as replacing plastic bottles with eco-friendly alternatives. However, we must consider the financial feasibility of these options, as some may be cost-prohibitive. We are also working on the certification and recycling of bottles.
Overall, we are taking sustainability seriously and implementing several initiatives simultaneously. While some areas may be too technical to share, we are committed to doing our part to reduce our environmental impact.
Sheraton Saigon will be celebrating its 20th anniversary soon. Can you share with us some of the exciting events or plans that are in store for this milestone celebration?
As we approach Sheraton Saigon's 20th anniversary, we have plans in the works to celebrate this occasion in a memorable way. Our focus is on providing exceptional experiences for our guests and associates.
Recently, we highlighted Li Bai's authentic cuisines and monthly themes featuring an array of international dishes, and we have exciting plans to introduce new concepts at our Wine Bar Level 23 in the near future. Our goal is to innovate and provide our guests with new and exciting experiences.
Our aim is to become the top employer in the hotel industry, and we invest in our associates' training and development, offer opportunities for growth and advancement, and recognize and reward their hard work and contributions to our success.
On May 7th, the day of our 20th anniversary, we have planned a lunch gathering for our associates and staff to celebrate their years with us. We will showcase our history and commemorate this milestone with a photo gallery featuring legacy photos of Sheraton Saigon and recognition pieces. Our stakeholders will also join in on the celebrations.
Moving forward, we will continue to focus on providing exceptional service and unique experiences to our guests. We will also continue to invest in our associates, as we believe they are key to our success. We aim to maintain our position as a landmark hotel in the city, innovate, and exceed our guests' expectations.