Business of Happiness

Business of Happiness

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DIANA LEE

DIRECTOR OF SALES AND CONFERENCE SERVICES

CAPELLA SINGAPORE

How long have you been in the hotel industry? I've been with the industry for 20 years. I graduated from SHATEC with a diploma in Hospitality Management and thereafter I joined my very first property, Goodwood Park Hotel, as a Front Office Agent. After a year, I got the opportunity to join a restaurant as a Catering Sales Executive, but shortly after, I decided to return to the hotel industry. I joined M Hotel Singapore as the Assistant Catering Sales Manager and three years on, I became Assistant Director of Catering. Now, I’m Director of Sales and Conference Services at Capella Singapore.

What made you decide to study hospitality and pursue a career in this industry? During my secondary school days, I had the opportunity to work part-time in the banquet department, mainly working on weddings and functions over the weekend. I found it very interesting because I got to meet many people. I also got a sense of satisfaction after serving the guests and seeing them leave happy; they would thank me before they left. I feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment from working in the hospitality industry.

What made you decide to come back to the hotel industry after working in a restaurant? Working in a restaurant taught me a lot but at the end of the day, the hotel industry is very vibrant and close-knit. It's like a big family where all the colleagues from different departments work together hand-in-hand, in order to provide excellent service for our guests. When the opportunity came for me to return to the hotel industry, I didn’t want to pass it up!

How would you describe your career journey so far? I would say I've been very lucky. I’ve met many mentors throughout my hospitality career. I had a very patient Director of Catering who guided me through my time at M Hotel Singapore I would say that he played a part in my decision to stay in catering sales all this while. The biggest lesson he taught me was to be genuine to people, especially when it comes to our guests. We meet different kinds of guests and in whatever way possible, we have to ensure that they have a wonderful experience.

Tell us more about your role and what you do on a daily basis as a Director of Sales and Conference Services? I’m in charge of group bookings. My objectives are mainly to bring in sales for the hotel and oversee the events till completion. I have to connect with people and liaise with different departments within the hotel prior to the event in order to convey the client's request and needs.

What would you say are your biggest learning points? It's an industry that never sleeps! You will often encounter guests from all over the world, and due to the different time zones they’re in, you have to communicate with them in a timely manner whatever the time difference is, and not leave them waiting for a reply. It's quite a challenge but also pretty fulfilling. When an event is a success, there's a sense of achievement and you'll feel that the many months of planning is actually worth it. Looking back at the journey that has brought you to the event’s successful conclusion really gives you a sense of fulfilment.

What is something you know about the industry now that you wish you knew before you started? This is an industry I find difficult to even consider leaving because of the connections made and relationships built. It's like falling in love and you'll never fall out of it. When I first started out, I didn’t expect to have remained so long and be so in love with it.

Are there any memorable experiences or events in your career? Probably the historic USA – DPRK (Trump-Kim) Singapore Summit. I was in charge of getting the hotel ready for the summit. We only had three weeks from the time of confirmation to the summit itself. We had to prepare the hotel for the event, from painting the walls to scrubbing the floors, and making sure the exterior of the hotel was in pristine condition. The coordination between key departments was very essential. During the three weeks, we had briefings every day to ensure the hotel ran like a well-oiled machine. Teamwork and communication between the departments were very important, and instructions had to be precise. Overall, I was very pleased with the outcome of the event. It's an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. It's not every day you get to be a part of an international event of such massive scale and significance!

How do you ensure excellence in what you do? I always try my best not to say no to guests before finding alternatives that could work for them. For example, there was this event where the guests wanted additional snack items that were not on the menu. They were special items that our chefs had to make by hand, and the guests needed the snacks to be served within the next half an hour. Because the chefs didn't have the ingredients on hand, we proposed to have them served during the afternoon session instead. This bought us about 2 to 3 hours to buy the ingredients and make the snacks and we eventually managed to fulfil the request! It's always about doing our utmost to find ways to improve our guests’ experience.

Do you mentor your younger colleagues? Yes, I do. I have junior colleagues whom I mentor. I guide them on how to handle different matters and tasks because they are still quite new to the industry. With the experience that I have, I'm able to give advice and help them excel.

Do you have any other goals you would want to achieve in the industry? I actually do have a plan to eventually become a Training and Development Trainer in the Human Resource Department. I want to motivate young people to join our industry. I think some of them don’t consider hospitality as a viable career option because they hold certain misconceptions about our industry – that it involves working long hours or that it’s very difficult to work in customer-facing roles. I hope I can help correct these misperceptions by helping young people get more familiar with the industry and show them the satisfaction that this career can bring.

What is one thing people might not expect about working in a hotel? I think people are unaware that we engage in many different tasks beyond what is stated in our job title. Sometimes we help our Front Office colleagues process check-in, chip in at Housekeeping to clean guest rooms, or work with the Operations department to serve the guests. Essentially, from the moment our guests arrive at the hotel, we try our best to make their experience a memorable one, no matter what it takes.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Stay positive and be very passionate about your job. With these two key ingredients, you'll be able to stay in this industry for a really long time and build a good career.