Darrel Cartwright recently became the general manager of The Park Lane Hotel, Jakarta. He kindly took some time and shared his philosophy about the hospitality industry, its current state, and how best to make it in the hospitality business without getting burnt out.
Q: Thank you for your time to have this talk with us, Darrel. What do you make of the whole progress of Indonesia and Jakarta in particular in terms of the hospitality industry?
A: I think the hospitality industry has ups and downs. Hotels in general — some are struggling now because of oil and gas; everyone is struggling. That’s why hotels need to focus on growing organic business. Moving away from oil and gas and looking at other opportunities. In a developing economy, healthcare and education become more of a centralized focus where before they took a second seat to development.
Q: Based on your impressions from the first month that you’ve been here, what do you think is the focal point that The Park Lane has?
A: I think one of unique selling features is our proximity to the up and coming shopping malls. We’re hoping to do some cooperation and promotion with the shopping malls to attract more people. But The Park Lane now, we kind of want to transform it into more of a fun and playful place, make it more energetic. We have a DJ at the pool, and people can get wet and wild in the pool. We want to bring this dynamic and playful element back to Park Lane.
We’ve extended RIVA further out towards the pool and call it RIVA by the Pool. Here people can chill after hours, with light bites such as pizza and a glass of wine or beer overlooking our beautiful lagoon style swimming pool. Every weekendW, our swimming pool welcomes non hotel guests to swim and have fun with their family, just by ordering food or drinks because they can’t bring some from outside. We’ll have a DJ jamming from 4:30PM onwards to spice up the scene as guests enjoy good outdoor fun activities. We also have a kids club now, since we want the hotel to be real family friendly.
We have lots to offer in terms of our western flair, we have particularly focused on our steaks, our good Italian-Asian fusion. It is casual, but classy. We have classy, fun dining and the party — we capture all the elements of being fun and playful, it doesn’t matter what age you are. We need to build products that people want. We are creating an energetic and playful lifestyle product.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit more about yourself. Tell us about life before The Park Lane.
A: I am a very simple person. I was in the Maldives before coming here. Before that I was in Africa, in the Mombasa area in particular, managing a casino-resort hotel. And then before that I was at the Hyatt in central Vietnam. Before that I was in Hanoi.
One of the things I’d like to bring in is that resort experience. Resorts are very playful, they’re very exciting and enjoyable, and they are focused on lifestyle. We can still be a business hotel and bring this style to the customers. People are looking for something different and I think we can bring a product that is tailored to everyone’s lifestyle. We want to create a lifestyle hotel.
Q: What would you say is your leadership style?
A: For me, I am very simple. I believe everyone has potential, and we just have to find that potential and groom that potential. I am not a person who sits in an office and dictates like a dictator. I like to show people how it should be done and how to lead by example. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty. I am very result oriented. We need to find solutions now. We have to work with what we have and find opportunities.
Q: What are some of the most rewarding/challenging aspects of your career?
A: I think the rewarding aspects are seeing staff members come out of their shell and deliver results and see benefits to themselves, to the guests and to the hotel. It’s satisfying watching people be successful after you invest a certain amount of effort in them. And some of the challenges are delivering the revenue that owners want.
Q: And you apply the same principle to guest interactions?
A: Yes. We want to talk to guests, and interact with guests as if they are our friends. Because at the end of the day we are all the same. We are motivated by the same thing. We need food, water and shelter. And we need companionship, love and families. Sometimes we miss this. If we just talk to people, we can deliver products and services that they want.
A piece of beef is a piece of beef — when I can add value like personal service, people will come back. They will forget what the beef tastes like, but they will not forget the rewarding interaction they had with our servers. It’s the relationship that people keep at the front of their thoughts. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rich man or a poor man, we all want to feel important.
Q: How do you see working with the owners in this way?
A: It’s a balancing act. You need a good relationship with the owners, visitors and staff. It’s about balancing these elements. If you can make all three happy then the revenue comes. Anyone can pour a glass of water, it’s how you do it.
Q: How important is it to keep up with the times?
A: If we are doing what everyone else is doing we are just competing. We need something special and different and combine that with service.
Q: What do you do to unwind?
A: What do I do to unwind? Sleep.
Q: Are you a family man?
A: Yes, and my wife keeps me busy as well. She enjoys shopping. It’s like a workshop. Like I work, she shops. She’s very conservative and traditional, but she is opinionated. She is a hosteller as well, but has decided to relax and take it easy.
Q: You have been to a lot of countries and spent a great deal of your career in Asia. How do you adjust yourself to the local culture? It seems like it comes easy for you.
A: Keep an open mind and an open heart. I do not bring any prejudice. The same sensitivities are there. I think that I am more Asian than western now.
Q: What advice would you give to someone making their way in this industry?
A: Keep it simple. Keep it real. And do what you think is right based on your heart. Drop any preconceived notions. Manage from the heart. If you love them they will love you back. When somebody makes a mistake you can still be positive. Don’t break them in half because it is going to take longer to put them back together.
Q: Can you share some of your most memorable complaints from guests?
A: One guest complained that the water was not cold enough. If you want ice-cold water in your bathtub it is not going to happen. For a hotel to chill your water, that is unreasonable. People throwing ashtrays into trash cans and setting the room on fire. One guest took two ashtrays. He took both ashtrays, combined them, and threw them in the trash in the bathroom and lit the room on fire, after he checked out. Luckily we responded right away. We could have lost the whole hotel.
Q: What about your daily activity?
A: Doing administration, signing checks, checking emails. I try to walk the buildings and try to help managers sell and deliver. I spend a lot of my time in front of house and not in back of house. I don’t like to spend a lot of time behind a desk.
Q: Have you always known that you would work in hotels?
A: I actually studied in a med school. I took the MCAT and I got a 97, but 98 was the pass and I would have had to wait two years. Meanwhile, I was working part time at a hotel near my university and I thought I would get into that. And here we are, years later. The business fell in love with me. I worked in a kitchen, then I was a waiter, then I became a supervisor, manager, things just escalated.
Q: Might you have any message for our readers?
A: If you can dream it, you can do it. That’s a TM by me.