The Second Coming

Colin Young General Manager of the JW Marriott Hotel Surabaya

Q: Could you please tell us the highlights of your career so far?

A: Being appointed as general manager of the JW Surabaya 10 years ago was certainly a highlight of my career. It was my first GM assignment and with Marriott International’s flagship brand. I expect most hoteliers would agree that their first general manager role was also one of their most important career milestones.

Q: We’ve learned that this is your second time helming JW Marriott Hotel Surabaya, could you tell us what made you come back?

A: I had a wonderful time here in Surabaya. I made many lasting friendships and enjoyed the local culture and food, so when the opportunity came, I was very pleased to be asked if I would like to return. I had also been in my previous hotel, the JW Marriott in Shenzhen, for over eight years, so professionally and personally the timing of my return was right.

Q: You’ve been in the industry for a long time and been through a long journey around the world, how did you come to develop a passion for the hospitality industry?

A: My father was a restaurateur, so when I was growing up I was exposed to the hospitality industry at an early stage. Pursuing a career as a hotelier allowed me to maintain my connection to restaurants, yet expand my experiences even further.

Q: Bearing in mind JW Marriott’s strong identity – one that has been around for decades – how do you maintain that identity while bringing in fresh ideas and new innovations?

A: Our guests prefer to stay with us because we offer a consistent product and level of personalised service that they expect from our brand. It’s our focus on “Approachable Luxury” that is extremely important to regular travellers, it’s all about being comfortable and being looked after. The team at Marriott International who are responsible for the JW brand make changes in a way that ensures we continue to satisfy the expectations of our guests. On a more localised level, we stay innovative and fresh through our restaurant and bar offerings. By regularly updating menus and varying small touches such as flower arrangements and guest room amenities, we maintain a balance between consistency and staying interesting.

Q: What are some of the most memorable moments in your career so far?

A: It’s always exciting when a celebrity or sporting personality stays at your hotel, seeing and meeting them in person is a lot of fun. However, when state leaders visit, especially the US President (George Bush) came to my hotel, the logistics and planning involved were absolutely fascinating to be a part of. The level of detail that is required to co-ordinate a successful presidential visit is a great learning experience.

Q: What about the biggest challenge you’ve come across and how did you overcome it?

A: Opening the JW Marriott Shenzhen at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 was a real worry. Bank loans, vendors, staff salaries all needed to be paid, yet we had to open and operate the hotel with very little business to start with. This was a huge test for me and I had to get my whole team to stay positive and focused to ensure that the guests that were with us were kept happy and wastage was kept to a minimum. It was not about cutting expenses, it was about control and formulating a plan to build up. Considering that I stayed at that hotel for eight years, I think I was successful.

Q: Now that you’re back in JW Marriott Hotel Surabaya, what future goals do you have for the hotel?

A: My goal during my assignment here at the JW Marriott Surabaya is to guide the team on how to do their jobs better. Try new ideas, make sure they are enjoying working in this wonderful industry and to give them the opportunities to grow their careers in the same way that I was able to.

Q: What advice would you give to new, young hoteliers trying to make a break in the industry?

A: My advice to the future generation of hoteliers: learn Chinese. You might not work there, but for sure you will come across Chinese travellers and they are the biggest market in the world right now. I also encourage you to work hard. It sounds simple, but it is not easy to find people that are prepared to do more than is expected from them and those that do, succeed.