The executive director of luxury boutique hotel The Edison George Town on the main lessons she learnt — in business as well as in life — from the pandemic, and why Penang is still a great place to visit.
Options: It’s one of the most challenging years the world has ever seen. How have you, as a luxury boutique property, been managing?
Rina Teoh: We believe that we have managed to navigate some of Covid-19’s headwinds, though there are a few [instances in] which we would have hoped for more desirable results. We are constantly ensuring that our practices comply with the health authorities’ requirements, while assuring our guests that their expectations and needs are of the utmost importance to us. We are, as always, at their service.
How was hospitality in Penang affected?
The service industry, with hospitality being a fairly large component of Penang’s economy, has not been spared by this pandemic. It has a multiplier effect and has, without doubt, affected how many of us go about our daily lives. A quick example: few to zero tourists travelling to Penang means fewer dollars to the tourism ecosystem — this encompasses hotels, food and beverage outlets, tour-guide activities, ticket sales for places of attraction, ground transport and shopping.
What steps are you taking to mitigate losses from the previous months?
To continue offering the same, if not enhanced, high standards of the “service and stay” experience for which we have come to be known. We have tightened leaks in costs without cutting unnecessarily. By not operating at full capacity and with the team taking on more roles and tasks, we have been able to mitigate some losses. This comes at a “price” as more is demanded from each of our colleagues. At times, some may lose sight of the ultimate objective if not given regular encouragement, support and motivational chats.
What does the path ahead look like and what advice would you give to other industry players?
Travel is resilient and good times will return — but this will take time. I think one has to be flexible and adaptable in the current situation and be ready to change as and when required.
How can the average Malaysian help, considering the country is not short on places at which to cuti-cuti?
First, show your support by following the health authorities’ advisories and bulletins on taking the necessary precautions. Support local businesses whenever possible, without taking advantage of the situation that we are in. Remember: we are all in this together and whatever way we can help — however small — goes a long way.
What apps or tech devices did you find most helpful during the Movement Conrol Order period?
I have started to use more teleconferencing apps since the MCO to communicate with people, and I believe this will be the way forward, sooner than later. As they say, time waits for no one, so this is where we need to adapt and get on with it quickly. I am also getting my daily news updates from some of the mobile apps as they were my most reliable and relevant window to the outside world at the height of the pandemic and during the MCO.
Where did you travel to just before the MCO, and why?
We were investing a lot of time exploring Indochina for the expansion of our brand — The Edison Hotels. But all of it has since been put on ice while we channel all efforts towards surviving this disruption. We look forward to when we are able to resume this journey.
And where will you most likely travel to once the borders open and why?
A destination where necessary precautions are taken seriously or probably a more remote destination. Having said that, I do miss Japan a lot.
What have been your greatest takeaways from this pandemic?
A heightened appreciation of what I have around me. And learning to prioritise what’s truly important and what really matters to me. I also learnt to constantly review our business model to withstand the current challenges as well as likely ones to come.
To all the Malaysians currently rediscovering their country, what highlights can you share about George Town and why should they be paying your location a visit post-haste?
Safety is the No 1 priority now for all travellers. Everyone in Penang is taking the required precautions seriously and this gives travellers the comfort [and peace of mind] to move around freely. The abundance of outdoor spaces at The Edison George Town works in our favour as well, what with the calls for social distancing and the advantages of fresh air, and not being in enclosed places. Small boutique hotels like The Edison offer many major plus points. It’s now all about #StaySafe and #StayExclusive. With a property like ours, one is guaranteed to have that sense of exclusiveness with no fear of intrusion into your personal space by crowds of people.
This article first appeared on Oct 5, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.