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Interview with General Manager of Sedona Hotel Mok Kok Meng

Name – Mok Kok Meng

Nationality – Singapore

Position – General Manager, Sedona Hotel Yangon

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When was your first visit to Myanmar?

My first visit to Myanmar was to Yangon in March 2015. I found the country dynamic and its people friendly and very courteous.

How did you become the General Manager of Sedona Hotel Yangon?

In the past 28 years, I have taken up various positions within the hospitality industry, of which the last 10 years were spent in China. Then, the opportunity to manage Sedona Hotel Yangon came.

How did you become the General Manager of Sedona Hotel Yangon? In the past 28 years, I have taken up various positions within the hospitality industry, of which the last 10 years were spent in China. Then, the opportunity to manage Sedona Hotel Yangon came.

These, coupled with the exciting plans for Sedona Hotel Yangon, including the grand opening of its new 29-storey Inya Wing in 1H 2016 to meet the growing needs of tourists, were opportunities not to be missed. I wanted to be part of the growth story of Sedona Hotel Yangon as we set a new benchmark for hospitality in Myanmar.

What are your role and responsibilities?

One of my primary tasks is ensuring that Sedona Hotel Yangon remains the venue of choice for accommodation for leisure and business travellers, as well as for gatherings, meetings and events – one which provides guests with unique and memorable experiences.

Together with my team, we strive to continually raise the service standards and offerings at Sedona Hotel Yangon, while ensuring the hotel delivers on Sedona’s signature brand of warm Asian hospitality.

How is working in Myanmar different from working in other countries?

As it is with working in any country, it is important to understand and learn to appreciate local traditions and customs. Given Myanmar’s rich culture, the possibilities are endless. I have had many opportunities during the course of my work to engage with our local staff and guests, from learning simple phrases in the local language to donning a longyi.

It is a real eye-opener to see the vibrant arts scene at private art galleries and an interesting culinary journey to savour authentic local cuisine, my favourite being the curries. I am certainly looking forward to my first Thingyan to experience the celebrations in full swing.

When did Keppel Land Hospitality Management establish its hospitality line in Myanmar?

A Singapore homegrown brand, the Sedona brand of hotels and apartments is owned by Keppel Land and managed by its hospitality arm, Keppel Land Hospitality Management.

Keppel Land was one of the first few foreign companies to venture into Myanmar through the investment of Sedona Hotel Yangon in 1993 and Sedona Hotel Mandalay in 1994. Over the years, both hotels have established themselves as the choice accommodation provider in the country, garnering numerous awards including the titles of Myanmar’s Leading Hotel Suite 2014 and Myanmar’s Leading Hotel 2013 for Sedona Hotel Yangon, as well as Myanmar’s Leading Resort 2013 for Sedona Hotel Mandalay at the annual World Travel Awards.

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Apart from our hospitality business, Keppel Land, together with local partner Shwe Taung Group, is developing Junction City Tower, the office tower component of the Junction City integrated development. Strategically located in downtown Yangon, Junction City Tower is poised to meet the de mand for high quality office space in Yangon.

Please give your views on the market potential of the country’s tourism business.

As Myanmar is expected to enter into a phase of sustained economic growth, the property market, including the hotel segment in Yangon, is poised for steady performance over the next few years.

The opening up of Myanmar has also seen the number of visitors, both corporate and leisure travellers, to the country increase significantly in the last three years. The country continues to enjoy increasing tourism arrivals, with 2015’s figures reaching a record of 5 million. This upward trend is set to continue with an estimated 7.5 million tourist arrivals by 2020.

The new Inya Wing will be ready for its Grand Opening in 1H 2016 to meet the demand for quality accommodation, which is currently in short supply in Yangon.

How do you train your local staff to ensure that the quality of an international brand like Sedona is maintained?

Keppel Land’s operations in Myanmar have created job opportunities for the local workforce. With the completion of the new Inya Wing, Sedona Hotel Yangon and Sedona Hotel Mandalay together will employ and train about 1,000 local staff. In ensuring that all our guests are provided with our signature warm Asian hospitality, we have collaborated with the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre to train our staff in Yangon.

To groom and nurture young local talents, we have partnered with several local schools and most recently, the Singapore-Myanmar Vocational Training School, to provide students opportunities to learn relevant skills in a hotel setting and create employment opportunities for Myanmar citizens.

Apart from creating job opportunities for the local workforce, we also aim to give back to the local community through corporate social responsibility programmes such as donations to local orphanages supported by the Ministry of Social Welfare, flood relief assistance, as well as the Keppel Land-sponsored Water for Life (Yangon) project. Launched in 2013, the Water for Life (Yangon) project provides more than 7,000 villagers in Kaw Hmu and Kungyangon with better access to clean drinking water. Over the three-year duration of the project, 24 tube wells will be installed, and basic hygiene and nutrition programmes will be conducted for the villagers.

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What is the target market segment for Sedona?

Sedona Hotel Yangon targets mainly corporate and leisure travellers from various international markets including Asia, Europe and the United States. The local market is also a key market for our dining establishments and banquets.

What are your competitive strategies?

Our suite of Sedona properties is located in unique destinations in Myanmar and Vietnam.

Our competitive strategies centre around five of our brand pillars, namely, contemporary indulgences, where we indulge each and every guest with comfort and modern conveniences; our signature warm Asian hospitality; trustworthy residence for the safety and security of our guest;, embodying the heart of culture through optimal location and ambience; and having locally insightful staff to recommend insights and information for an immersive travel experience.

In Myanmar, both Sedona Hotel Yangon and Sedona Hotel Mandalay have undergone upgrading last year to meet the demand for quality accommodation. Both hotels are also conveniently located near major tourist attractions. Our two serviced residences in Vietnam – Sedona Suites Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, are the preferred choice of short- to mid-term accommodation among diplomats, businessmen, expatriates and diplomatic corps.

How do you think Myanmar should prepare for the increase of tourists visiting year after year?

The ongoing improvements to infrastructure, as well as the recent extension of e-visa application to more nationalities will create stronger appeal for tourists who are seeking unique destinations such as Myanmar.

Please explain more on the new Sedona wing extension.

The new 29-story Inya Wing is an expansion to the existing Sedona Hotel Yangon. The tower offers an additional 431 spacious and elegant guest rooms and suites along with a grand lobby and high-end retail gallery. Designed by award-winning Singaporean firm, Forum Architects, Inya Wing is linked to the existing hotel block via a specially-designed connector comprising a new retail arcade and an elevated podium that houses a terrace which features a swimming pool, a fitness centre and an all-day restaurant. The modern-Burmese interiors were designed by Studio HBA, which is part of world-renowned hospitality design firm, Hirsch Bedner Associates.

The traditional Burmese umbrella is a key motif that runs throughout the new wing, starting with the lighting centrepiece in the main lobby and the fritted glass ceiling. All guestrooms feature warm, indigenous accents, such as the pair of bedside wall lamps shaped as Burmese umbrellas in each room. These statement lamps are mounted on a dark wood slatted headboard, reflective of traditional Burmese homes, above lacquered bedside tables. Dark wood floors are offset by a custom-designed rug that adds a vibrant splash of colour and patterns. The study area features an elegant wall lamp in the form of a traditional rice storage bowl lid that is suspended over the oval-shaped desk and indigenous art is displayed above the mini-bar. The guest bathrooms are designed with a glass viewing panel to allow views between the two rooms, creating a more spacious feel. Guests may enjoy views of Inya Lake, the hotel’s pool or the cityscape.

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Other facilities include Real Fitness Signature Club, a new premium fitness centre offering guests more than 10,000 sf of the latest Life FitnessTM equipment and studios; D’Cuisine, the all-day restaurant offering International cuisine in a spacious and contemporary setting;, as well as retail brands Franck Muller and Mon Précieux New York by Mo Hom, an internationally-acclaimed local designer..

What do you think are the consequences of the sudden influx of foreign companies/ nationals brought into the country?

The influx of foreign direct investments into the country has increased and has reached a record high of US$8 billion for the fiscal year ended 31 March 2015.

According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, arrivals into the country has increased year-on-year from 791,000 in 2010, to over 3 million in 2014. This upward trend is set to continue with an estimate of 5 million in 2015, and 7.5 million tourist arrivals by 2020.

The opening of the country in 2011, together with the influx of foreign direct investments, has paved the way for significant opportunities in the hospitality industry. Besides the government’s initiative to develop the tourism sector in conjunction with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Germany, Norway, Japan, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Australia and Italy, the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan is currently being implemented with US$500 million provided by Norway and the ADB. With the recent extension of e-visa application to more nationalities and development of the destination as a business and logistics hub, we see a surge in seasoned business travellers and tourists who are seeking unique destinations such as Myanmar.

As the hotel supply increases in tandem with demand, hoteliers are challenged towards offering premium products and services for the growing number of savvy guests. The influx of foreign entrants with their International chain hotel experiences offer a healthy exchange of ideas for the industry to improve rapidly in the developing country. Sedona Hotel Yangon, for instance, has sought to keep up with our upgrade of the existing wing and the new Inya Wing extension.

How are you enjoying your days in Myanmar?

Everyone that I have met in Myanmar has been very warm and welcoming. I have been observing and learning the local customs as well as familiarising myself with the local hospitality industry. I look forward to seeing more of the country and its sights soon.[/paypal]

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