[Wanderlust Tips December 2017] Mr. Lee Pearce, general manager of Novotel Phu Quoc Resort shared his thoughts and views with Wanderlust Tips travel magazine on the development potential of Phu Quoc in general and Novotel Phu Quoc Resort in particular.
Have you enjoyed living in Phu Quoc for the last year since you took the position of the GM of Novotel Phu Quoc Resort? What do you like or dislike about this island? Do you live here with your family? Do you think Phu Quoc is a good place for family travel?
I have very much enjoyed living in Phu Quoc. Prior to arriving here, I had never heard about the island, and had no idea of what to expect. This was in February 2016, and at that time, the information about Phu Quoc on the Internet was minimum and not very detailed. I was pleasantly surprised to arrive and find the island not just a tourist destination, but also a thriving local community that is rich and diverse. While language is a bit of a barrier for me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of living here is the warm and genuine nature of local people. I love the food and the scenery; the outdoor lifestyle is amazing, and there are so many things to see and enjoy on this island.
I am here alone, yet I would say, without doubt, that Phu Quoc is a great place for families to visit. It is safe, affordable, and the weather is lovely year round. Unlike some other Asian cuisine, the food in Phu Quoc isn’t really spicy or strong in flavour, which means people of all ages can enjoy. And local people love children, which makes it much more enjoyable from family aspect.
What are your biggest challenges when being a General Manager of a newly opened resort in Phu Quoc?
There are many challenges that I have to face. Experienced staff are difficult to find, and even though we have taken on some great people who have developed our core team in the last two years, the development of the destination and the rise in business levels have become new challenges. We work closely with several hospitality schools to help recruiting people; however, in reality, it will be a couple of years before this issue can be tackled. Furthermore, the business performance fluctuates by seasons, and this can put pressure on the resort for many reasons. Nevertheless, as the destination finds its way to the flight schedules of major international airlines, the situation will improve. Besides, since the infrastructure and activities planned for the island are completed, the types of visitors will diversify, and this will also assist the business performance.
What have you done to keep Novotel Phu Quoc Resort distinctive among other competitors, especially in the situation of the quick development of hospitality industry on the island?
We listen to our guests’ and our partners’ expectations. We try to focus on the direction of the business to meet these expectations. We are very fortunate to have such supportive owners in the CEO Group who understand and are willing to support and invest when required. We invest a lot of time and energy in our team with constant training in many aspects of various roles to ensure that we deliver the best experiences to our guests. At the end of the day, our reputation is established by what our guests say about us. Therefore, in 2017, we have achieved great success in the hotel over the main travel seasons, both domestically and internationally.
What is the balance of the local and international guests at Novotel Phu Quoc Resort?
As far as Novotel Phu Quoc Resort is concerned, in 2017, more than 60% of the number of guests were Vietnamese. In reality, the international tourist season starts from the Northern Hemisphere Winter, so we usually see a large volume of international visitors in just a few months each year. For the remainder of this year, we will see the majority of visitors within Vietnam and a few neighboring countries. We are fortunate to have a strong reputation in the domestic market and a great relationship with many local agents and companies which is built from either their past experience in our resort or family members, friends and colleagues. Vietnamese people love spending holidays with their families to enjoy quality time together, and family vacation is a large part of our business. We make efforts in developing this section to ensure that we not only maintain but also expand our share of business in the months and years ahead.
There are two separate types of tourists in Phu Quoc including domestic and international ones. Do you differentiate your hotel’s service to cater for these two different types of guests?
Yes, we do in certain aspects. Two differences I would like to emphasize are the food to offer and the activities in the resort. The food would seem quite obvious, yet most international tourists are looking forward to trying local food when staying here, therefore the A la carte menu slightly varies to include some additional options such as sandwiches at lunchtime and western style dishes on the dinner menu. For breakfast, however, the taste and style of dishes will vary considerably; Pho will always be available but dishes like Xoi, Banh Khoai Mi, and Bo Kho will be replaced with Western breakfast food such as grilled tomato and beans.
The demand for coffee also changes seasonally as international tourists are willing to try iced milk coffee; however, they do generally go back to their favorite espresso style after time. From the activity perspective, we have to take seasons and visitors’ countries into consideration. Domestic travelers come here in the summer to match their holiday with the break from schools. During this time of the year, the weather is hot and can be wet, therefore local travellers prefer to avoid the sun and the heat of the day. Our activity schedule features more indoor offerings particularly to entertain children. During the winter, international guests love the sun and the sea, so we offer beach games and other outdoor activities, many of which can be enjoyed with a cold drink in hand!
It is common that when a destination becomes well-known, it can lead to many problems including pollution and the loss of its own characters. What has the resort done to maintain Phu Quoc’s primary beauty when the island is getting more and more popular? What are you doing to contribute to the local community and environment?
It is a true and sad fact that rapid tourism development also brings about an equally rapid change in the environment, the community and the economy which provide to it, and the most unfortunate one would be the changes to the culture of the people. We can see this in some of established tourism destinations around the region. We continue working with local farmers, fisherman and other traders to fulfill our role in contributing to the local economy, where possible we employ locals as I have already mentioned above. We also have a close relationship with the local government and partners to foster this. In an environmental aspect, we actively work to reduce and diligently sort our waste. Our teams take part in many community initiatives organized by volunteer groups from the industry to work on litter eradication via both clean-up days and awareness campaigns to educate local youth.
What do you think about Phu Quoc compared to other South East Asia’s islands such as Phuket or Bali which are very well-known?
Phuket and Bali are overdeveloped, and they are in the lists of many regular travelers as “avoid if possible” destinations. Both are so geared to cater for tourists, so there is little of local people or destinations left to show. In Bali, you can avoid this by travelling away from main tourist attractions, but in Phuket you cannot do much. Phu Quoc, on the other hand, still has the primitive natural beauty of the landscape, and the people still live their lives. I would choose Phu Quoc over the other two, and this is one of the key messages we are delivering to the Western markets, which is part of the success the resort has achieved currently.Phu Quoc is a favourite destination for many kinds of tourists: family tourists, adventurers, couples, solo travellers and even businessmen.
How can you assure that they all find Novotel Phu Quoc Resort a good place to stay?
As I mention earlier, we actively collect feedbacks from all of our guests, of all nationalities and purposes of staying. We use a complex system that collates the feedbacks, along with comments on social media, booking sites, and other online channels that we have received. These feedbacks are analyzed, and reports are generated which give us specific information of what our guests enjoy during their stay with us, and in what areas they would like to see changes or improvement. We gather the information, and this allows us to build the strategies to ensure that the resort remains focused on continuous improvement.
Another method is a carefully planned, executed, and ongoing maintenance program. Regular maintenance will ensure the effective operation of all plants and equipment, and just as important are the furniture and fittings in the hotel rooms and around the property, the wall and floor coverings, and the vehicles we use to transport our guests. And once again, I would appreciate our very supportive and fully invested owners in the CEO Group, and it is a pleasure of both mine and AccorHotels to be here in the resort on their behalf.
Thank you for sharing your time with us, and wish a great journey for you with Novotel Phu Quoc Resort.
Hong Nhung | Wanderlust Tips