Food & Beverage Manager, Mercure London Bridge (UK)

James Wan

James Wan's Story

During high school I was very interested in media studies, making videos and films, and my original plan was to study that at university. In the end I opted for a business management degree because it gave me a broader education. During university, I spent a lot of time travelling; I stayed in some amazing hotels and that’s when I decided hospitality was for me, so I studied it as my Master’s; that was the turning point.

I think progress is guaranteed if you are passionate and motivated about what you do and there are endless opportunities because of the types of hotel and the different areas of hospitality. Timing is also an important factor: every time I was promoted, it was because a position became available when the person above me left. If you are looking to develop, you can transfer within your hotel group very easily.

I moved to Hong Kong during lockdown; the culture and work ethic there are very different. I had been a reception manager in London and I wanted to get a similar position, maybe one step down, but there is a strong focus there on the number of years you have worked in order to get a position. I was applying for jobs like duty manager and assistant manager, and in those roles the minimum work experience is six to seven years, so I was turned down.

The only position I managed to secure was guest relations offer, which is quite junior compared to what I had in the UK. That was strange to me, that they look at the how long you have worked rather than your potential or personality, compared to working in the UK, where I was a reception manager after three years. This was an important outlook for me, as I was very willing to start again to learn new skills in a new environment.

The organisational structure and the importance of hierarchy are also different in Hong Kong. In both the hotels where I worked, a Novotel and a Pullman, it was difficult to challenge your manager or to suggest new ideas. In the UK, you ask your team for new ideas and implement them, but over there you follow the rules and there is little thinking outside your own box. It taught me about how their way works – everyone just follows the leader, which was interesting, especially for me now – when I ask the team for ideas and try to realise them; if they work that’s good and if they don’t, we find a different soultion.

I did identify with Hong Kong  as my culture and the way my parents work is similar to that; it was nice to get a different perspective. It was also good to understand different types of guests because when I was there, we had mainly local guests as it was during covid.

It was always part of my plan to return and I’m enjoying being back. The timing was good because I arrived when everything was starting to open up. In a new department, same hotel as I was Reception Manager, it is sure a great challenge and as everything is back to normal, it’s a interesting task to maintain business to pre covid levels.

To someone who is newly in the sector, get stuck in during the first year, even if you hadn’t seen yourself doing that, you will enjoy it if you’re passionate about it. When I was working in reception I was asked to clean rooms because we don’t have 24-hour housekeeping, so I cleaned rooms and bathrooms. This not only builds your experience on the broader aspect of the hotel, but also makes you understand the different departments in your hotel which is a boost if you are looking to develop. You need to invest the hours and always ask questions of team leaders and managers to get more information; show an interest.

And to someone who is looking for work, hospitality opens doors to many opportunities, it is such a broad industry, come and see how it is! There are hotels, restaurants and disciplines such as marketing, selling, customer service, you can learn so many things and every day is different; you  meet lots of people and pick up a lot from them.

  • James Wan
  • Food & Beverage Manager
  • Mercure London Bridge (UK)