The ukulele strummin’, cocktail shakin’, food art makin’ hotel Front Desk Duty Manager

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Guchi Poon is more than just the much-loved ‘face’ of Hotel Jen Hong Kong’s front desk. She’s an all-round entertainer for the guests and now she’s reaching out to the Sai Wan neighbourhood.

When you enter a hotel and approach the front desk, what do you expect? A smiling face, of course. A bubbly greeting. A pleasant welcome as you check in and prepare to head to your room. That’s standard. But do you expect your pretty, smiley front desk duty manager to whip out a ukulele and start strumming before heading over to the bar to acrobatically shake you up a cocktail while creating some cutesy food art as you wait? No, you don’t expect that.

Okay, Hotel Jen Hong Kong’s Guchi Poon doesn’t exactly do that all at once for her guests upon arrival. But the bubbly front desk duty manager does do something completely different. She really does leave the desk to mix up expert cocktails for guests at the Club Lounge and she really does juggle those shakers around like a circus performer.

She also really does gather up the candy toppings in the coffee lounge and creates pretty pictures on the plates of, usually, children. She sings ‘happy birthday’ on a karaoke mic for celebrating guests. And she’s learning the ukulele so she can strum for visitors. She’s the ‘face of the place’ at the hotel on Queen’s Road West in Sai Wan, just up the road from theDesk co-working and events space, and she believes it’s this sort of all-round entertainment that gives guests ‘much more of an experience’.

“I love entertaining the guests,” says Poon. “It’s great fun and really adds something to their stay. It’s important to make their experience a memorable one, particularly as Hotel Jen Hong Kong is a more casual, relaxed and fun hotel compared to most in Hong Kong. And, of course, I have lots of fun shaking up the cocktail mixers, creating candy art, singing, joking and playing musical instruments.”

Poon, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, went to university in Brisbane, Australia, and graduated with a degree in hotel management before staying Down Under for another year to work in a Chinese restaurant as a server and then manager following a short internship in the concierge at the Hilton Brisbane hotel. It was here that she first got her taste for ‘going the extra mile’ for guests and she brought the same mentality back to Hong Kong with her as she landed a job as a hostess at Wooloomooloo Prime in Tsim Sha Tsui.

“Since the Hilton Brisbane,” says Poon, “my passion was always in the hotel industry. So, in April 2012, when I got a job at Traders Hotel in Sai Wan on the front desk, I was really pleased. Traders became Hotel Jen Hong Kong two years ago, so I’ve just celebrated my fifth anniversary working in the building. In fact, I’ve been on the front desk the second longest in the company. However, as soon as I’d started, I decided that I wanted to go the extra mile and make the guests’ experiences as fun as possible. It fits in with the ethos of the hotel and it makes me feel that I’m giving our guests much more than just a smile and a check-in at the front desk.”

“I’ve learned a lot at Hotel Jen Hong Kong. And, of course, I have fun. When I have fun, so do the guests. Come and watch me play ukulele soon. You’ll see!”

Since starting, Poon has trained hard to not just make cocktails but to shake them like Tom Cruise, only more acrobatically. And the 30-year-old has also worked at her art when it comes to candy toppings. She has a passion for her surrounding neighbourhood that shines through too. She’s an expert on the area. She constantly goes out and finds new places and secret spots to recommend to guests. In fact, she’s planning on running walks around the neighbourhood soon for guests and local residents. And that fits in perfectly with theDesk’s neighbourhood ethos too.

Poon also has a wealth of stories to tell over her five years at the hotel, including one which saw her coming up with the idea of creating an A4-sized folder for a male guest from Singapore who had told her via email before he checked in that he wanted to propose to his other half. “I created pages with hearts stuck on them and words written for her to read as they got in their room,” she says, “and then the last page said ‘will you marry me?’. I waited outside the door with flowers. She said yes. It worked perfectly!”

Poon is one of the ‘faces’ of the hotel. Her colleagues say she’s ‘probably the most often complimented front desk staff on the team, who’s frequently mentioned by guests in their reviews and comments for her extra efforts to make them happy’. But it’s not an easy job, she says: “Every day, I go through all the bookings prior to my shift. And then, during my shift, I walk around the hotel area to ensure everything is in good order. Above all, I try to make all the guests happy during their stay. Customer service is also a top priority when it comes to my responsibilities. There’s no particular formula to succeeding. I think the key is to be sincere to my guests, just like how ‘Jen’, our brand persona, is a friend to everyone.”

“Working at the front desk,” continues Poon, “means that my colleagues and I are the faces of our hotel. That also means our values and attitudes are supremely important. We’re the first impression that guests receive about our hotel. The majority of our time is being proactive problem solvers, though. It’s important to help make our guests’ stays as smooth as possible. We’re expected to be empathetic and knowledgeable but it can be challenging to keep morale high every second of the day, of course! During peak seasons and even in peak hours, our front desk operation is often busy. It’s a challenge for us to maintain an efficient, welcoming and frictionless front desk service but we strive to do so.”

Hotel Jen Hong Kong was rebranded in October 2014. It’s home to an array of deluxe rooms, a 24-hour fitness centre and an outdoor rooftop swimming pool, as well as one of the best restaurants in Sai Wan: Café Malacca, which serves up excellent authentic Malaysian and Singaporean hawker fare. The hotel’s Lobby Bar is also a popular spot. There’s a tour and travel desk as well, plus a free shuttle bus service to business and tourist spots in the city.

“I loved Hotel Jen Hong Kong from day one,” says Poon. “Here, I can expose myself to new things, work or non-work-related, as much as possible as a way to keep my energy up. From learning skills with Excel to making cocktails, I gain so much experience here. And I want to work much more with the Sai Wan community too.”

It’s this idea of the surrounding neighbourhood that’s at the heart of Hotel Jen Hong Kong’s ethos. “Sai Wan has to be Hong Kong’s latest hipster neighbourhood,” says Poon. “There are endless trendy coffee shops and vibrant bars to explore and the area still enjoys a real calmness. We think it’s important we support our local community as much as possible. There are going to be more artistic activities around the hotel, for instance, that involve the people of Sai Wan. In fact, we ran art workshops in March and April, in which guests got to learn about the old techniques of colouring black-and-white pictures and making kaleidoscopes. Watch this space for more!”

“On the social media side,” continues Poon, “there will be plenty of activities to engage the worldwide audience. Readers will want to stay tuned to our social media platforms to win freebies from us! We try to engage with our guests whenever possible and share with them the latest information about our neighbourhood and provide them with suggestions that suit their itineraries. For example, we run free weekly tours that take them on walks up to The Peak after sunset, as well as hikes around Tai Tam Reservoir.”

Poon says that some people in the neighbourhood pop into Hotel Jen Hong Kong for a staycation from time to time. She reckons it makes for the perfect break, with its facilities and beautiful views of the harbour. It’s these facilities, views and team around her, she notes, that have inspired her in her duty manager role. “I’ve learned a lot at Hotel Jen Hong Kong,” she says. “I have an all-round understanding of the hotel’s operation that helps me bring satisfaction to our guests and I’ve learned people skills, as well as enjoying a team spirit, a positive mindset and a can-do attitude. And, of course, I have fun. When I have fun, so do the guests. Come and watch me play ukulele soon. You’ll see!”

The prices for a stay at Hotel Jen Hong Kong start at $1,100 a night. 508 Queen’s Rd W, 2974 1234.

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