Friday, 30 May 2014

Treasures of Upper Myanmar

In northern Mandalay, just where the city becomes countryside, you’ll find Rupar Mandalar Resort, a grand compound constructed of teak wood and planted with flowers, shrubs and trees cared for by a team of gardeners.

There’s even a lizard that lives in the flowers by the entrance to the spa.

It wasn’t always this way. When Daw Win Win Tin, the hotel’s front office manager, started her career back in 1981, her salary was only K8 per day at the government-owned Mandalay Hotel and the service there, as at most other local hotels, was indifferent – even rude by today’s standards.

In the 33 years between those days and now, Daw Win Win Tin has helped transform Mandalay’s hospitality industry, driven to meet the demands of a steadily increasing stream of international visitors.

At Rupar Mandalar’s restaurant last week, Daw Win Win Tin described the changes she’s seen since she first went to work at Mandalay Hotel, which today is called the Mandalay Swan Hotel, located across from the palace moat.

“Every young lady who joined the government hotel started out in housekeeping, even if they were college graduates,” she said. Likewise, every young man started out as a gardener.

“At the time people were not very open-minded and hotel workers were looked down upon,” she said.

She got a lucky break when the manager asked if she wanted to work at the front desk.

“I sat and dealt with the guests and never stood up. Nobody taught us – but now we know this is rude behavior. Now we know that the customer is the most important, because if guests don’t like the hotel, they won’t come back,” she said.

“In a government hotel, whether or not you tried hard, you still got your salary.”

Big changes started to come in 1997 when the hotel became a joint venture and a French hotel manager arrived who influenced Daw Win Win Tin’s thinking about hotel service. Other professionals from Israel and Germany later arrived in Mandalay to provide staff training.

“During this time a lot of foreigners came and they taught me a lot of things. Their behavior was very different from government [employees].”

Daw Win Win Tin stayed on at the Mandalay Swan for another two years after it became a joint venture hotel – and watched with growing excitement as the Sedona Hotel was constructed right next door.

Her next move was to join the Sedona Hotel as a supervisor, and after a year she was promoted to duty manager. Two months later she became front office manager.

In 2007 she joined the Rupar Mandalar, which is at the top end of expensive hotels in Mandalay, with room rates of more than US$300 per night and a $2500 a night Presidential Suite.

The Rupar Mandalar Resort was completed in 2005 with 16 rooms but has since expanded, thanks to a government licence, to 22 rooms. A new wing will open in the next few months, bringing the room total to 46. There’s a pool, a spa and a restaurant that serves Asian and Western food, and a new coffee shop is nearing completion.

“We have 100 staff and only 22 rooms,” Daw Win Win Tin said. “The best thing about this hotel is the service to all guests from check-in to check-out. We treat the guests like they are in their own room in their own home.”

Most of the guests are foreigners of two types, she said: honeymooners and retired couples.

Every year professional trainers come from Thailand to provide instruction to the staff at the Rupar Spa, which is open every day 1-9pm and where a body scrub costs $40.

With a chef from Guangzhou, the Rupar Mandalar is locally famous for Chinese food.

“Guests come from Mandalay Hill Hotel and Sedona Hotel especially for the Chinese food.”

As for the future of Myanmar, Daw Win Win Tin said she hopes salaries will increase for ordinary Myanmar people.

“For most of the people staying in villages in Myanmar, their lives are not much improved until now. If we compare with other countries, salaries around Mandalay are very low. Even Yangon people get higher salaries,” she said.

Despite Myanmar’s past, Daw Win Win Tin feels she’s been lucky to provide for her family’s well-being. She’s happy that her daughter recently graduated with a degree in engineering and that she herself has been able to travel to Singapore and Malaysia in the past few years as part of a bonus program for senior staff.

For Daw Win Win Tin, these are the best days for Myanmar compared to the old days around 1981.

“For me there has been only one career: in hotels.”

source: The Myanmar Times
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