There’s a famous hospitality quote: “Customers may forget what you said, but they never forget the way you made them feel”. Hai Do, Wink Hotel Saigon Centre’s area operations manager and acting GM of this, the first Wink Hotel, nods in agreement. “Actually, I think there are three keys,” he smiles, “a great team, great guest satisfaction, and great hospitality…”
Impressed we wander around Dakao, with Hai Do dressed in Saint Rice streetwear. “This stuff really makes me feel relaxed,” he nods proudly about his new outfit, “perfect for Saigon’s hot weather.” As we walk we learn more about Hai Do’s career in hospitality, what makes a unique guest experience and we discover some of his favorite places in this cool but quiet Ward of Saigon’s District 1.
Hai Do should know. He’s been in the business since 1993, although you’d never guess judging by his cheerful and energetic personality. “I remember it well, a 24-room guest house and I took on a lowly maintenance position!” he laughs. Anyway, the seed of ambition was planted, and he committed to learning more about the business. So he hopped between departments — from front office to F&B, from rooms to sales and marketing. To do that meant leaving the guest house. “I joined chains, single-location boutique brands, anywhere I could get a position…getting local and international know-how.”
Describe the most recent hotels you’ve worked at…
I’ve had a hotel consulting company. And before that I was General Manager of the Bana Hills Mountain Resort in Danang. That was a fascinating experience. Up there are cable cars, an entertainment center, and actually four hotels with over 300 rooms and suites in total! There’s six restaurants, two bars, 1000sqm of conference and banqueting space, a wellspring spa…
My last jobs were as Cluster General Manager of the Amena Residences & Suites, managed by Melia, and Innside by Melia INNSIDE by Melia Saigon Central. That continued my connection to the Melia brand because before that I was General Manager of Melia Ba Vi Mountain Retreat for almost three years.
But I haven’t only worked in hotels. Before that I worked for TMG Group on their high-end Halong Bay cruises — their Emeraud Cruise with 37 cabins, their L’Azalee Deluxe Cruise with 12 cabins, and their LCC 40-seat day cruise and 3 private junks in Halong bay.
Which are your proudest career moments so far?
It might sound forced, but I don’t care, I mean it — it’s this project with Wink Hotels. To be aboard pre-launch of a completely new brand of Vietnamese-born, international standard hotels is why I wake up in the morning. After Saigon, we’ll open two more in Danang and then keep expanding the brand nationwide with 20 hotels in the pipeline. Even for me, with almost a lifetime in hospitality, this is a unique opportunity.
What will Wink Hotels do that other hotels don’t?
At Wink, we dreamt up this idea of a ‘community of one’. We’re realizing that in two key ways. One is to bring the outside in with our design touches by AW2, birdcage lighting, colors inspired by Vietnamese street life, a buzzing bar and kitchen, while at the same time encouraging guests to go out and join the community on our doorstep. Our Guides, have in-depth knowledge of the coolest coffeshops, beer clubs and street food in the area. So just ask…
The other way we’re building this community is in our structure. We had this idea, with Start Reverse, to develop an upside-down pyramid with our hotel team at the top and the entire management team supporting them to deliver a stellar guest experience.
Then there’s the technology side. Simple but efficient. You can self check-in and head straight up to your room, which opens with your mobile phone, or a key card if you prefer. You self-order at the kitchen or pick up curated Grab & Go items to takeaway or enjoy in your room.
And the latest exciting news is we’ve become the only hotel in Vietnam to be awarded LEED Gold Certification Version 4 for our efforts towards sustainable and eco-friendly operations.
What should a great General Manager do?
Simple. They should inspire, engage, and empower the hotel team. I think it’s impossible to argue with the principle that happy staff create happy guests. That means being hands-on. If something needs doing, I’ll make sure it gets done — even if that means doing it myself.
I think that’s what attracted me to Wink Hotels. Here I can be myself. Lots of traditional hotels are hierarchical, places where the management rule by fear. I want to work with the hotel team in a natural and empowering way.
Describe the area around Wink Hotels? Which are your favorite places?
I like Thien Ly restaurant near the hotel. They offer great Vietnamese food. I also like Belgo Belgium Beer. I’m from Hanoi, so I’m a committed beer drinker! Other options are Warning Zone which is five minutes walk from the hotel or the fun beer pub Xeng a block away down Nguyen Binh Khiem.
For international options, there’s the Sydney cafe-inspired Vintage Emporium. They’re so successful they now have two other locations in Saigon, but this was the first. It’s a great option for a meeting if you want a change of scene from our Wink Space or Toong coworking space. For something more Hanoian, Cafe Yen opened up nearby last year. There’s a Russian restaurant a couple of minutes walk away too. And a Japanese cocktail bar across the street called Baron. But, to be honest, our in-the-know Guides can give you even better tips, why don’t you go and ask them?
Thanks to Saint Rice for the styling. Visit their store at 11 Pham Ngoc Thach, District 3.