Cover Winnie Chiu wears Louis Vuitton. Photo: Amanda Kho for Tatler Hong Kong

The pandemic has been devastating for hotels around the world, but Winnie Chiu steered her Dorsett brand through the storm—and has big plans for its future

Hotelier Winnie Chiu has always encouraged her staff to be innovative and adaptable—and she had to follow her own advice when the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, plunging the hospitality industry into crisis.

Chiu joined Dorsett Hospitality International, her family business, as president and executive director in 2010. The group was one of the first to join the government’s hotel quarantine scheme in the early days of the pandemic and has since become something of a pioneer in the space, launching multiple programmes to keep guests comfortable—and sane—during their stay.

At the time of writing, the group operates six hotels in Hong Kong that are designated quarantine facilities for arrivals. Outside Hong Kong, the brand continues to thrive, with new properties set to open in the UK and Australia.

Here, Chiu shares her proudest achievements from the past year and reveals what she has coming up next. 

On the projects she feels most proud of in 2021:

I am very happy and touched by what Dorsett has done to take care of our greater community. Throughout the pandemic, we have [provided accommodation for] over 12,000 frontline medical staff across mainland China, Hong Kong, London, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as over half a million quarantine guests globally.

Aside from the pandemic, Dorsett Shepherds Bush in London has welcomed over 300 refugees evacuated from Afghanistan while they wait to be resettled.

In Hong Kong, we’ve provided more than 500 room nights in partnership with local shelter and NGO Harmony House for more than 50 families in Hong Kong suffering from domestic abuse, which has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

On why the group’s quarantine hotels are highly rated—and what Dorsett offers guests during uncertain times:

Quarantine can be really challenging. Knowing this, our teams are coming up with new ideas and initiatives all the time—and continue to amaze me. I’m always getting sent photos on WhatsApp from friends as they pass by our hotels, because of the artwork on the windows.

We’ve really focused on offering thoughtful and useful service. From the onset, Dorsett has always allowed deliveries, including home-cooked meals dropped off by friends and family. Our team counts down [the days] with all our guests with competitions, surprises and Zoom gatherings to remind them they’re not in this alone.

It’s important to give your team the flexibility and autonomy to carry out their own initiatives, as they know our guests the best. It is this flexibility and speed to react that keeps Dorsett agile, adaptable and resilient in the face of changing restrictions, travel trends and new innovations, and empowers us to continually improve our guest experience. 

On the year ahead:

I am really looking forward to Dorsett Gold Coast on Broadbeach Island in Australia opening this month. It’s a gorgeous property with an executive lounge and terrace, and a beautiful pool bar and deck overlooking the beach—definitely one of the first places I look forward to visiting. As our newest property, it will feature the latest in technology, design and sustainability.

In light of the pandemic, [I believe] travel will become less frequent, but people will stay for longer and guests will be looking for greater flexibility. We’re excited for the launch of our first long-stay aparthotel brand, Dao by Dorsett, in London at the end of 2021. Dao by Dorsett’s comfortable studios fitted with their own kitchenettes, plus co-living spaces, will look to cater to these needs.

On female leadership:

I am very happy that our company’s senior leadership team [consists of] 78 per cent female leaders. As a female leader, I feel responsible for helping to bridge the gap when it comes to female representation and expectations of them in the workplace, because we are all equally as capable. As female leaders, we tend to be naturally more empathetic, which encourages greater collaboration and flexibility in the workplace.

Coupled with new developments in technology—thank you, virtual conferencing—it’s easier for us to work remotely when we need to. I am always the first one to encourage my associates to leave if their children have something important happening at school, and just to make sure they also get enough time with their family.

On the best part of her work:

Being able to help develop people and be part of their journey is a passion of mine, and one of the reasons why I love working in the hotel industry. We’ve had many of our associates work their way from front office to hotel manager, and this is really what makes my job so rewarding.

Aside from hotels, I focus a lot of my time on impact investments. I think it’s important to support the next generation, and I’ve been looking at companies that make significant social and environmental impact alongside promising financial returns. I love to meet people and learn about new ideas and technology. It’s exciting to be able to open doors for entrepreneurs and start-ups to help them grow and evolve. 

On handling pressure:

We have over 15,000 associates, so I think it’s essential for me to set an example of work-life balance. I always make sure to have time set aside where I spend time with my family, get in a boxing or running session, go for a walk and take a break from my phone. Recently, I completed my first timed competitive run as part of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon.

I believe in creating good values and habits, and I’m a huge advocate for getting enough sleep. It’s good for health but also your mental and emotional your wellbeing. As a mother, I really hope to be able to pass this on to my children. 

On the lessons she has taught others:

In case you missed it: Winnie Chiu On What She Learned From Her Father

The importance of staying grounded. Hong Kong can be quite glamorous, and it can be easy to get lost or caught up in other people’s successes and what they are doing.

In the end, life is pretty simple. Don’t compare yourself to others. To achieve real contentment and happiness, you should focus on what you’re doing and how you can make your own impact. With this mindset, I feel very blessed and grateful every day for what I have—and this naturally fosters a sense of responsibility to do my part to support society and help others.

Our family motto is “to constantly seek self-improvement”. I strongly believe in continuous learning—not just about your own field, but in all fields. 

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