a month in London


in the beginning…
I knew I was going to London for a special work assignment to help take over a small hotel for my boss at one point but I just was not quite sure when it would be. The first trip in November last year was called off in the very last minute as the deal took longer than expected to finalise. When it eventually fell through after months of negotiation, I breathed a sigh of relief as going away for a month-long work trip is vastly different from my usual without-a-care-in-the-world kind of leisure holidays that I love and enjoy.

When my boss was looking at a second property in the same city almost immediately after the first unsuccessful deal, I stopped asking questions as I was not getting any useful information even if I tried so I decided to just wait for the call when the deal was completed (how compliant I was, and maybe even considered a little too foolishly committed to the job as I look back now!). The call finally came in late July and I had only 4 days to get ready before I headed for London to be the much-dreaded one-woman task force.

Two things helped lighten things up while I was on my way, the first being the weather — I know I must be mad to have said that as the British weather is known to be very unpredictable but compared to my supposed trip in November the year before, the milder weather in July/August seemed a much more appealing alternative. Secondly, I just might have a chance to meet up with a few old friends in and around London.

the uphill climb begins…
In order for one to understand how the hotels are run in London from the workforce, management style and ethics, the attitude of the workers in general to the stock market-like daily fluctuating room rates including the sizes of the guest rooms requires great adjustments of one’s mind set and perception, especially for someone who comes from Asia, the other corner of the world where the set-up of the hotels and how they are run are completely different, and where service-excellence is the culture that most players in the hospitality industry embrace closely.

In the four weeks I was there, from the initial period to get to know the property to the actual takeover in the end of the second week without a proper handover form the seller and ended with me working my backside off in the last two weeks trying to ensure the operations were not disrupted after the takeover and at the same time addressing all the operational challenges, we were stressed and stretched, more mentally than physically to almost beyond what we could bear. Although this newly acquired property has great business potential and in fact has been doing well due to its ideal location, it is in dire need of improvements in both its hardware and software due to years of neglect by the previous owner. I got our Front Office Manager Annette to come out in the second week to help me with the takeover, or to “climb the mountain” with me as she called it and I think until today she has not yet forgiven me!

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the calm before the storm — we (owner’s daughter Samantha in front, Annette at the back) looked relaxed after lunch on the day the deal was going to be completed in the evening

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the storm — the deal was completed at 5:30 pm and the team from the seller’s side charged in to do the cut-off for the business trading for the day at 11:30 pm. The whole shebang went on until 3:30 am before we could call it a day.

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what is common in many hotels in London – space constraints! So space management is necessary for some of the smaller rooms in this hotel and that old-fashioned cabinet will have to go!

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eh…. who designed this? A bit daft really!

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not a housekeeping trolley in sight due to the narrow corridors!

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looked like a relaxing stroll for us on a nice day out but no one could have guessed what kind of challenges I had to deal with on that particular day… (Annette took this pic from her room)

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what really took place was just minutes before what looked like a relaxing stroll on the street we were up on the roof top to look at what repairs needed to be done there… and that was in between the gas shut down due to technical error and the lift suddenly stopped working! (when the location is convenient with the underground station nearby then one will inevitably have to put up with the noise!)

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I called it the “linen cave”! Dorcia the maid tried on a few occasions to have a friendly conversation with me in Russian!

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Annette in the “broom cupboard”. Looking at her cocked head I could literally hear her silent sigh!

pit stop halfway up the mountain…
While tackling the endless operational challenges, we decided that we needed a breather to keep us sane so we took Annette out to see London one Sunday afternoon. However, before long the crowds and the noise were getting too overwhelming for me…


Convent Garden – people everywhere…


Piccadilly Circus – cars, people……

The best part was I managed to carve out time to meet up with a few old friends of mine and even celebrated my birthday the weekend before the actual day away from London. Great memories!

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the nice weekend started with me meeting up with a very old friend whom I had not seen since I left Scotland twenty years ago after I finished my studies — when I first met Aberdonian Michael he was just a wee boy at 8 and now, he’s 36! He treated me to a very nice lunch and we had a couple of drinks after that to end a lovely catch-up session.

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dazzled by the raspberries in Cecilia’s garden… after lunch with Michael I caught the train to go and stay with Cecilia in Farnborough for the weekend. It was absolute bliss to be away from the city and the stresses at the hotel

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nice to be treated to a home-cooked meal and Cecilia even baked a cake for me with the raspberries from the garden!

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blessed with lovely weather on Sunday — Cecilia took me to the West Green House in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire for some fresh air, sunlight and flowers

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we enjoyed the colourful summer blooms

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curiously checked the giant sunflowers out

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and admired the fruit trees before we continued on with the rest of our programme for the day

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we went for a long walk with the dogs with Cecilia’s brother and sister-in-law Chris and Lindsay

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I was so engrossed in taking the shot that I unwittingly stepped on some swan poo!

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birthday treat — after the long walk they took me to Royal Berkshire Hotel in Ascot for afternoon tea

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looking relaxed after the long walk and fresh air

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my afternoon tea companions

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a stroll in the garden after the delicious afternoon tea

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savouring the last bit of a relaxing Sunday before going back to the hassle and bustle of London

On the last Sunday before I left…

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Annette and I met up with my Malaysian friend Charlotte who’s been living and working in London for more than 10 years

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visited Charlotte’s church, All Souls Church

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being treated to the best roasted duck I have ever had for lunch by Charlotte

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had a walkabout around West End before we bid farewell to Charlotte

coming down from the mountain…
At the end of the 4 weeks I was more than ready to come home. I missed everything about home and I even missed work, and that really said a lot about this special work assignment! I prepared my long handover list for the owner’s daughter Samantha who would take charge of the hotel after I were gone and I wish her all the best. Annette sent me off at the underground station and waved me goodbye in tears. I assured her that she was actually stronger to face the challenges than she gave herself credit for and I would have pints of Guinness ready for her as olive branch when she comes home in early October.

The long flight journey home tired me out and I took the rest of the week off to “recuperate”. It feels great to be back in the tropical heat and that I no longer live out of a suitcase!

where do I go from here…
The eventful one month I spent in London has taught me many things. I came away feeling more appreciative of the team we have in our Malaysian property; the team of staff who are committed, dedicated and who do not mind to go the extra miles to get things done when most of the times it is on their own initiative and without pay. I got the first-hand experience that it was exhausting working in two time zones with 7 hours of time difference! I saw some amateur PR exercise being played out with obvious ulterior motives and was also unfortunate enough to witness some unscrupulous ways of doing businesses, seeing which I was reminded that I was brought up to be ethical, and when it comes to work, I earn my respect by being responsible and professional. I learned that it does not matter how tough things might get, we can face the challenges head on and rise above the storms!

Now, where do I go from here? Anyone looking for a consultant to help take over some hotels in Europe?

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