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Published by Iperform
16 May 2014
Sofitel So Singapore, General Manager, Tony Chisholm, Accor Hotels

Congratulations to Accor Hotels on opening their first property in Singapore for the Sofitel brand on 31st May – the evocatively named So Singapore. As General Manager, Tony Chisholm has the enviable responsibility of bringing this exciting new project to life.  So Singapore's training partner, iperform had the chance to ask Tony about what makes this hotel SO different, while gaining an insight into Tony's 10 year career with Accor.

• You achieved the role of GM relatively early in your career – what could young hoteliers learn from your success?

After starting my career with Duxton and Hyatt, I joined Accor as Hotel Manager at Sofitel Saigon Plaza. Just as with my previous appointments I was fortunate to have a really wonderful mentor who was Regional Manager for Accor in Malaysia and Singapore, and it reinforced the importance of mentorship – both having access to one, and being one yourself. Learning from these experiences I discovered that a true mentor is someone who is as committed to your career growth and development as you are, and it is a resource not to be squandered. In addition, my mentors taught me the importance of sharing recognition for a job well done – my most important role models were people who were quick to acknowledge the contribution of others. This is a wonderful way to give back, and it is both humbling and satisfying to play a role in someone else’s success. When I made the transition to my first role as General Manager at Sofitel Dalat when I was 33, I also learnt very quickly the importance of never giving up. It can be quite daunting at first when you realise that, in most instances, the buck stops with you and adopting a tenacious approach can often mean the difference between success and failure. You also need to have faith in the systems that you are working with – you can’t afford to show doubt to the team. But most importantly, and particularly relevant to me at the moment going through a pre-opening phase, is fundamental hard work!

• You have spent a lot of time in your working life in Asia – what is the attraction to this part of the world?

Asia is, in a word, intoxicating! Quite apart from the nuances of travel, multiculturalism and non-stop vibrancy, the opportunities that this part of the world offers are extraordinary. There are still so many new frontiers to discover – the growth across our Accor brands is testimony to some of the exciting developments that are taking place in the region. From a General Manger’s perspective I have also had the opportunity to mix with people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, many of whom I would never have had the chance to meet in my native New Zealand. Singapore in particular is home to, or hosts, executives from the highest level of the corporate world. Throughout my career in Asia I have also met political figures like Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton, members of the Dutch royal family, sporting greats…..the list goes on.

• Singapore is a very mature destination, but it seems somehow to remain vital. What is the secret?

Singapore is constantly re-inventing itself. It is a society that just does not sit on its hands. For example, they decide they need to increase visitor arrivals, so they move forward asking themselves “how will we do it?”. Exciting developments like Gardens at the Bay, Universal Studios on Sentosa or the Marina Bay Sands complex have created great interest from a tourism perspective and have contributed impressive employment opportunities as well. It also means that for hotel operators there are so many prospects not only for growth but also for real consolidation in the market. Of course, with the opening of So Singapore, it means we have the challenge of being representative of the vibrancy of today’s Singapore while respecting the traditions of hospitality the city enjoys, as well as guarding the Heritage Listed status of our building. Combining all of these elements I think that we will symbolise both where Singapore has come from and where it is going.

• As a relatively new concept within the Sofitel brand, what will make So Singapore unique compared to other hotels in the market?

Sofitel as a brand really makes a statement about its French heritage, and that is something that will be really evident at So Singapore. This will sit beautifully within the majestic building, which shares the same historical relevance as Raffles and The Fullerton. But there will be a modern twist as well, courtesy of the unique interiors created by Isabelle Miaja in partnership with Karl Lagerfeld. Signature touches by the iconic designer include the uniforms worn by the Rooms Division staff, the bathrobes with the Lagerfeld designed monogram which was inspired by his first impressions of Singapore and which is also symbolised in 3D on the door knockers, room collateral and the La BiblioteK in the lobby. Our location is also special. While the hotel is situated in the heart of the city’s Central Business District, it is still in easy access to all of the attractions the city has to offer – accessibility is one of Singapore’s greatest assets. What will make So Singapore unique, however, is its setting on the doorstep of Lau Pa Sat. Built in 1894 it is the largest remaining Victorian filigree cast-iron structure in Southeast Asia. It was formerly a wet market known as Telok Ayer market and is now restored to a hawker centre offering our guests a great insight into another side of Singapore.

• What, if anything, is different to leading the So Singapore team compared to leading the team in a more traditional hotel?

Right from the outset we try to let potential team members know their role within So Singapore will be different by calling the recruiting process a “casting call” which is intended to let them know that ours will be an environment that encourages creativity. While the hotel will be 70% Sofitel, following brand standards and so on, 30% will offer a dynamic twist – for team members and guests alike. My role as GM in all this is to create opportunities for team members to express themselves, and to share their love for the city of Singapore. An example of this has been allowing team members to personally curate many aspects of the services that we will offer our guests. It is really important to me to acknowledge how fortunate I have been to work for a company for 10 years now that rewards effort and loyalty, and that applies its amazing HR philosophy in providing people with the skills and opportunities to succeed. My role is also to ensure that this tradition is continued at So Singapore.

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