National President of Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH)

Penang-born Datin Christina Toh, in her mid-50s, is also the chairwoman of MAH’s training arm, Malaysian Association of Hotels Training and Education Centre (MAHTEC).

Appointed since May 2022 as MAH’s first lady national president in the 49 years of its establishment, the association and its 13 chapters represent 1,089 members and 1,007 hotels nationwide.

They supply a total of 162, 705 rooms, which is almost half of the country’s guest accommodation.

Much as she likes to read self- empowerment books and non- fiction novels, she has not been able to do so since the borders reopened.

Being the association’s first lady president, how does it feel? What initiatives were introduced in order to help the hospitality industry recover from the Covid-19 pandemic?

My appointment shows that our members acknowledge gender equality and realise the important role women play in today’s commercial world. We were just coming out from the pandemic when I assumed my position in 2022. Our focus then was on the safety and cleanliness to ensure that our hotels meet or exceed the international hygiene and safety standards.

Through the Travel Safety Alliance Malaysia where MAH appointed Bureau Veritas Malaysia as an independent auditor of this certification programme, we collaborated with the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS), Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents and the Malaysia Aviation Group to ensure that it is clean and safe to travel to Malaysia.

The pandemic experience over the past two years made us realise that the hotel industry could reinvent the  with hotel being used as quarantine centres. We had a lot of sharing on innovative ways to get enough staffing as well as to reskill and upskill our team.

Tell us more about the efforts to innovate and uplift the hospitality industry now that you are more than a year into your term.

Since we did not have enough manpower during the recovery period from the pandemic, everyone went on flexi working hours. We procured support from the administration to have the staff perform multi-tasking, where certain hours the administration team were dressed down into their t-shirts to help clean the hotel rooms or assist to set up for breakfast and were F&B servers as well.

MAH recently organised the first Hospitality Leadership Conference to elevate knowledge sharing towards hospitality and tourism post- pandemic for the General Managers and Senior Managers of the industry. Through MAHTEC, we collaborated with a few local universities as well as hotel and tourism colleges to enhance, upskill and reskill the MAH members.

We must also generate a sense of ownership and pave their hospitality career.

The introduction of artificial intelligence machines and systems are one of the few ways to address manpower shortage but in the hotel business, we are always at the forefront. Hence, face-to-face customer service will continue to be prioritised.

How do you describe your leadership style?

I am a firm advocate of inclusive management. To me, in today’s working environment, you need to have empathy and respect for your peers and subordinates. Teamwork also plays a pivotal role in our hotel business.

We need to understand and integrate the stakeholders’ job responsibility in meeting customer service. We must also generate a sense of ownership and pave their hospitality career.

During your last 20 years as a Board with MAH, you have seen the hotel industry go through its ups and downs. What are your observations on it?

Every cycle has a learning and upscaled journey. Digitalisation, technology, automation and data analytics are the key trends in supporting the hotels’ service standards of operations, and to also measure and gauge through data on customers’ experience and expectation.

Additionally, the industry needs to redefine how we can establish an education system to overcome workforce challenges and to equip Gen Z with a new lifelong learning.

We need to transform our commercial approach in doing business via online bookings and the various approaches through social media marketing.

What has MAH done to woo more leisure and MICE tourists to Malaysia as we prepare for Visit Malaysia Year 2026?

We have bonded very well with tourism and other hospitality and travel-related associations and by having more collaborative networking sessions, be it physical or hybrid.

We collectively work together with the airlines, travel agencies, convention bureaus and theme park associations to promote Malaysia as a tourist destination of choice. We can never do this on a silo basis.

What are the measures undertaken by MAH to address the manpower shortage in the hospitality industry?

Besides upskilling and reskilling our hotel associates, we are also working with the local hospitality, tourism and culinary schools.

We recently had a human resource conference for the hotel industry and asked ourselves, “How do we introduce hospitality as an industry of choice?”.

We would most likely need to reach out to the Education Ministry to create more awareness among public school students of the diverse opportunities offered by hotel industry.

There are multiple options. For example, administration, finance, technical, mechanical and electrical as well as sales and marketing. Other fields open to them are marketing and communications, which include digital social media marketing.

Students are now more selective and prefer to work in more fun-loving places in the gig economy related jobs as part-time drivers. Perhaps we need to create community job opportunities and create more awareness on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

What is MAHTEC’s current focus?

Started since 1998 as a learning and development service provider, MAHTEC has now taken a different portfolio and gone into collaborations on two prongs. One is on skill sets to understand our members’ needs and the other is on their career enhancement via continuing education.

We are collaborating and partnering through the various hospitality and tourism colleges as well as universities, both locally and internationally.

Have your member hotels recovered from the pandemic?

We are still in the recovery stage. Thankfully, there are now more airlines and flight resumptions, which are flying directly and through the various domestic and international destinations.

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