'Liberty': More than a word

 No 3, Vol.5, April - May 2015

Mr Michel Serrano

Through the mists of time, I remember Wednesday afternoon literature classes at school and the drowsiness that they used to invoke. Occasionally, the drone of the teacher’s voice did wake me up, though. One line that still comes to mind was from a strongly-worded protest poem; ‘Freedom is more than a word, more than the ... tyrant’s dishonoured cheque’. It came to me the other day when I was asked to investigate the Liberty Hotel and Liberty Central brands. They have been expanding their portfolio of three and four-star lodgements greatly recently. I poked my head the other day into the brightly-lit lobby of the recently opened Liberty Central Saigon City Point. It seems to have been an instant success, with a hive of activity to witness and the bar, which fronts the pavement, is already one of the most-frequented in town. In order to learn more, I went to visit M. Michel Serrano, the Chief Executive Officer of ‘Odyssea Hospitality’, the Vietnamese company which manages these names.
Mr Serrano sees Vietnam’s rapidly-moving tourism mirroring that of Thailand some twenty years ago. He strongly affirms that the volume is in the three-to-four star market. There may be more prestige for a company in the luxury end, but it does not take rocket science to see that hotels achieving eighty to ninety per cent occupancy can be more profitable than half-full five-star ones.
‘Liberty’ is good at location. The name should be familiar to anyone who has been in HCMC for even just a short while. ‘The Liberty Central Saigon Riverside’ is prominent among the big names on Ton Duc Thang Street. ‘The Liberty Greenview’ and ‘Liberty Parkview’ give touches of class to Pham Ngu Lao. ‘The Liberty Central Saigon Centre’ is on Le Thanh Ton, the city’s trendiest fashion street. ‘Liberty 2’ on Ham Nghi is handy for Ben Thanh Market. ‘Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint’ as already mentioned, has anchored a position as hostelry of choice for its class in the heart of District One. Then, in the new avenues of fast-developing district 7, one will find ‘The Liberty Saigon South’. Now, the drive is on to allow people to enjoy what the brand has to offer, which is becoming as widespread in Vietnam as Holiday Inn is in other countries. This will begin with the opening of Liberty Hotel Nha Trang on May the 15th.
Mr Serrano is at pains to point out that price is another important factor, especially these days with quick access to information. The Revenue Management officer has a job akin to driving a car, Serrano explains. He/she needs to make minute-by-minute decisions to ensure customers get best value for money and that the hotel maximises its occupancy.
However, in this labour-intensive industry, it is in human resources that the success lies. Mr Serrano cites the Saigon Tourist training facility as an example of an excellent hotel school, but says much more is needed. Training enough staff to cope with the rapid expansion of tourism is a major concern. Mr Serrano tells me Vietnam in particular needs quality staff at the higher management level. ‘It is a tough job, requiring many competencies to manage a hotel, but there are enough ambitious Vietnamese out there to make the grade,’ he tells me. Also, in this area, Mr Serrano is concerned with productivity. He approaches this like the CEO of a Formula One racing team seeking to clip off thousandths of seconds in order to win a race.’
‘Liberty’ then is a Vietnamese company, well-positioned in its sector. It has employed as its helmsman an expert with great experience in the region and in the business in order to ensure international standards. It recognises that the bulk of people coming to visit Vietnam are not those with money to burn, but people needing affordable comfort with first-class service and seeking value for money. Thus it is that ‘Liberty’ is more than just a by-word for quality - it is a guarantee!

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