The hospitality industry continues to provide the many who have chosen to make it their career with much satisfaction and rewards.
It takes a lot, both in front and behind the scenes, to turn a hotel into a successful one.
One of these ‘behind the scenes’ functions that keeps a hotel up and running is the finance department.
Recently, we spoke to James Lee FCCA, Director (Financial Services) of luxury and lifestyle hotel, The South Beach, to get a feel of what it’s like to be part of a huge establishment.
James has two decades of experience in key financial and managerial roles in renowned hotels in Singapore and overseas that include the Regent Hotel Singapore, The Fullerton Singapore and the JW Marriott Chongqing.
A regular speaker and panellist at conferences, James’ expertise lies in the areas of flexible wage system, hospitality financial management, strategic cost management, shared services, risk management, human capital and career planning.
James is also often invited by academic institutions to share his insights with aspiring finance and accounting professionals on what an accountancy career can look like.
What made you want to pursue an accountancy career in the travel industry, and how did the ACCA qualification help you achieve your career aspirations thus far?
First things first, it was my interest in numeracy that led me to pursue a career in accountancy. The art of hospitality is a key characteristic of the travel industry. I have always enjoyed this hospitality aspect, be it as a customer or as an employee, and that’s how I ended up in the travel industry.
The ACCA Qualification has provided me with a solid foundation of the professional and technical knowledge I need to perform my job as a professional accountant.
The combination of professional knowledge and industrial experience is something that one cannot simply acquire through classroom learning.
Having been in the travel industry for more than 20 years, what do you particularly enjoy about this industry, and what aspects did you find most challenging?
One of the benefits of working in this line is that I get to travel, dine and visit many destinations all over the world. Over the years, I have also witnessed the transformation of the industry in response to changes in consumer behaviour, technological advancements and other trends. There were challenges a plenty but I enjoyed adapting and overcoming these challenges every step of the way as it made me a stronger and more competent individual. As they say, ‘what does not kill you will make you stronger’.
One of the main challenges that the hospitality industry has to grapple with is the use of technology to enhance the customer experience, such as smart phone applications that allow travellers to book directly with the hotel, enhancing convenience and accessibility.
The trend of travellers demanding ‘office’ or ‘home’ network connectivity (4G connection, Smartphone, Smart TV, ‘Bring Your Own Device’ – BYOD) in the rooms is also a major challenge for hotels to cope with, as this would require an infrastructure investment that requires a longer payback period and a large sum of capital investment.
What are some of the work-related challenges that are particularly unique to the travel industry?
Besides challenges revolving around the customer experience, there are two major work-related challenges that a finance leader in the travel industry needs to deal with: big data and automation.
When people think of big data, they tend to think of analytics. However, big data is beyond that. Finance and accounting professionals in the travel industry must be able to interpret the data to track demand and supply. From there, we can better understand the market dynamics. Success depends on how much value we can extract from data that can help us in decision-making. As data constantly evolves around the economy and market dynamics by the minute, the travel industry must be able to cope with this speed and seize every opportunity.
Automation through process transformation like shared services or Business Process Outsourcing is another challenge confronting the industry. For example, integrating automation to transform the customer experience or improve resource utilization is a complex matter that will have to involve multiple stakeholders.
What are the some of the prospects and career progression opportunities in the accounting field in the travel industry?
The travel industry is a service-based industry with people at its core. There is no difference from other industries, in terms of prospects and career progression opportunities. However, what will be key to your success is – interest in accountancy and passion for the industry you are working in. Your prospects and career development opportunities will be enhanced as you accumulate industry experience over the years. There is no short cut.
With the right attitude, passion and perseverance, aspiring finance and accounting professionals can pursue a multitude of career opportunities in the travel industry, be it in risk and governance, audit and assurance, budgetary and control, stakeholder relations, corporate reporting, asset management, taxation, sustainable reporting or integrated reporting. You can also rise to the top and senior positions of CFO, finance director and accountant.
How are the learning experiences offered by the travel industry different from those offered by the finance, accounting and business industries?
As the travel industry is a global business, the learning experiences it provides are generally international and culturally diverse in nature, offering you an exchange in business practices across different cultures. It will expose you to many different kind of experiences and practices, both in terms of business and leisure as well.
To find out about the millions of opportunities the ACCA Qualification could open up for you, please click here.