Long Shiau Wee (pictured above) misses Singapore. Ever since the pandemic closed global borders, the CEO of YTL Hotels Niseko Village has not had the chance to return to the country to visit family and friends. But she’s been busy. Last year, in December, she played a key role in the opening of Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve.

We chatted with the veteran hospitality honcho (“I’ve been with YTL Hotels since July 2011”) about how she’s leading the company through the pandemic.

(Related: Accenture’s Mike Tansey explains why Covid-19 has levelled the hospitality playing field)

Lobby of the Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve.
Lobby of the Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve.

What lessons did you learn from the pandemic that now guide your decision-making process?

The pandemic made me realise the importance of local tourism. I strongly believe that our guests, be it local or international, deserve a unique experience when they stay at YTL Hotels, so we always update our offerings and craft experiences to suit different guest profiles.

We’ve added educational and luxury elements to our hotel programmes, so that local guests can also take home a brand-new experience when they stay with us. This included golf retreats for enthusiasts of the sport and The Majestic Mount Yotei Hike, where guests can explore and appreciate the natural beauty of Niseko and its surroundings.

What were the hardest challenges you had to overcome during the pandemic?

Well, despite the travel restrictions and tumultuous hospitality environment, we launched Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, in December 2020. In the lead up to the opening, preparations with overseas teams had to take place remotely amid an uncertain business climate. We have already received awards for this property.

I’m glad to share that YTL Hotels growth has been steady despite the pandemic and the hotel group has more plans in the pipeline to expand their properties in Japan.

Let’s focus on issues beyond the pandemic. How have you pushed for sustainability and diversity goals in YTL Hotels?

We prioritise environmental initiatives for biodiversity conservation across several luxury resorts. We also focus on the rehabilitation and retrofitting of unique buildings with historical value, which helps to minimise environmental loads of new constructions.

YTL Group also provides equal opportunities to staff, with females comprising 32 per cent of our leadership roles. I am proud to lead a diverse team at YTL Hotels Niseko Village as a female CEO and continue to champion diversity in our hotels.

(Related: How will hospitality and design look like after the pandemic? Florian Sander has answers)

The view of Mount Yotei, where travellers can hike if they wish.
The view of Mount Yotei, where travellers can hike if they wish.

What was it like to be a Singaporean abroad in the beginning?

Working abroad in Japan was a dream come true for me. Waking up daily to the beautiful surroundings that Niseko Village offers is a breathtaking experience. I took part in so many experiences that are unavailable in Singapore: skiing and snow rafting in winter and mountain hiking and para-gliding during the summer. One of my most memorable moments in Japan was attending the annual summer matsuri held in Otaru. I wore in the traditional Japanese yukata and join the locals in a traditional dance performance. I am very lucky to have unique cultural experiences like this through work.

As a foodie, I am spoiled for choice at Niseko Village. Premium fresh seafood and vegetables are plentiful. My favourite foods include Shiraoi Beef and Kurobuta (otherwise known as Black Pork) from Makari/Rusutsu, as well as the Hokkaido milk and yogurt that is produced daily. My friends and family are always in awe of the amazing spreads we have at Niseko Village, and I always look forward to hosting them at our resorts.