GOSTELOW REPORT—“Face masks were always a part of life in southeast Asia, so wearing them is not unusual —face masks when cycling were almost part of national dress,” says James Young, vice president of resource planning and development at Windsor Property Management Group Corp., headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
“As a Brit, I would always have said no to wearing a mask, but now I have changed my mind. It is not only about my possibly affecting others but others affecting me,” he explained. Every adult in the city that was previously known as Saigon is advised to download the official NCOVI app and record their health on a daily basis. Any concerns are flagged and quickly followed up.
As of May 21, 2020, Vietnam has gone 35 days with no community transmission. With a current population of 13 million — and probably half that number of motor scooters, which have almost entirely replaced bicycles —Ho Chi Minh City, former capital of South Vietnam, is still considered the social base of the country. South and North Vietnam merged in 1975 to become the long-and-skinny Socialist Republic of Vietnam, whose capital, Hanoi, is 915 miles to the north.
Young first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 2014, to be GM of its Hotel InterContinental Asiana Saigon.
“My first week, a long-time expat gave me three bits of advice. If you want something done, ask a woman. The person you will turn to most at work is a woman. The decision-maker is a woman.” Later, after taking time off back in Europe to finish his MBA with a research project on cybersecurity in the hotel business, he returned to Ho Chi Minh City to join a discreet, private locally based company, Windsor Property Management Group Corp., a hospitality and property management enterprise. He reports to the CEO — who, true that earlier advice he was given, is female.
Windsor Property Management’s portfolio of assorted real estate includes four hotels, all in Ho Chi Minh City (total 1,150 keys and over 2,000 employees). The Reverie Saigon, a Leading Hotel of the World, and the Windsor Plaza Hotel reduced operations during the lockdown but the Sherwood Residences and Sherwood Suites remained open, with a strong base of long-stay business.
The four properties share a Windsor-led loyalty program, Prestige, which is heavy on local celebrities. The 286-key Reverie Saigon, which opened in 2015, is undisputed social center of the city: Last year it was base for an over-the-top awards event of the Vietnam edition of Harpers’ Bazaar, and in April it hosted a Cong Ty fashion shoot for the popular local brand that is also hot among many of the Vietnamese diaspora living in the USA.
“All our hotels are now operating again, and with national flights resuming we are seeing domestic business coming back and I am, optimistically, hoping for regional traffic from Hong Kong and mainland China, plus Taiwan and perhaps South Korea. In normal times, our Reverie customer base is led by the USA, then mainland China, Korea, Japan and some U.K.”
Young is already considering 2020 the year of dominant food & beverage — Windsor has over 20 stand-alone outlets in Ho Chi Minh City, plus its hotel restaurants.
“The Reverie’s Chinese, Italian (Romeo and Juliet), and international with a French touch remained open while bedrooms were closed,” Young said. “All our restaurants are popular with locals, who have traditionally associated our food with nutritious health. We have our own hydroponic gardens.”
His mantra in Ho Chi Minh City, both professionally and personally, is eat the right food, and wear your mask, and think Vietnamese. “And listen to your female colleagues,” said Young.