Editor’s note: Dean Huntsman is the general manager of the Dusit Thani Guam Resort, a role he has served in since the hotel opened in 2015. Huntsman has two decades of experience in the travel and hospitality industry, including more than 15 years managing sales, business development and marketing teams in Oman, Indonesia, Korea, China, Hong Kong and Australia. He subsequently worked as director of operations with the Jumeirah Group in Dubai and served as the hotel manager of the Jumeirah Essex House in New York City.
His hotel management career began in Switzerland where he attended the Les Roches Hotel Management School.
Huntsman’s responsibilities at the Dusit Thani include overseeing the performance, strategic direction and day-to-day operations of the 421- room property, which includes six restaurants and bars, the Devarana Spa, and the Guam Convention Center.
The Dusit Thani Guam Resort also ranked first in the 2018 Guam Business Magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For” survey.
Q: How did you get started in the hospitality business? What first attracted you to the industry?
A: I was looking to further my studies in Europe; however, my time at Les Roches Hotel Management School in Switzerland would end up inspiring me to make a career out of my education. Now, over 20 years later, I’m embracing the opportunities and challenges of being general manager.
Q: You served in several roles around the world — Hong Kong, the United States, China — before accepting the general manager position at the Dusit. What is the biggest difference that you find in the hospitality field between Guam and elsewhere?
A: There are two big differences; the first is the culture of the people. The “Hafa Adai” spirit is authentic and distinguishes Guam from the other properties I have worked.
Second, Guam primarily looks to Japan and Korea. I’ve never worked in a place where you only have two big markets and that’s it. It’s good because we know exactly where to capture business, it’s very targeted and we don’t have to travel all over the world to generate leads. However it can be challenging when you have all your eggs in two baskets.
Q: This isn’t your first time working in the hotel industry on Guam. How has the island changed upon your return?
A: The core spirit of Guam hasn’t changed at all – especially the love of the people for the island. What has changed is the market used to be very Japanese dominated with more middle to senior-aged travelers coming to play golf and shop for high end brands. But now the profile of the guest is more family oriented and the Korean market is stronger. Guests are more independent and willing to look for experiences not tied to organized groups – they want authentic, local experiences.
Q: What is one piece of advice that you’d recommend to a young professional who is interested in becoming a hotelier?
A: Be resilient. Keep driving and stay positive. Try new concepts to keep things fresh. Don’t get stuck in comfort zones. Take on the challenges when you can; push yourself.
Q: How has the hotel industry changed in your years of managing?
A: There have been two big changes; one is the sale and distribution of product with the massive increase in the number of bookings coming from online whether direct or Online Travel Agents. The way we distribute and sell inventory has changed dramatically.
The second change is on the human resources side: knowing how to manage the millennials versus the the different generations can vary. The needs of employees from different generations have evolved and aspirations have evolved dramatically. Fifteen years ago, there wasn’t as much emphasis on engagement and employee satisfaction. You also need to ensure that you are providing meaningful experiences while nurturing growth and a clear vision of their career path.
Q: How have the changes in the tourism market on Guam in the past year affected the hotel industry and, more specifically, the Dusit Thani? What opportunities do you see in the market in the future?
A: We see the impact with social media, the power of working with the right influencers and the engagement with audiences relative to communication and feedback. In terms of the future, together with the Guam Visitors Bureau we need to position Guam more as a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) destination, which will also help us to diversify the market.
Q: Sustainability has been become a focus for many businesses, including the Dusit Thani. Which of its sustainability initiatives stand out for you? And how important are Dusit’s initiatives to customer satisfaction?
A: For Guam specifically, with an economy based on tourism where there are so many hotels within a relatively small footprint, the impact of tourism can be significant to the island whether it’s plastics, the reef, the environment — collectively we all have to do our part to ensure the sustainability of our island and tourism into the future. So eliminating single use plastics straws and constantly looking at ways to reduce our water, electricity and chemical consumption are all very important initiatives to us. Dusit International is very focused on this subject because it’s become an expectation from the guest and it’s simply the right thing to do.
Q: Staff turnover remains a challenge for many businesses on Guam? How do you overcome this challenge?
A: Ensure you hire the right people. Keeping employees starts with hiring the right ones. As general manager I interview every single employee. Offer competitive pay and benefits. People want and deserve to be compensated well.
Engage with your employees. Give praise. Conduct bi-annual employee engagement surveys and ensure you act on areas that are of concern to your employees.
Show employees their career path. A company must invest in training their employees.
Q: What do visitors have to look forward to at the Dusit Thani in the near future?
A: We are very excited about the addition of a new role which is our director of fun. Given that Guam has become such a family market, with the recruitment of our director of fun, we are looking at creating more authentic, memorable experiences. From hikes and kids club activities to parades — it’s really about creating those special moments for parents and children to cherish together. mbj