SANDAKAN: The Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan started operations in May 2012. Just as business was picking up and as the hotel was making its name, there were terrorist attacks just about 200km away from town here.
Sandakan, formerly known as Elopura has a rich heritage and goes as far back as World War II when about 2,000 Australian soldiers were shot dead. Hence, the historical ANZAC Day was commemorated. The centennial was a great and memorable day here.
Just as deals were being closed with China with big charter groups, the MH370 incident in 2014 brought all travels to a standstill. Following this, another pirate attack within the vicinity of Sandakan did not make in bound travel any more exciting nor promising. International travellers were being stopped by endless travel advisories.
After being employed at the hotel since early 2016 and having studied the selling points of Sandakan, Peter Padman, General Manager of the hotel gave deep thought to how one should change the perception of the general public, focusing on the domestic market.
Whilst he did a bit of international travel, he found that to maintain the fair share and continuity of foreign leisure business, the concentration needed to be diverted to both government and leisure, domestically instead of internationally.
Citing the visits of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism and the Ambassador of the United States, he said Sandakan was safe for visitors.
He said these were signs that the town was safe for inbound travel; however the travel alerts have yet to be lifted as this needs a good two years of unwanted happenings, like militant attacks or kidnappings.
“Though there has been peace in the area over the past 20 months, international travellers are still very sceptical about visiting the town of Sandakan,” Peter said.
He said that while the Government is putting in effort to make Sandakan a place to be visited, both Government and corporate events have been taking place at the hotel as a result.
“Focus has been on local MICE business. Programs and tailor made tours are the key attractions especially for accompanying spouses. Eco tourism and seafood eating experiences and not forgetting the history in this town (Sandakan), are the unique selling points which outsell other towns in Malaysia,” Peter said.
When asked what made the business at the Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan flourish in the past year, Peter said that he has been very hands-on with his team, being involved in every possible way.
He said he gave his people priority – putting people first which incidentally is one of the core values of Marriott International
He made it a point to meet and greet as many guests as possible and being present at most local events to network with decision makers.
“I have always encouraged my team to make each stay a memorable one for all their guests – providing personalised yet uncomplicated service, giving equal treatment to all nationalities, age groups and nature of visit be it business or leisure. Guests return to this hotel, not because of the hardware but simply for the people and that is part of the secret of turning the place around!” he said.