Brits abroad: Richard Hatter

04 January 2016 by
Brits abroad: Richard Hatter

Richard Hatter is general manager of Hotel Icon, a teaching hotel owned by Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He tells Janet Harmer why his place of work is a hotel with a purpose

Can you describe the concept of Hotel Icon?

Hotel Icon is an exceptional hotel with a special purpose: not only does it embody all the creative energy and spirit of Hong Kong, it is also the world's first with fully integrated teaching and research facilities in a real business environment.

What does your role entail?

I was hired in 2009 to plan and open Hotel Icon. I'm a director on the board of the hotel and am responsible for its overall profitability, commercial success, customer experience, operating systems, culture, student internships and brand growth. As an associate professor in the university's School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM), 25% of my time is spent teaching under and postgraduate students. I oversee all 356 full-time staff, 200 interns and some management trainees from overseas.

Why is it important to you to combine a teaching role with an operational one?

Sharing the hands-on experience is a bonus in teaching and it is important for the students to be exposed to best practice and gain a first-hand insight into the commercial realities in hospitality.

Who are your students and where do they come from?

The SHTM is now one of the largest of its kind in the world, enrolling 2,200 students from 20 countries. The fact that the hotel is owned by the university means it is not beholden to the whims and demands of a major chain. My ambition is for Hotel Icon to become a beacon of innovation, in a similar way that Silicon Valley in California drove the transformation of the tech industry.

How do the students benefit by training in Hotel Icon?

All profits go back towards education and training for the industry as a whole. Students also benefit from research with the hotel having three experimental rooms where in-room design innovations can be piloted by guests.

The school and hotel share a space, but they have separate entrances on opposite sides of the building. Students can seamlessly move through the hotel where they observe various back-of-house operations, whether it be facilities management, housekeeping or food and beverage. There are also shared meeting rooms. From Monday to Thursday, the school uses the rooms as classrooms. At the weekend, the hotel holds events and meetings.

The structured internship programme is also a great benefit. Up to 200 interns have the opportunity to participate in 10-, 12- and 48-week internship programmes. The school and hotel has also launched an elite management programme, where six students will be given one-year managerial training shadowing directors of different departments.

There is a huge skills shortage in hospitality in the UK. Is it the same within Asia?

Yes, we are facing the same issue. It is very challenging to hire skilled people in hotels, especially in food and beverage.

What do you enjoy most about living and working in Hong Kong?

I like Hong Kong for its caring, hardworking people. There are terrific hotels, great food, beaches, wet markets and street vendors.

And dislike?

Crowds and pedestrian rage are a challenge. The oppressively hot summers are when most expats take their annual vacations.

Asia has always had a strong service culture. Is it as strong as it ever was?

Confucian societies believe that the individual exists in the context of the family, extended family, and wider society. Hence the service culture is natural, as it's the result of being respectful of elders. The idea is to look after guests as though they were your family.

I was delighted to see that the University of Essex is now involved in hospitality education. I hope that it does well.

Will you ever return to the UK?

I think I have officially developed a crush on Hong Kong. I have no plans to ever return to the UK.


After attending school on the Isle of Wight and the University of Portsmouth, where he studied a Higher National Diploma in hotel, catering and institutional management, Hatter became general manager at the Royal Southern Yacht Club in Southampton. In 1983 he became deputy general manager of the Treasure Isle hotel on the British Virgin Island of Tortola. Prior to joining Hotel Icon in 2009, he was director of development with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.

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