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Xiaomin (Min) Sun joined the 85-bedroom Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa as front office manager before its August 2017 opening, with responsibility for preparing a team of 15 receptionists and concierge staff.
She ensured that the team was trained to a standard that saw the hotel achieve a five-AA-star rating within four months of opening.
Central to Sun's approach was enshrining the message that every guest should be made to feel special from their initial point of contact. To this end she ensured that her team learned the name of every guest as they checked in, and placed importance in remembering guests' preferences, as well as anticipating their needs. Examples have seen her source toiletries that would not affect a guest's allergies prior to arrival and swap in-room chocolates for fruit after a guest left the sweeter offering on a number of occasions.
One commented: "I have had the pleasure of knowing Xiaomin for three years. Her focus is totally on the customer experience, ensuring that she and her team deliver the best service. Xiaomin always goes the extra mile; her personality and presence are calming, reassuring and confident."
It's not just regular guests who have singled Sun out for praise - she had been personally mentioned in 30 of the hotel's 382 TripAdvisor reviews.
The front office manager has created a training plan to maintain the high standards she established and aims to promote internally wherever possible, giving staff a clear career progression plan.
She has also organised a number of social events for the front of house team, including film nights, go-karting and a meal to celebrate their five-star accreditation.
These are just some of the reasons why a team member commented: "Xiaomin is the best manager any of us have had the pleasure of working with. Under her leadership and guidance we have become a very close-knit team and are thankful for her supportive, approachable and fun nature."
As well as having a focus on customer experience, Sun is commercially minded and has consistently performed within staffing cost budgets as well as contributing to a steady increase in average daily rate since the hotel's opening, reaching £172.21 in July ahead of a budgeted £139.44.
Occupancy figures have also outperformed the hotel's budget at 74.94% year-to-date.
Sun's hard work has seen many guests comment that she "is a credit to the company" and hotel reviewer for The Times, Tom Chesshyre, awarded the hotel nine out of 10 for its "friendly, upbeat feel".
What the judges said
"Sun's entry demonstrates a clear commitment to her team, her guest and the business. The challenges of opening a new hotel can never be underestimated. Her entry showed initiative, care, passion and tenacity."
Alistair Sandall, head of professional development, Institute of Hospitality
- "Sun's journey on team development and the guest journey stood out, influencing the team to go the extra mile and achieve their goals. Establishing objectives and targets for a team's development is key to a strong leader."
Debrah Dhugga, managing director, Dukes Collection hotels
Raul Deflorian 45 Park Lane, London
Bryony Madge Grosvenor House Suites by Jumeirah Living, London
Xiaomin Sun Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa
2017Sally Humphrey The Grove, Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire,
2016Laura Godman Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire
2015Lorena Somera The Capital, London
2014Thoralf Kretzschmar Lancaster London
2013Clarisse Abbey-Blackmore Crowne Plaza London Docklands
2012Rachel Thomas Danesfield House, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
2011 Joanne Alder Park Plaza Victoria, London
2010Ben Seager The Chesterfield Mayfair, London
2009 Ben Malpass The Cavendish London
2008 Carly Taylor Ston Easton Park, Bath
2007 - Felicity Wheeler Four Seasons Hotel, London
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