• Ryan Haynes

Photographs & Memories - Christine Tan: Pressing for attention



Our next memory maker dreamed of being in hospitality, persuading her father to send her to hotel school. Christine Tan takes us on her journey from an Island in West Malaysia to Switzerland, London, Los Angeles and Singapore joining UTELL fresh out of college to coordinate the switch of hotels to GDS. Her souvenir is a press cutting from this time, and she reflects on how things have changed since 1989.


Christine always knew travel was important to her “I wanted to climb the highest mountain and swim the deepest sea before having kids.” She recounts her 4,000 metre ascent of Mount Kinabalu, a brutal climb passing over rough terrain, tackling steep elevations with no conversation as air became thinner, eventually arriving at a breathtaking sunrise. “If you ask me to do it again, I’d take the helicopter”. From here she tells about an oceanic Island and her joy to swim with sharks in the Philippines as she witnessed the transformation of this small town.


Christine shares her Fawlty Towers story about a guest suffering severe jet lag.


Born in Malaysia Christine left home at 17 to study in Switzerland and London and ended up living all over Europe and the USA; eventually returning to Asia 20 years later. She juggles her career with motherhood, having had her daughter late in life. She is passionate about the arts, and the hospitality industry.


A big foodie Christine will travel long distances to experience different cuisines. Her family loves the ocean and snow so they spend most of their vacations diving off remote islands or skiing in Japan and USA.


Until recently, Christine served as Managing Director for Asia Pacific at D-EDGE. She has over 30 years of leadership experience including Trust International, ANA Hotels, Pegasus Solutions, and her own consulting company.


A Travel Market Life series, Photographs & Memories is a Haynes MarComs production, hosted and sponsored by Atomize.


For more episodes and details of the series Photographs & Memories, visit https://www.haynesmarcoms.agency/travel-market-life


Program Notes


Michael McCartan:

My memory maker today is Christine Tan. Welcome to photographs and memories with me, Michael McCartan Each episode, we invite an industry professional to share three photographs and a treasured souvenir from their travels, representing moments, particularly important to them. Join us as we go on a journey through time to explore the significance of each check, the podcast description to view the images of these treasured memories,


Michael McCartan:

Born in Malaysia. Christine left home at 17 to study in Switzerland and London and ended up living all over Europe and the USA eventually returning to Asia 20 years later, A big foodie, Christine will travel long distances to experience different cuisines. Her family loves the ocean and snow. So they spend most of their vacations diving off remote islands or skiing in Japan or the USA. Christine has managing director for Asia pack at D edge. She has over 30 years of leadership experience, including Trust International ANA Hotels, Pegasus Solutions, and her own consulting company,


Michael McCartan:

Christine Tan. Welcome to photographs and memories.


Christine Tan:

Hello, Michael, thank you so much for having me,


Michael McCartan:

My pleasure, great stuff. So you've shared three photographs of people in places that represents special moments to you and the third photograph of a souvenir from your life journey. During the course of this conversation, we will explore each of the photographs and you will take us on a journey through time, reflecting on the significance of each ordinarily. We leave the souvenir photograph to last, but I know that the souvenir that you've brought with you today relates very heavily to your introduction to the hospitality industry. So please go ahead and explain the, the relevance and the significance of, of your souvenir.


Christine Tan:

Okay. So, well, so does vineyard that I, that I submitted to you was when I was back with, it was my first job actually with util international and I was the GDS marketing and promotions manager. So at that time, GDS was very new. It was. Can you imagine that was back in 1989 when I first started my career. So, and I was fresh out of college. And you know, at the time you tell, was advertising for a role of an airlines coordinator. And I discovered that the role wasn't, you know, airlines per, but it was coordinating the suite of hotels into the ally systems like Sabre Galileo, which was called Apolo at that time, debtors to Eastern airlines, which is now called <inaudible> and sit the Sahara.


Christine Tan:

So you tell was a world largest hotel representation company at the time, and the hotels were being inducted into an automated world of distribution. So actually that was my first entry into the wool of distribution. Then you don't because when we look at, during those days, travel agents were the key brick and mortar, you know, still making bookings for, for travelers, for hotels, car rentals, whatever, but the GDS was very, very new to hotels. So, so that particular press cutting that I sent to you was when we were doing Chinese horoscope campaign to boost the viewership of all our hotels in the airline systems.


Christine Tan:

So that picture was me and my Galileo rep represent the different name, handsy blink. I came up with this idea during Chinese new year using the 12 animals signs, travel agents were asked to explore the Burstein and select the hotels that are most suitable for their character. And our hotels would then invite the two parties speak for each each month or each year. So for example, let's say, Michael, you were born in the year of Pega. We will recommend seven hotels where you to stay in because that suits your character. So somebody had a lot of fun. We launched the campaign with hit nines.


Christine Tan:

Like, what animal are you? Is your boss a monkey? Is your wife a snake? You know, so agents love it. And they were all checking the pagers. And we had actually amazingly 30% increase of bookings over the previous month and about a thousand percent in a viewership. So, so I, I remember this job very well because when I think about today, we are still doing something similar, except it's on the internet, right? So we are still trying to drive traffic and we are still trying to drive conversion, but that, you know, that Slovenia helped precious memories to me.


Michael McCartan:

Fantastic. Yeah. Very relevant. And as you say, I mean, the world has changed immeasurably in terms of distribution, but some of the fundamentals still remain. So that's fantastic. Now I know that you tell, took you to north America and, and all over the world, really in your careers. Tell me a little bit about that, about how you ended up in, on different continents doing different things.


Christine Tan:

Yes. So, so, you know, give you a little bit of my background. I was born Penang is a small island in West Malaysia. And you know, when I was very young at that time, we live in a house of extended families. We have got grandparents, aunts, uncles, all live under one roof and you know, my siblings and I, so I grew up with lots of my cousins, you know, and, and it's amazing because our parents had big dreams for us. They wanted us to be lawyers, doctors, you know, business people just like them. And, and the boys, my cousins actually became that upset me.


Christine Tan:

I wanted to be part of the hospitality industry. So swipe persuaded my father to let me go to Switzerland, to study a hotel school. Okay. So, you know, it took a bit of persuasion because he says, you know, what kind of career is is working in a hotel? They are very poorly paid. I know when you come back, you'll be subbing in front of the front desk. You know, that's, that's his image of the hotel industry at the time and a backer swayed at him. And I promised him that after the hotel school, I would go to London and I will study my, my business degree and so forth. Okay. So, so that's how I went to Europe.


Christine Tan:

And, you know, after, after studying in London in a university and I got my bachelor of business administration degree, I got myself working with UTELL. So, and then I followed my fiance at the time to America, and they gave me a relocation because they had offices worldwide. So I ended up in Los Angeles and then in Los Angeles, I had a change of role because they don't need a GDS person. I started doing a bit of sales and marketing for them there. And then, you know, from there in, in LA I joined one of their biggest client.


Christine Tan:

So I became a client. I became on the other side of the cut in a hotel group. And again, you know, I was in chatter 49 hotels looking at looking after the distribution channels, the, our red, central reservation operations. And then somehow I, you know, from ENA, I ended up, you know, building my own business with my boss at a time because Ian, he we're going through a difficult time and they wanted to, you know, keep the airlines business. And he started selling the hotels. So basically we were laid off. So when we were laid off me and my, my boss, we decided to start our own business.


Christine Tan:

And again, you know, we went into the business of distribution and so forth, but somehow I ended up being contacted by his name Pegasus, after that, you know, from Utah. And he came back as this and I was asked to, to work for them again. So from Ellie, I worked for them. And then I ended up in Singapore because the VP Lucas bank was leaving his job and they wanted me to replace him. So, so I did go on full circle with that company. So I think that's where we met Michael


Michael McCartan:

And the, yes, it's, I think that's over 10 years ago. So it's been a wonderful journey. And I think that's, you know, for me being in the hospitality industry is all about the people. That's the fundamental thing. And you get, you know, you establish lifelong relationships. So let's shift gears a little bit because you've brought two wonderful photographs of that magnificent scenery. One's on top of the mountain and one is under the sea. So we're going to combine those because I believe they happened within the same period of time. So, yeah. Please explain the relevance of these two photographs.


Christine Tan:

Yes. I I'll be more than happy to. So when I was at that time with my fiance, I often joke with him that I like to climb the highest mountain and swimming the deepest sea, you know, and I have to do that before we, we, you know, we consider having kids. So one day he decided that he's going to make that a reality. So unbeknownst to me, he booked us a trip, two trips in two weeks. One is to, to do diving in a deepest sea in, and one is to climb Mount Kinabalu, which is in Sabah Borneo. What is the Southeast Asia highest mountain? It has an elevation of 4,000 meters above sea level.


Christine Tan:

So, so we started, you know, I, I was started with the mountain. Okay. So to climb up this mountain, you need a permit and you need to engage a mountain guide or a Potter. So we set foot very early in the morning because you have to be able to reach, you know, in the middle of the mountain, which is a place called Laband rata. You've got to reach that by noon. And then you got to go to bed and rest because you've got to wake up again at 2:00 AM in the morning and climb the rest of the week to be in time for the sunrise. Okay. So, so the height was pretty brutal. The put it simply, the guys helped to carry our backpacks as we, you know, we want to do carry out cameras and what a model is and all that.


Christine Tan:

So, but in the beginning of the height, you know, we were joking making casual exchanges about the rainforest. And then as we climbed the rocks and the men made some, some parts have men bits, their keys, there were no flat terrain at all. As I discovered, and my legs started to ache and every half kilometers took us about 30 minutes. And we were still at the bottom of the mountain. It's like never ending, you know, the, the elevation became steeper and steeper. Then it started to rain, icy cold, and the ground was slippery. And at one point I was like getting so mad in my fiance. I haven't even married him.


Christine Tan:

And I was thinking of a divorce. I stopped talking to him, you know, and, and, but the, the guys were very encouraging. So, you know, we, it peanut butter sandwich and energy bars and drank water. And finally, after like many hours, we reach what I thought was a summit. And I was thought, oh no, that's the, the rest house. And so we stayed in the rest house and we woke up at three 30 in the morning. Again, I think we got there around 6:00 PM, but we, it, and, and, and then we woke up at two 30 and then we started then the next climb and the next climb was even worse.


Christine Tan:

We had the, where hit us on our forehead, me climb a steep granite rocks. And for some parts, I swear it was like scaling 90 degrees at H by then there was no conversation as everyone was just focusing and concentrating on the rocks and breathing hard as the air became thinner and thinner with the LTT. And then some climbers stop because they suffered altitude sickness. And, and my, my fiance at the time said, maybe we should stop and rest. I said, no, we've come this far. We are going all the way. Finally, we reached the top and at around 6:00 AM in the morning, and we were rewarded with the most magnificent, breathtaking beauty of the sunrise.


Christine Tan:

It was like fury Crimson. And he was just amazingly beautiful. And that's when I took that photograph that you saw many just smile and, and, and, you know, he was amazing, but to be


Michael McCartan:

Married your husband after that


Christine Tan:

A couple of years longer, but to be honest, Miko, that that climate was hot, but the climbing down was even worse. It was like so much pressure on, on your thoughts because it was so steep by the time we reached the bottom three on my thumbnails, then black and actually fell out after a few days. I think it's too much details, but, but no matter what, I'm still glad I did it, you know,


Michael McCartan:

And amazing life lessons. I'm sure you know, the journey that you took to get up and down the mountain apply to real life and your career, and many other aspects as well.


Christine Tan:

Yes. Yes. You have to have the resilience, but if you asked me if I would do it again, I'll take the helicopter.


Michael McCartan:

So tell me about the deepest, the deepest see then. Cause it was, I believe you did that just before you climbed the mountain.


Christine Tan:

That's right. Luckily I did that before I climbed the mountains because by the time we reached, you know, after climbing the mountains, my, my, my legs were so swollen. There was no way I could have swim the deepest sea. So anyway, the second picture of was taken in a place called <inaudible>. And again, he's in Borneo and see by Dan is an oceanic island in Saba rice about rising about 2000 feet from the ocean floor. And it was formed by living corals, growing on top of an extinct, volcanic corn. It has one of the most richest Marine habitat in a wall.


Christine Tan:

But what was so fascinating was you can literally what off the beach from the <inaudible> island with your scuba tank. And there is a 2000 feet drop off. And when you, when you, you know, just swim out and when that at the drop-off you see the most incredible sea life, like, you know, the schools of Barracuda, the mentor, rays and puddles, and it was just so beautiful, but what was so special is that in the evening, the green and hawksbill turtles, they come out, they came up from the ocean and they dig holes in the sand and Lydia IX.


Christine Tan:

Yeah. It's, it's, I, it's just the most incredible place I ever been. So I think there's also part of bustle. When we talk about hospitality industry, why I love the hospitality industry, you know, traveling to all these amazing diverse places. It's, it's, it's just life and reaching


Michael McCartan:

Incredible. And, and your third photograph, I'll jump onto that because it's also an underwater shot, but I'm guessing it's a few years later because it's got your daughter in a toy for your children. Is that right?


Christine Tan:

That's right. That's right. That picture is very special to us because my daughter was very young, but we want to introduce her to nature and the sea we wanted her to do enjoy and do not be afraid of swimming with large animals. So this shot was taken in Oslo, which is in the Southern tip of Cebu island in the Philippines. And it has an incredible stories. We first heard about this ocelot from some friends that who thought that, you know, you can swim with the whale sharks. You don't have to go all the way through the Mounties. And the whale sharks are just not, they're far away from the land itself.


Christine Tan:

You just take a bamboo Ralph and swim it out in the ocean and jump down, you see the real shocks. And I'm like, really? So anyhow, I went there and I just couldn't believe the amount of whale sharks. And then I learned that from the villages, this incredible story, the fishermen has known about the presence of the whale sharks in, in the waters of ocelot since the 1980s in the beginning, the, the, the brand of fish as pests, because the whale shark drover, we are the fish. And sometimes, you know, the Stripe, the Are there nets. And then some fishermen started fishing this wheel shucks with baby shrimps, you know, because they can sell those shrimps.


Christine Tan:

And this will sharks started alerting other whale sharks. Apparently they're very social. They start that learning audio friends that, Hey, there is this three-foot and, and my mom real shacks that, that appearing to get fed. And, you know, they have free food and they, the size of those will shelter various from two to six meters. And there's a female wheel shuts that was like nine meters. They will appear early in the morning by noon. They totally disappear back to the ocean. But what happens is that soon after the world got out that the, what the word got out, that you can see and fit the wheel sharks in the ocean, close to the land and dive operators.


Christine Tan:

And people started coming to see this phenomenon in the bus. That village was very poor. The fishing was the main, big bread and butter for them. But in a few years, they discovered that they can people up to see the whale sharks. They were making more money than, than fishing. And soon this whole time in ocelot transformed economy weekly, and there were small businesses and eateries and Sylvania shops, and the locals realize that, you know, these gosh, they brought, you know, sash economic development, one little village, and we got to protect the real shock.


Michael McCartan:

Absolutely. It's always a conflict. I think in our industry is sort of mass tourism versus protecting the environment. There's a constant struggle. Isn't there between opening it up so that everyone can benefit and see all these beautiful sites, but also preserving them and protecting them so that they don't become over commercialized.


Christine Tan:

Yes, yes, indeed. That's, that's always the challenge, but, but I, I saw what they did to it and, and I, I, yeah, I bet I've been back a few times and they have done a very, very good job, you know, resolving the police.


Michael McCartan:

Fantastic. Well, we, we coming rapidly to the end of our conversation. The time has flown by, but as a hotelier, you would have experienced some very unusual things on property, either as a guest or as a, as a hotelier, what I'll call your faulty tower moment. Something that's happened to you, but it's just unbelievable.


Christine Tan:

I guess my 40 hour moments that I want to share with you was when I was working with the ANA group in, in Tokyo one night, a guests appeared at the front desk, just in his underwear to ask for keys, to go back to his room. And the guests was a barely severely jet lag. And in the middle of the night, he needed to go through the bathroom and the bathroom and the, the main doll was next to each other. So he, he opened the BA the bathroom door, he thought, and then the door shut. And then he realized it was the wrong door. And he was standing in the corridors and he had no choice at that point.


Christine Tan:

He took the elevator down the, through the front desk to get the keys, to go back through his room. And, you know, this is Japan okay. A very conservative society. So, so it wasn't quite funny because they are very professional. The ladies was like very professional. And so, yes. Hi. Hi. Yeah, we understand. And pretending not to look at his almost naked body. So they, they gave him a coat, so he could went back to his room. But I remember that it was like, I was like, so amazed at how professional they were handling a situation like that. But at the same time was really quite funny as well.


Michael McCartan:

Well, I mean, that does encapsulates the spirit of hospitality, you know, that's where people can keep their cool and still give a professional image and provide support to, you know, to, to, to guests in, in a very difficult and tricky situation. So, yeah. Embarrassing. Well-handled wonderful. Well, Christine, thank you very much for sharing your photographs and memories with us. It's been an absolute pleasure and yeah, once again, thank you for, for being my guest on photographs and memories.


Christine Tan:

Thank you. Michael


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