The debonair hotelier who always went the extra mile to help

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong lost a passionate driving force behind the hotel and travel industry with the death of Manuel Woo.

The Philippine-born hotelier was the longest serving executive director of the Hong Kong Hotels Association from 1979 to 1996. He once said: 'Our hallmark is quality and the city does not win its reputation easily'.

For years, he spared no effort to nurture the next generation of the industry, emphasising training and education.

The 81-year-old hotelier died of heart failure on April 27.

The eldest of eight brothers and sisters, Woo migrated with his family from Zamboanga City to Hong Kong in 1935. He was a merchant seaman in his early twenties before entering the hotel scene.

His diligence won him association scholarships to study at both the East-West Centre of the University of Hawaii and at a Cornell University programme.

He quickly became part of senior management at various hotel chains such as the Dusit Thani in Bangkok, the Shangri-La in Singapore and the Miramar in Honolulu. The global network he cultivated contributed to the growth of the hotel and tourism industry in Hong Kong and later created many career and business opportunities in the industry.

When he took over the Hotels Association post in 1979, Hong Kong welcomed 2.2 million visitors and had 46 hotels with 14,363 rooms. By 1996, the year he stepped down as executive director, the number of visitors had hit 11.7 million and the city's inventory boasted 88 hotels with 31,667 rooms.

According to hotel consultant Rudolf Greiner, who worked with Woo over two decades, Woo's natural-born professional manner brought Chinese and foreign hoteliers together. 'In the mid-1980s during my HKHA chairmanship, he was the driving force behind the decision to bring the first mainland students to Hong Kong in groups of around 25. The students, totalling over 200, were placed in our four and five-star hotels for six-month tailored on-the-job training. He foresaw the need to share the same high Hong Kong standards with our friends in the PRC and many of these students are today senior hotel executives in the PRC.

'He was not only a good friend - he was a general among men. Always on call, he was known for his dedication and commitment to the development of strong education and vocational training programmes. For years, he worked closely with and in support of the polytechnic and numerous other hospitality institutes and vocational training centres.

Hotels Association executive director James Lu Shien-hwai succeeded Woo after having been his deputy for 12 months. 'Manny always had an answer or solution to a problem and if he didn't have one, he would have someone who could provide the answer through his wide and strong network of friends and business associates.

'Manny looked after his friends and was always prepared to go the extra mile for them. In protecting the interests of the association and working on matters of principle, he was firm and uncompromising. He was deeply passionate about the association and the hotel industry in Hong Kong.'

A long-time friend, former Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong general manager and Hotels Association chairman Andreas Hofer, said: 'A vacancy for the position of executive director of the HKHA became available in 1978 and as chairman, I was able to convince Manuel to join from the Miramar hotel. He was an excellent communicator and his appointment was a resounding success in all the years that he held the post.'

The Polytechnic University's School of Hotel and Tourism Management had a long association with Woo who served as a chairman of an advisory committee for the school from 1986 to 1994. The debonair hotelier also established the Manuel Woo Scholarship to encourage academic and personal excellence among the school's students. He was also instrumental in establishing the Andreas Hofer Scholarship for outstanding students.

School director Professor Kaye Chon said: 'Woo made remarkable contributions to the hotel industry as well as to the development of hospitality and tourism education in Hong Kong.'

Woo is survived by two sons, Edmund and Raymond.