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Sonam Peldon: Striving for excellence in Bhutan’s hospitality industry

Posted: 8 March 2019

Bhutan, Impact,

For International Women’s Day 2019, we are recognising the power of collective action and celebrating the achievements of Australia Awards alumni who are driving gender balance. This is the story of Sonam Peldon who is striving for excellence and contributing to human resource development within Bhutan’s hospitality industry.

Australia Awards alumna Sonam Peldon is making strides in Bhutan’s hospitality sector, achieving high standards in the industry while helping facilitate human resource development. Sonam credits her Australia Awards Scholarship as the opportunity that really made this possible for her: exposing her to ‘international tourism and hospitality trends while providing a multicultural experience’.

Sonam completed a Master of International Tourism and Hotel Management at Southern Cross University in 2017 and is now the General Manager at one of Bhutan’s leading contemporary concept hotels, Zhiwa Ling Ascent. She says that receiving an Australia Awards Scholarship allowed her to ‘follow her passion’.

The organisation she works for, Zhiwa Ling Pty Ltd, has a company philosophy of employing primarily local staff—at all levels. Currently, local staff account for approximately 98% of workers at the company’s hotels. Sonam’s supervisors were supportive of her scholarship plans and arranged regular discussions with her about her planned course of study. Even more encouraging for her was that senior management showed great interest in her new skills after she returned from her studies in Australia; she was entrusted with new assignments such as preparing one hotel for ‘green hotel’ certification and opening the company’s new hotel in Thimphu.

As a new member of the Zhiwa Ling management team, she also had the opportunity to participate in company policy discussions related to human resource development. ‘To fulfil the company philosophy, it is crucial that local staff have the knowledge and skills to take up positions at all levels. In my own case, I have been involved right from the early inception stages of the new hotel to which I’ve now been appointed General Manager,’ she says.

‘In short, my studies clearly met a strategic need of the company.’

Over the past 10 years, Sonam has worked for Zhiwa Ling in various capacities—as a marketing executive, front office manager, reservation manager and human resources manager—before being promoted to Executive Manager in 2014, just before leaving for Australia.

In Australia, she felt confident in directly relating her experience from her earlier roles in hospitality to the management and human resource subjects taught in her Masters degree. From Sonam’s perspective, it was important to her that her course was not based on theories alone but involved extensive and practical hands-on learning.

‘For example, my course included job interview roleplays, CV-writing exercises, staff evaluation reporting and so on. There was even a subject on food costs and operating costs—all involving proper industry standard formats. All these learning experiences were very relevant to my current position,’ she says.

As well as building her technical and professional skills, Sonam has also developed and benefited personally. With her experiences gained in Australia, Sonam now understands and values the importance of work-life balance. She feels that previously she was consumed by her career and neglected her personal life, but her studies and life in Australia taught her that a good balance of work and personal life is crucial for performance as well as achieving quality of life.

‘In my current workplace, I encourage my staff to balance work with personal commitments,’ Sonam says. ‘I’ve introduced a system of rotating managerial duties among my staff so they can leave work on schedule to spend time with their families.’

In her new position as the pre-opening General Manager of the new Zhiwa Ling Ascent hotel, there was an increase in her roles and responsibilities. As the General Manager of the hotel, she says, ‘I have had the opportunity to apply my knowledge and skills… and have been exploring new ideas with my pre-opening team.’

Sonam has introduced a better reporting system that has improved the efficiency of her team. She realises the importance of attention to detail, such as knowing how long preparing a coffee should take, or how long cleaning a room takes.

While seemingly of less importance than her strategic roles as General Manager, she believes that these lower-level tasks have contributed to her goal of maintaining an efficient team, and she feels that with a small team, it becomes easier to reward and manage the staff. ‘Even when I was in Australia, I was involved in the planning and inception of the new hotel; I was involved in staff recruitment six months prior to my graduation,’ says Sonam.

When applying for the Australia Awards Scholarship, Sonam undertook extensive research on potential course content to ensure she was well prepared for her studies. However, it was still a surprise for her to learn that in Australia tourism is not only seen as a business activity but is also studied as a science from an academic perspective.

Sonam expects to be with Zhiwa Ling Ascent hotel for two or three more years to see it properly set up and running efficiently. After that, she plans to be involved in the upcoming luxury tent hotel the company is planning.

‘Every day presents me with new challenges and opportunities for improvements – and for applying the knowledge and skills I learned in Australia,’ she says.


This story is based on an interview conducted for a case study for Australia Awards – South and West Asia, published in 2018.