A Luxury Hotel with Heart: An Interview with Rina Teoh, Executive Director of The Edison George Town and Ivan Khoo, Hotel Manager
PENANG, MALAYSIA – The Edison George Town may have only been opened in 2016, but the building the luxury hotel is housed in has a history that goes far beyond that. Located on Lebuh Leith, the building was commissioned and built in 1906 as a residence for a tycoon. Transformed into a hotel after the second World War, the hotel continued to flourish into the ’60s, before finally, in 2014, a decision was made to completely refurbish the colonial mansion, as it was restored and rebranded as The Edison George Town, Penang as we know it today.
Upon our arrival at The Edison, it feels as if we’ve arrived at a beautiful mansion, and wowed us from the get go. Dropped off at the reception, we were greeted by one of the Edison’s fine staff members behind the counter. All of the staff have been handpicked and worked at the hotel for some time, and we were even greeted by name, showing how much effort went into the top notch customer service.
Receiving our things along with a room key, we noticed an interesting leather keyring it was attached to. We later learned that this accessory was handmade by local craftsmen, and was just one of the many example of The Edison’s continual efforts to support the arts and crafts in Penang.
As for the room itself, we opened the door and were impressed by what we saw. While simple, The Edison’s rooms are simplicity at their finest, providing that touch of luxury at the same time. The bed was inviting, the space was fresh, but our favourite part of the room was no doubt the bathroom.
Stepping in and refreshing ourselves, the room also came with good quality amenities, something that was important to us as guests to provide that extra touch of freshness checking in from the warm weather outside. Not to mention, The Edison also has a 24 hour lounge where guests are free to sit down and do their work, with breakfast served daily and a cocktail hour from 6 – 7pm. The space always feels inviting, and one always feels welcome to enjoy the facilities, such as the swimming pool located right behind the building. It’s a stay that makes you feel a part of a household, and happy to be in a luxurious home away from home.
Speaking to Rina Teoh, Executive Director of The Edison George Town, who runs it along with her family members, she comments on keeping relevant in the ever competitive hospitality industry, speaking on the underrated quality of Malaysian hospitality. “Malaysia may not be as well known as say Thailand for its hospitality, but you can expect a typical Penangnite to be more than happy to introduce you to the best place to go or to eat!” she says. “The Edison’s hospitality then, is all about sincerity, and focuses a lot on on the heartware, rather than the hardware. Our aim is priceless service, and to allow our guests to feel at home, and even as we expand, to maintain and continue selling ourselves on that Malaysian hospitality.”
Says Ivan Khoo, The Edison’s Hotel Manager: “Things have changed a lot. We still rely on partners to get us through, and in terms of our clientele, Singapore remains one of our largest markets. Our greatest contributor to our sales and stays are via word of mouth, and we pride ourselves on our difference and disruption of the hospitality scene. As a small hotel, we’re able to personalize each experience, and remain flexible and nimble in quick decision-making. Our aim is to always go above and beyond when it comes to service, and show that we’re willing to go the distance for our guests.”
On his role, Ivan explains: “My role as a manager is to be in charge of operations, and ensure it all runs smoothly. I also belong to the sales and marketing team, and help research vendors and potential collaborators. In terms of maintenance, I have to make sure the service vendors are doing their job right, all the way to the way they change lightbulbs! Essentially, the focus is guest service and engagement, and to make sure they’re all well taken care of.”
With how much there is to attend to daily, Ivan comments: “Burnout is a definite risk – often, running this is like a marathon, and not a sprint to the finish. In big hotel chains, when the manager is approached, you know something terrible has happened. But in a small hotel, I need to be aware of everything that’s going on and attend to many things personally. What keeps me going then is my family, and so long as I can continue to keep putting food on the table and make them happy, honestly, that makes me satisfied.
The Hotel forms an exemplary addition to both the restoration and rehabilitation of an architecturally rich building in inner George Town. For much of the past century, the property transitioned through a couple of owners and usage, with the current owners having extensively renovated and fitted out the property and building, creating several improvements today.
Says Rina: “In our renovation of the hotel, we knew it would have to be true to the location, and maintain the historic charm of the building and pay attention to its architecture. As a heritage building, it’s quite a delicate process of restoring and making sure everything still works! Rooms are a personal space for travellers, and we have to ensure modern comforts are available. Things can’t be old and outdated. It’s all about having a complete experience, whether it’s the welcome, or even the amenities we use to give them a scent they’ll use and remember us by.”
Key components that have been introduced to the hotel’s current incarnation include a salt chlorinated swimming pool, The Lounge which doubles as a breakfast area, and bringing all amenities befitting and expected of a luxury hotel. The hotel also was accepted as the only Penang member of the prestigious affiliation of The Small Luxury Hotels of the World. No expense is spared in pulling out all the stops, and making every traveller’s stay a quintessentially Penang experience.
On why The Edison does not have its own kitchen, Rina says: “George Town is the kind of place tourists want to spend time exploring, rather than staying in their hotel. We don’t have a restaurant because frankly speaking, people don’t come to Penang for the restaurants – they come for the street food. Whatever we make in a kitchen, we can’t possibly compare to what you get outside. So all we have is a 24 hour lounge, serving up basics such as coffee, drinks and juice, and then we send them out to George Town to explore on their own! Our lounge serves up traditional snacks, like iced gem biscuits or nyonya kueh, so guests can try it and learn what it is, so they’ll be more willing to buy it if they see it on the street next time!”
Part of The Edison’s success is no doubt due to its staff, and the exceptional experiences they’re dedicated to delivering. “I really have to give it to my staff for having gotten the title of ‘Best Service in Malaysia’ from TripAdvisor. That’s something huge to be proud of, and it’s not something that you can just train,” Rina explains.
“A lot of the time, it’s a matter of being willing to learn. I’m lucky in that most of my staff have been with me since the very beginning, and they’ve formed a very tight team and can all work well with each other. They all know our system and style really well, and are all a part of the Edison family. They’re trained to know what’s going on across departments, not just their own, so they’re always aware of how the entire hotel functions. Hopefully, this sets them up to be groomed for the future.”
Says Ivan: “Most interesting is how many of our staff were actually not from the hospitality industry when they first came in, so they have different points of view to keep things fresh, while we also rotate them around different departments so that they get varied experiences. As a team, we’re only as strong as our weakest team member, and we always work together to support each other.”
“Being number 1 on TripAdvisor is great, but we’re always looking for how to improve and give guests more of what they want and need, and figure out the next wave,” he adds. “A lot of the time we need to keep learning – nothing lasts forever, and already the appeal of street art in George Town, for example, is fading. It’s tricky being a hotel manager at times and learning marketing, and I’ve been continually figuring out how to better reach our target markets, and appeal to countries that have direct flights to Penang.”
On being a luxury hotel in a relatively traditional town, Rina is also always keen to ensure that the hotel gives back to the community in its own way. She says: “We do support the local community in our own way. Take our bread for example – we don’t bake our own, but get it from a local baker instead. Also there’s a local artist whose work we put up in the rooms, and people ended up enquiring about it. We put the artist and these clients in touch, and he ended up getting projects in KL, with plenty of commissions. It’s small ways like that that we try to give back to the place we’re in.”
A luxury hotel with plenty of heart, it’s no wonder The Edison George Town has seen as much success as it has even in its short 3 years of operation so far. It understands completely how to deliver top class hospitality and to make sure a stay is an experience to remember, from the moment one steps through its doors right down to the amenities you use in the shower.
Classy, historical yet completely accessible, it’s little wonder that a trip to George Town warrants a stay at The Edison, just to experience its world class service from its friendly staff, and get a taste of top service from all of Malaysia.
Photos from The Edison
The Edison George Town is located at 15 Lebuh Leith, George Town, 10200 Penang, Malaysia. For more information and booking, visit their website here