Interviews Main Headline

AirAsia’s Hong Kong and Macao CEO Celia Lao praises IFT graduates

Ms. Celia Lao, Chief Executive Officer for Hong Kong and Macao at low-cost airline AirAsia

中文摘要 / Summary in Chinese

Ms. Celia Lao, Chief Executive Officer for Hong Kong and Macao at low-cost airline AirAsia, says good communication skills are one of the main assets making IFT alumni stand out in the labour market. But she advises fresh graduates not just to look for a fast track to a high salary; instead, their focus should be on accumulating meaningful knowledge and experience.

– You joined AirAsia in 2004, the year in which the firm entered the Macao market. How did that happen?
I was working at Macau International Airport Company Ltd (CAM) as marketing manager. My key responsibility was to identify airlines with high growth potential and invite them to open direct services to Macao. In 2001, we saw the establishment of AirAsia as the first LCC (Low Cost Carrier) in Asia, so we planned to invite it to launch flights to Macao.

In 2002, Mr. Tony Fernandes, AirAsia’s Group CEO, was in Hong Kong to join an airport-related conference as a speaker. I proposed to my marketing director that I go there, to introduce Macao to Mr. Fernandes. It was not that easy to promote Macao at the time, as the city was not as well known as it is today.

Usually, airlines would have their route development or network planning team contact me, but Mr. Fernandes, as the CEO of AirAsia, communicated with me directly for nearly 2 years, which left me with a great impression of him. In the process, I worked a lot in presenting the best of Macao to his company, and I kept working with the AirAsia team.

With effort by, and support from, the Macao Civil Aviation Authority, the Macao Government Tourism Office, and the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau, AirAsia eventually became in 2004 the first low-cost airline to fly to Macao.

That [positive impression left by Mr. Fernandes] was one of the reasons I accepted his invitation to join AirAsia when the firm decided to launch a direct service from Bangkok to Macao in July 2004.

– You have been working in Macao’s aviation sector for more than 15 years. What is the relationship between the sector and the city’s tourism and hospitality industries?
Macao is developing as a tourism destination, and this drives growth in all tourism-related industries. The development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the launch of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, all this contributes to making Macao a more easily accessible tourism destination.

As Macao is part of the Hong Kong-Guangdong-Macao Greater Bay Area, whenever there is promotion of the Greater Bay Area, Macao will naturally be included and benefit. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge also brings advantages to Macao. Hong Kong and Guangdong are already international hubs, and easily accessible destinations. Tourists visiting either Hong Kong or Guangdong will probably be attracted also to come to Macao.

Macao is recognised favourably as a tourism destination and I believe there is still room for the local tourism sector to expand. Nowadays going on a short trip is much easier than in the old days; all tourism-related industries have been benefiting from such changes.

“I believe there is still room for the local tourism sector to expand”

– What are the career opportunities available at AirAsia for IFT fresh graduates?
AirAsia is now a big company: we are a multinational group with 9 airlines and more than 20,000 staff from 44 countries and regions.

Normally we do not have specific positions at internship level; students need to apply according to their own interests as well as the field they want to engage in, whether it be management, marketing, sales or even public relations. If applications meet our criteria, for sure we will consider the candidates. We welcome IFT graduates and there will always be suitable positions for them.

‘Be the best version of yourself every day’

– In your opinion, how important is IFT’s education and training for Macao’s tourism and hospitality sector?
I have worked with IFT graduates before; as IFT is a specialist in tourism and hospitality studies, students are really well trained, and they show very good communication skills. I know people from travel agencies and hotels – that are working with IFT graduates – also comment on them positively, saying that they are responsible young people.

There are many multinational companies in Macao, and IFT itself provides a very good platform for students to adapt to this type of environment, as the Institute has students coming from different places. In tourism and hospitality, the capacity to work and communicate with different people is very important, especially with people from different cultures.

“I have worked with IFT graduates before; as IFT is a specialist in tourism and hospitality studies, students are really well trained, and they show very good communication skills”

– What is your career advice for IFT fresh graduates?
I suggest fresh graduates choose multinational companies and positions that require handling multiple tasks. Multinational companies require advanced communication skills, and IFT graduates can master them within a short period of time, based on the foundation they acquired from IFT. This increases their chances of moving upward in the future. If they opt for highly-specialised positions, they might only learn how to handle a specific task, and this could put them at a disadvantage when they want to change career path later on.

Nowadays candidates that can handle multiple tasks are popular among firms, as they can shift from task to task, and they are relatively more flexible in several regards. That can however prove to be hard for new graduates because there are more challenges involved in handling multiple tasks; however fresh graduates should not aim to live in their comfort zone, but instead learn how to overcome difficulties.

To achieve our life goals, we need to plan ahead, be patient and work hard. We should avoid changing to a job that is not aligned with our life goals, just to get a higher salary. We should learn how to stay focused and be always prepared for anything, on a daily basis.

My belief is ‘be the best version of yourself every day’. Once you have equipped yourself well, you can grab any opportunity that may arise.

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