Luis Aloma has been working in travel and hospitality since he was 15, and has traveled all over the world as a result (he’s almost at the end of his 50 page passport!). After living throughout the US, he moved to Vietnam in 2017 to run sales for the Park Hyatt Saigon, and last year moved to Hong Kong to open up the St. Regis Hong Kong. Learn more about his amazing story below.
So, I’ve been in travel and hospitality for 17 years. I started working at a restaurant in a hotel in Rochester, NY when I was in high school. Eventually I moved to sales, and later on moved into a role which handled the international market for that hotel.
I’ve been in the luxury travel space since 2014, which means: I sell my hotel to luxury travel agents, who then sell to their guests. I create relationships with these travel agents to get them to choose my hotel over others, and I help them understand why it’s so special. I’m the guy on the ground, so travel agents always ask me what the best place is for their guests... so I have to become an expert in my city. A big part of what I do is to help create positive experiences for the travel agent’s guests, because the better the experience that their guests have, the better it is for their business. If I’m able to ensure their guests have a good experience, it’s pretty impactful for the travel agent, which is good for me, too. It’s really a relationship business. I have to be hyper aware of what’s relevant and what’s happening in the city to make the best recommendations, and I have to make connections all around the city.
After handling the international market for a hotel in Miami, I started to apply for positions all over the world. I was so enthralled with traveling abroad and had traveled a lot by then--to South America a few times, Europe and Mexico City to name a few--and I just loved that feeling of being a fish out of water. I loved being different, so at the time, I wanted to go abroad but I didn’t really care where. This experiment of mine could have landed me anywhere.
I applied to like 30 hotels, and Park Hyatt Saigon called me back. I had never been to Vietnam before, but I watched some YouTubes to get a little familiar and just decided to go. The hotel is in Ho Chi Minh City, and at that point I was so confused and I thought Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City were two different cities! I had a lot to learn.
I should also add that growing up, my dad was a General Manager of a hotel, so I moved about every year or two. My move to Hong Kong was my 23rd move, and I’m 32 years old. The only constant in my life is change, so jumping off the deep end and moving somewhere far away really isn’t all that crazy for me. Just get me there and I’ll figure it out.
"I loved that feeling of being a fish out of water. I loved being different."
It’s definitely not as glorious as you think it will be. You’re going to do well with your expat package, but there are costs associated with that. A lot of people here are used to living very cheaply. You’ll make more than some folks, but then, sometimes you’re expected to pay for more, too :) You’re not going to be living this lavish lifestyle, but that’s okay. There are benefits to that, as I’ve learned to be more frugal. Money aside, the hardest part is getting used to the new culture you find yourself in. It’s just so different from what I’m used to. It sounds obvious, but eventually you have to learn that Asia is not going to change for you, you have to change for it. The quicker you adapt, the better. And once you figure that out, it’s really fun. I plan on being here at least another 5 years because it’s so fun out here, it’s just different. And you can travel everywhere! From Saigon, I can fly to places like Thailand or Cambodia in an hour, and Singapore or Laos in two hours.
"It might sound obvious, but eventually you have to learn that Asia is not going to change for you, you have to change for it. The quicker you adapt, the better. And once you figure that out, it's really fun."
It’s getting close. I have a 50 page passport and I’m already towards the end of it.
So basically the first thing I’ll do is look at Facebook to figure out who I know in that city. Naturally, having someone that you know and trust in a city you’re going to is ideal. But, let’s say I don’t know anyone there. I’ll look at the “Things to Do” page on TripAdvisor just to see what’s out there for that city, and later I decide what piques my interest. The next thing I do is go to Instagram to look at the hashtags for that city and see what comes up. Sometimes I’ll Google Instagrammable spots for that city because I like to have nice photos to post from my trip :) I don’t really research restaurants too far in advance… since I tend to travel by myself, I’m more of a grab and go type of guy. If I’m going out with a friend, I’ll probably ask the concierge of the hotel I’m staying at where to go. I don’t really do tours and stuff like that, I tend to just manage exploration on my own.
A lot of it is predicated on work - they call it “bleisure” travel. About 80% of my travel is bleisure travel, where I tack on extra time to a trip I’m taking for work. Generally the work trip will determine the country, and then within that country I’ll choose where to go next. One of the next places on my mind is Nepal, I really want to go. I pretty much want to go to every single Asian country while I’m out here.
When it comes to food, I love the concept of dim sum. The reason being that I’m the kind of person who wants to try a lot of different things, so dim sum is great. If I could wave my magic wand and have the perfect food day, it would be incorporating many different cuisines. Some Vietnamese, some Thai, some Cantonese, some Shanghainese. Each region has amaaaaazing food, but you’ll actually only really love a few things in each cuisine. Like for me, I love some of the noodles in Vietnam, but some I’m like “meh.” I’m starting to really like Shanghainese food - I’ve been twice now, and the food is phenomenal.
It’s been an adventure. It was a relatively seamless process to get her from the US to Vietnam; she didn’t even have to be quarantined. However, relocating a pet from Vietnam to Hong Kong is another story. Due to this process, I’ve had to have a friend in Vietnam watch her while I’ve lived in Hong Kong this past year. Although it’s been tough, she’s doing great. She is cared for by close friends and is able to be off leash anywhere she goes in the neighborhood.
Thanks so much, Luis! The food in your Hong Kong list looks absolutely delicious.
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