Though she is a now a celebrated hotelier, Wong’s career actually started very differently. As a lawyer, she handled mergers and acquisitions at a New York firm before a post at IBM took her to Singapore and Shanghai to manage their emerging markets initiatives. She eventually made her way back to New York to take on a partner role at a private investment firm focusing on real estate. It was here that she revisited her plans to open up a hotel of her own. “Travel has been one of my passions since my law school days. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity of experiencing the sights and people of different places. Through the years, I have had the good fortune of visiting many beautiful places and incredible properties around the world, and have collected many wonderful memories. I wanted to create a hotel that captures the essence of luxury travel–to me, that is understated luxury and bespoke service,” she shares.
In this edition of Women Who Launch, The Sybarite’s Lifestyle Expert speaks with Wong about navigating the choppy waters of the pandemic and the advice she has to share for aspiring hoteliers.
Opening up a new business during such a challenging time is not a decision to be taken lightly. What made you decide to power through instead of waiting it out?
We approached the renovation as if it was for our home out East. Renovation is always stressful but it was made ten times more difficult when Covid-19 came along. Midway through the renovation, New York State announced suspension of all construction projects except for a narrowly-defined category. It wasn’t clear if the restrictions applied to the hotel, but out of precaution, we stopped and did not know when we could restart and finish. The inquisitive part of me came in and saved the day—I decided to contact the State to get clarification on whether the suspension was applicable to our project. Remember, we were in a lockdown in those days, there was no one we could call, so all we could do was fill out a New York State online form. I had little confidence that anyone from the State was checking emails. To my amazement, I received a reply from NY State two weeks later and they advised that the hotel’s construction could continue! That was the turning point for us. We had a chance of finishing the renovation just a little behind schedule, and we did just that.
Having lived in Asia for a good amount of time, are there any culturally-specific learnings you’ve taken back with you and implemented into your business?
Absolutely. Asia has many top-notched hotels with a very high standard of service. My travel experience there has inspired me to create a “home away from home” experience that is authentic and understated, and at the same time, luxurious. The Roundtree’s General Manager, Boby Haryadi, partners with me to realise that vision. He started his decades-long career in a luxury resort in Bali and is someone who understands hospitality intuitively.
Is there anything you wish you knew before taking the plunge as an entrepreneur?
In fact, it is a bit of the opposite. There is a lot written about the risks of being an entrepreneur, but I think we don’t talk enough about the joy of being an entrepreneur. I truly love it.
What makes The Roundtree unique?
I would mention three things: First, the location is perfect–it is surrounded by bucolic farmlands yet is within a short walking distance from the Village and the gorgeous beaches that the Hamptons are renowned for. Second, many guests have told us that staying at The Roundtree truly has the home-from-home feeling. Last but not least, the bespoke guest service that welcomes each of our guests.
Were you already familiar with Amagansett? How do you bring in local elements to enrich your guests’ stay?
I had been to Amagansett many times but the joy of discovering it up close has been wonderful. We appreciate getting to know and collaborate with a number of our neighbours to promote local businesses.
In 2020, the travel industry was still on rocky ground. How did you go about securing your first bookings and keeping a steady flow of business thereafter?
When we opened our doors on June 1, 2020, in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, we started with no reservations. Despite that, we were not afraid for some reason. We were confident that guests would find us and they did. Many of our guests today are also referred by other guests.
What is the one business task you always do yourself and the task you always recommend outsourcing?
The best way is to immerse yourself into the operational aspects of the hotel and learn it by observing and managing. When I first started, I had so many questions. I am a big believer of learning by doing.
Is there a particular skill you’re currently trying to master?
Everything! I still have so much to learn about the hospitality industry.
Opening up a boutique hotel has made for many a television series storyline, largely because it sounds so idyllic. Do you have any advice for hotelier hopefuls out there?
First of all, I would encourage them to just do it—it can be incredibly rewarding. These are two things that really helped me: One, focus on execution. While it is important to have a vision and a strategy, it is good execution that makes or breaks a business. That is what will differentiate your product or services. Two, treat everyone the way you want to be treated. I have been constantly surprised at how people will reciprocate with support and goodwill.
The Roundtree, Amagansett
Address: 273 Main St, Amagansett, NY 11930