You started your career in hospitality in 1993 and your experience includes senior positions with several of the world’s luxury hotel groups. What motivated your career choice?
After serving my mandatory time in the army I decided to study law, but realized after two semesters that my real calling is hospitality. I really wanted to experience the industry from the bottom and decided to do an apprenticeship as a chef in 1988. I always pursue the passion for hospitality and traveling in different places. Hospitality allows me to allocate to different footprints around the world. The cultures, histories, people inspires me in terms of innovation of services and communication.
What drew you to Langham Hotels and a position in China, particularly Shanghai?
The Langham Hotel Group holds a prestigious brand proposition in the world. Furthermore, it’s a boutique hotel brand which gives talents more opportunities to grow. Shanghai has no doubt become one of world’s most open cities ideologically, socially, culturally, and economically. It embraces beauty and charm coexist with kitsch and commercialism. It is one of the most fascinating cities terms of fashion, lifestyle, technology and positive energy. At the moment there is no city in the world, which moves faster and more innovative than Shanghai.
Your tenure has already included some very challenging times. Tell us more about your perspective, from Shanghai, China’s cosmopolitan metropolis.
I have experienced several challenging times during my career, these experiences allow me to think and act very fast in terms of changes. In a crisis “speed is of essence”, give precise leadership and anticipate potential scenarios.
Last year I was exposed to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and this experience helped me to adapt very fast to the current pandemic. It is fascinating to see how China, especially Shanghai is recovering so fast in terms of economy and lifestyle.
What are the major challenges but also the opportunities you have grasped from the global pandemic?
When the pandemic happened, it was crucial to immediately control our variable and fixed costs of the property to ensure we are able to operate in a sustainable way in the long run.
We have established effective strategies to do so in terms of cost cutting, flattening hierarchies and implement successful PR and revenue strategies.
This pandemic gives us opportunities to do things differently, more creatively and more cost effective. We currently run MTD an occupancy of 85%.
To what extent, luxury hotels under a chain or a hotel group, present an advantage when it comes to enforcing preventive measure to protect both staff and guests? (compared to independent hotels)
Luxury hotel groups always have a profound system and financial support for its staffs and guests. However, we also have to adapt according to different business circumstances. The market here in Shanghai currently has changed and the companies who are able to adapt the fastest will come out on top of it.
What is your view on whether expectation of wealthy travelers have changed with this pandemic? How do people regard value?
Well, the affluent customers always seek for personalized and ultra-luxury services and experience. This would not change. Hospitality has to become much more program/ experience driven and add emotional value to creator a differentiator.
Ensuring consistently high standards of customer service is essential for any luxury hotel. What is your approach to discovering and nurturing talent?
A crisis always brings uncertainty and fear. Our colleagues have taken many sacrifices over the last couple of months to create a sustainable future for the hotel and company. We have also hired colleagues in leadership roles, who come from a non-traditional hotel back round such as free standing restaurants, PR agencies and with a sharp sense of entrepreneurship.
How different are domestic guests compared to foreigners? How did you implement ‘staycations’ ?
We used to have a large amount of international travelers, but at this moment, the majority of guests are from Shanghai and cities nearby such as Hangzhou, Zhe Jiang. The domestic customers are more price sensitive and want to experience the local culture such as Xintiandi. It is fascinating to see how the local market can fill the hotel.
Nowadays, a hotel General Manager is also an ambassador of the respective property and the brand. What is your perception?
Absolutely, a GM has to represent the brand in terms of lifestyle, positive energy and dress accordingly. It is more important than ever during this crisis to create differentiators and set the hotel apart from the competition. At the end of the day we are in show business. We have to create desire and excitement so customers are happy to buy our products. PR and branding is the key to the success.
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