What are the challenges & opportunities during this COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the travel and tourism industry harder than many other economic sectors, and its effect will last for a while, but it also has brought many opportunities.
This pandemic has become a stimulant (impetus) for decisive leadership, change & innovation and taking calculated risks. Jobs have been lost and talented colleagues have left the business realm, but we have the chance now to build hospitality into a more efficient and rewarding industry for owners, operators and employees.
What I learned in 2019 during the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka as General Manager & Area Vice President of Galle Face Hotel & Ceylon Hotels Corporation was that in a crisis, speed is of essence to minimize risks, losses and protect jobs.
Adjust to the moment and take corrective actions as you move along. Do not fall back on outdated structures and hierarchies, which may have worked in regularly, but not in a crisis.
For our industry to become rewarding again for owners, investors and employees, I envision a leaner, agile and more owner-centric set-up with a shrewd sense of entrepreneurship.
Which are the opportunities you have identified in the past year? Has the profile of your client changed?
This pandemic has become a cleanser for our industry to facilitate flatter hierarchies, operate leaner and more agile, and accelerated the acceptance of technology and the importance of social media.
Our business has shifted almost entirely to the domestic market. The profile of our guests has become much younger with a strong desire for luxury and individuality. To reach this segment and get our fair share of this business, we had to adjust our offerings & services to how we sell and get this clientele.
As an empowered team, we have adopted measures to operate more efficiently and profitably with a lower revenue stream, resulting in excellent financial results in 2020/ YTD2021, high employee engagement, and the highest guest satisfaction index in 2021 of all Langham Hospitality properties.
Is there an ideal approach when it comes to discovering, nurturing and motivating talent?
Creating an engaged and motivated workforce is a complex process to achieve. As human beings and employees, our basic social needs, such as adequate compensation and work-life balance, must be fulfilled first. These needs may vary in importance according to the generation, but the common nominators are that we all want to be part of a winning team, which can generate positive results and sets you apart from the competition, being respected and finding a sense of accomplishment & pride with your work.
In Shanghai, most of our local workforce is from Generation Z (ages 18-23) with excellent financial backup from their parents. For them, it’s not about “where” they want to work. It is about “if” they want to work. These youngsters are looking for participation, innovation, open communication and a “cool” work environment and our relatively conservative industry has to adjust fast to these new norms.
Are there any novel trends which you identified in terms of social media?
There is one area during the pandemic that has seen tremendous growth is digitalization. Now, social media has become a digital marketing playbook. In China, social media is constantly changing and upgrading, not only Wechat and Weibo, which are the “traditional” players, new entries such as Tik Tok, The Red App and Bilibili are also building their circles and trying to convert “traffic/content” to “business”. Nothing like this had come before. With evolving technology and algorithms, targeting ads can reach the right people at the right time in the correct location. It’s the best time to embrace social media platforms.
You have been hosting some exceptional events. How important are such events to ensuring a coherent brand communications?
Hosting and executing exciting events is of utmost importance to further drive The Langham brand and create a solid guest desire for our beautiful property: The Langham Shanghai, Xintiandi.
Hotels and brands can become dull and unappealing quickly to the market, especially to the younger clientele, if the senses are not constantly stimulated with exceptional offerings and events.
We have executed unique and high-end events with Shanghai Fashion week , top Chinese designers, musicians, artists and icons such as Grace Chen, Vera Wang, and the President of LVMH to put the hotel on the social society scene in Shanghai.
We implemented financial summer camps for kids with strategic partners and “You are the Boss” Volumes 1 & 2, a social learning series program.
We revitalized the hotel’s brand by garnering massive press coverage in GQ Magazine, Vogue, Elle, Conde Nast Travler, Tatler, and many other prints and online publications.
For all these initiatives, the hotel got recognized with major awards, including Shanghai Hotel Star Performer by Hurun Best of Best 2020/2021, Best Popular Wedding Hotel China by Cosmo Bride, 2021 Hotel Staycation of the Year, one star by Michelin guide, 2021 Asia Pacific Annual Best Luxury Hotel China, 6th Best Hotel in China by Conde Nast Traveler and many others.
With your career spanning the globe, how do you see the role of a Hotel General Manager having evolved?
There is no universal answer to this. But for me, a General Manager or any leader has to be an innovator, risk-taker, and entrepreneur who must lead from the front and perform precise leadership especially during a crisis.
How do you define a desirable hotel luxury brands?
A desirable luxury brand in our market, we operate in a combination of art, fashion, health, and beauty. Hotels are changing. In an ultra-luxury hotel, you have to create a meaning for the guest to stay with you. It’s about “programming”, which creates a higher demand and a willingness to pay more for our products and services, just like the beauty industry does.
If you don’t work as an hotelier, what would you do to make living?
I would love to become a photographer and take my hobby to the next level. Through photography, I have learned to see things and people differently. Beauty, creativity, and character are present everywhere. What you have to do is train your eyes and find them.
Very often, it is simple things in life that bring happiness.
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