Shanghai's People's Square is bustling with activity and the blossoming of new hotel chains. Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently purchased the Le Méridien chain and made People's Square its first branded hotel spot, with the December 2006 opening of the Le Royal Méridien Shanghai.
Akram Touma, an Australian national, is general manager of Le Royal Méridien Shanghai and has been with the hotel since before it opened and is currently driving its growth. After few years in Europe, Australia and the Kuwait, his career journey took an exciting turn when he came to China to work at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. Since then he has stayed in the greater China region, apart from a one-year stint in Bangkok. he has worked in Guilin, Shenyang and Macau.
How does Le Royal Meridien differentiate itself from other top-level hotels around People's Square in Shanghai?
We are the newest and biggest with very unique and comprehensive facilities. Le Royal Méridien Shanghai is a one-stop-hotel with very exciting food and beverage outlets, state-of-the-art conference facilities, spa and a 24-hour business center. What truly sets us apart from other hotels is our team who are committed to creating a great experience with every interaction with every guest.
What qualities do you seek in the people you hire?
First and foremost, we look for people with a great attitude and team spirit. Our selection criteria in priority order is: attitude, then skill or experience. In addition, we prefer associates who match our brand personality of "Chic, Cultured Discovery".
How do you see domestic Chinese travelers shaping Shanghai over the next 10 years?
Chinese business and leisure travelers are major drivers of Shanghai hotel occupancy for all hotel categories. In our hotel they represent the second or third largest by geographic origin. I forecast that the percentage of Chinese travelers in 5-star hotels will continue to rise over the next few years.
What are some of the challenges to operating a hospitality business in Shanghai and China?
The fast growth of all sectors has created a shortage of human resources. This shortage will become more serious with the expected new hotel room supplies in the next 3 years leading to the year of Expo. This situation is creating opportunities for hoteliers from other provinces.
What type of training and incentives do you offer your staff?
All of our associates undergo a 2-day orientation and training to be immersed in our "Starwood Cares" culture. In addition, there is etiquette training and on-the-job training by the immediate supervisor.
The fast growth and development of Starwood Hotels & Resorts within China is an added incentive with great many opportunities for our associates for promotions and/or transfers.
If a traveler only has 24 hours to stay in Shanghai, how do you suggest they spend their time?
There is so much to do and see and it all depends on the individual. In my opinion the following is highly recommended:
– A walk on Nanjing Road East and around the People Square to get a feel of Shanghai
– A visit to Shanghai Museum
– A walk around Shanghai Antique Market
– Lunch at XinTianDi
– A cruise on the Bund
– Drinks & Dinner at the Bund
– A show at the Shanghai Grand Theatre
If you could offer a rookie some advice about how to succeed in the global hospitality sector, what advice would you give?
Join an international chain and put your heart into what you do. Enjoy the journey and every moment without worrying about the future. Progress and promotion will come faster then one expects. Along the journey one must remember that "Failure is Key to Success".