Caring For Starwood's Strategy In Hainan

Claudio NardiniAn experienced hotelier with nearly 40 years in the industry, Claudio Nardini combines the two roles of area managing director for Hainan and general manager of the Sheraton Sanya Resort.

What challenges are you facing in your new role as area managing director?
In my new role, I will take more responsibility for the existing resorts and Starwood Hotels & Resorts properties under development on Hainan Island in the future. At the moment we have a total of nine properties — both existing and planned.

As the hospitality industry is fairly new in China, the major challenge is quite recognizable — insufficient manpower at all levels. Yes, there are many schools and trainees, however they are insufficient and it definitely takes time to learn the profession and the English language. Without sufficient, efficient, and dedicated associates, no enterprise can be fully successful.

The last few years have seen many of the major hotel brands opening high-end properties in the Sanya area. What challenges does this present to the Sheraton Sanya Resort and, in particular do you think that there is the risk of oversupply of rooms putting pressure on RevPAR?
Competition is very important, it allows all of us to be always better and better and to work as a team, to market the Sanya/Hainan destination together more powerfully in the international market — thus competing with older, well established, regional destinations.

Sheraton Sanya Resort has been recognized, and awarded accordingly, as the best resort in China and Hong Kong; our objective is to remain in the leadership position constantly and it will be more challenging with more international brands coming. Nevertheless I love it, leading approximately 800 associates into this constant market challenge.

How does the Sheraton Sanya Resort differentiate itself from other top-level hotels in the Sanya area?
We have 100,000 square meters of manicured landscaping and water features to enhance daily relaxation walks and night romancing for all guests. We are a children-friendly resort with both indoor and outdoor children's playgrounds, and various activities every day. Our personalized services to treat every single Guest as VIP. The spacious pillar-free ballroom plus an additional 11 meeting rooms are able to cater for conferences and MICE business with different themes.

What is the split of your guests between leisure and MICE/corporate? And how do you see the domestic market developing your business over the next few years?
The management objective at Sheraton Sanya Resort is to make every guest feel "Home Away From Home", in our modest way, ensuring that each guest becomes our ambassador.

The two most important market segments, MICE and FIT are 40% and 60% respectively.

China is a giant with a population of almost 1.3 billion. Currently our biggest and most important market remains China, we have a huge potential to develop it further and it's also our honor to welcome more friends to enjoy our facilities and services.

You have been established in Sanya for quite a considerable time. What relationships has this helped you form with the local government and other authorities?
Besides being the general manager of Sheraton Sanya Resort, I am also the director of the Sanya Hotels Association, thus allowing me to work as a team member even closer with the senior government officials of Sanya City.

Meanwhile the Sanya and Hainan Provincial Government has been always extremely supportive of and interested in Sheraton Sanya Resort; this of course has been, is, and will be always highly appreciated.

What are some of the major challenges that you and other hoteliers face in Sanya?
Sanya City requires additional airline flights, particularly from our major markets, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Unfortunately a lot of Chinese nationals, including companies, do select other regional destinations, due to the shortage of flights to Sanya and high airline fares, thus resulting in many cases where Chinese nationals and sometimes even foreigners are spending their money in foreign lands!

Sanya is also missing out in many opportunities for regional and international business due to poor connecting flights into the city.

A hotel school will be important in Sanya.

What type of training and incentives do you offer your staff?

Sheraton Sanya Resort is a sort of a school; we constantly train, train and train. In 2007, we conducted 110,800 man-hours of training, an average of 140 hours for each associate. This is an investment in our associates to continuously better their skills, knowledge, service delivery, and future career.

How are you using Internet and email marketing to attract more guests from the business and MICE sectors?
We regularly send out e-flyers as part of an e-mail blast campaign to our customers updating them on new promotions and packages. As part of Starwood, we have a strong presence on the Internet with a live booking engine (live inventory and rates). Our websites are in English and Chinese. And we promote this in our marketing material to drive Internet traffic onto our websites, as customers often like to visit various resort/hotel websites when making their decision on where to stay.

In addition, we also enjoy an increasing number of bookings through our websites especially with the Chinese site now being available. We follow very closely our corporate guidelines when it comes to Internet and e-mail marketing as a Sheraton brand.

What corporate social responsibility initiatives is the resort implementing?
"Care for Community" is one of our "Starwood Care" pillars. We take the responsibility to grow with our communities.

In addition, we also participate in the UNICEF program as part of corporate social responsibility whereby we give our guests the opportunity to make a small contribution — during the checkout process — to UNICEF's work in helping children who need protection from poverty and disease.

Sheraton Sanya Resort is also taking part in community services helping with the development of Junpo Village. Five kilometers from Tian Du Town in Sanya, Junpo Village is the home of the Li Minority people. Since July 2006, Sheraton Sanya Resort has provided the village with opportunities to work at the Resort. With regular activities organized with them, the villagers in Junpo Village have not only learned about the culture of Sheraton Sanya Resort and gained working opportunities in a high-end Resort, but have also widened their view.