Nils-Arne Schroeder is the general manager of the recently opened Hilton Beijing Wangfujing. A German national, Schroeder has worked with Hilton for over nine years, opening hotels in Malaysia and South Korea.
As a General Manager with considerable experience in the region are there any major differences you have observed since taking up your new role in Beijing?
Prior to moving to Hilton Beijing Wangfujing, I held the position of pre opening general manager for Hilton's first worldwide resort in South Korea, the award-winning Hilton Namhae Golf & Spa Resort; a 170 all-suite and villa estate, featuring panoramic coastal views and stunning contemporary design, with extensive facilities including a seafront 18-hole golf course with an all-year round playability and a full-service spa. In Namhae there was a lot of domestic leisure travel, especially during the summer months, whereas Beijing has long since turned the corner from being a leisure travel destination it is now a major player in the meeting, incentive, conference and exhibition market, a business hub and host to many major sporting and entertainment events. The Department of Tourism has looked at ways to develop previously low seasons and with the introduction of summer programmes, all hotels now enjoy very healthy business levels year round.
One thing that I have observed both in Namhae and Beijing is the need to be in physical contact continuously with our customers. The direct sales effort is extremely important in building relationships with existing and potential customers. Beijing hosts an extremely competitive market, so to set ourselves apart we need to fully understand and anticipate our guests. Under no circumstances should they feel unimportant.
Hilton has always been known for its strong corporate culture. To what extent are you mixing the group's international image with local culture?
Since the company was founded by Conrad Hilton in 1919, the Hilton name has been synonymous with hospitality. Hilton is also the most famous hotel brand in the world , and this legacy and expertise is strongly reflected in our corporate culture, where many of our team members remain for their entire careers. While we maintain consistently high standards of quality and service across the portfolio, each of our Hilton hotels and resorts is unique and has a strong sense of place of its location.
Hilton Beijing Wangfujing is no exception, where our close proximity to the Forbidden City has influenced many elements of design in the hotel. The lobby and reception areas incorporate cozy fireplaces that provide a warm and inviting backdrop to the hotel. Distinctive friezes and a colorful collection of objects d'art featuring the works of acclaimed Beijing artists grace the hotel walls, while contemporary-styled furnishings in dark leathers are softened by lavish beige and bronze suede fabrics with dramatic accents of cream and white.
How will the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing differentiate itself from other similar hotels in the area?
A number of hotel companies today provide great facilities, but it's really the quality of the overall experience that matters most to guests. People create memories, not things, and even in the most stunning places one goes to visit, it's about whom you go with and who interprets it for you, that really makes an impression.
We are fortunate that many guests are looking for an intimate "lifestyle experience" when traveling. These guests obviously look for a globally recognized hotel brands but, while brand recognition plays a very important role, it doesn't keep hotel guests coming back. In fact, that recognition is just the first step in a customer's journey towards engagement, the emotional connection customers feel can only be achieved through highly intuitive, personalized service and it is this art of anticipation and personalized service that we are focusing on, by constantly enhancing our standards and energizing our core values in this way, we will always maintain loyal customers and sustain premium rates.
You opened just before the Beijing Olympics – what challenges and what advantages does this give you?
Beijing is a flourishing market and we see a bright future in business & leisure travel across all levels of the hotel sector. At Hilton Beijing Wangfujing our objective is to redefine the intimate "lifestyle experience" we have a keen sense of who our customers are, and what motivates them to stay with us.
What are your plans for promoting the hotel after the Olympics?
Beijing is currently enjoying a year to date occupancy of 65 % for hotels across all sectors, and there will be many opportunities for continued growth for the hospitality industry as the Olympic venues and facilities are destined to be used as exhibition centers, conference centers, and entertainment and leisure venues.
What is the expected split of your guests between leisure, corporate, and MICE? And how do you see the domestic market developing your business over the next few years?
Beijing has a large presence as a destination world-wide and will continue to draw many nationalities of leisure travelers. We are forecasting around half our guests will stay for leisure and half for business, due to our convenient location. We are also committed to growing business from our key feeder markets, and we will constantly be seeking new opportunities in various emerging markets.
What type of training and incentives do you offer your staff?
The key starts with selecting the right people. Our selection focuses on talent and personal values because these are things that can't be taught. Our culture is special, and we can't expect to bring someone into this culture if they don't have the same values and purpose.
We focus on a person's theme. What do they enjoy? What's their purpose in life? What motivates them? We look for people who genuinely enjoy contact with people and helping others. It's not about being introverted or extroverted; it's about caring for and respecting others. You can work at the reception or behind the scenes, but you must enjoy contact with others, whether they are guests, other employees, vendors or stakeholders.
We spend two days of orientation with new team members before they come in contact with any guest. They must understand our culture and philosophy. The executive team, Human Resources and I are all involved. We explain our Hilton service philosophy: we are here to take care of our guests; and we are here to take care of our team members – this is fundamental to our Hilton culture, which is known as our Hilton Esprit culture.
Then they receive 30 days of training with a certified trainer from their respective departments. Following that, we have reinforcement training throughout the year and we provide a minimum of 130 hours of training for every team member, including specific training for their department, training on culture, language, and leadership skills.
We also request feedback on how we can improve our training program for future retraining and recertification.
Communication also plays an important role. Having interaction with each other every day and speaking freely about what we enjoy and how we can improve is important. I have a lunch meeting with 10 to 15 team members from different departments once a month. We all speak openly and it's an informal gathering. The purpose is to understand what they're working on and what can be improved and it's usually very positive. I always learn something from these meetings.
Team members also document mistakes in their department. It's very important that when someone makes a mistake that they identify the mistake so they can take action to resolve it, otherwise the same mistakes may recur. So I also recognize people for taking ownership of a problem and being part of the solution. There's no fear of reprimand if they say something's not working well. At Hilton Beijing Wangfujing, we don't identify a person and say you've done something wrong; we look at it in a positive way.
How are you using Internet and email marketing to attract more guests from the business and MICE sectors?
I know that today's multi-channel marketing model requires interactive customer relationships to be established and maintained across all channels. In this new online environment I don't want just to provide the guest services, I would like to have a direct interaction and relationships with our customers as opposed to doing this through online intermediaries. I will make it my mission this year to build mutually beneficial interactive relationships with our customers in order to increase repeat business and loyalty.
What corporate social responsibility initiatives is the hotel implementing or planning to implement?
We will direct our resources where the most impact will be made whether it is environmental conservation or poverty relief. Recently Hilton Hotels Corporation announced its corporate commitment to the environment and has set goals that include:
Reduce energy consumption from direct operations by 20%
Reduce CO2 emissions by 20%
Reduce output of waste by 20% and
Reduce water consumption by 10%.
Not only are these measures part of a fundamentally necessary response to safeguarding the future of our planet, but they also make commercial sense and provide a good opportunity for us to assess and reduce waste in our business. Our operations at Hilton Beijing Wangfujing will do its part to help the company fulfill this global commitment.
If you had only 30 seconds to tell people why they should stay in your hotel what would you say?
Wow, only thirty seconds, well in that case, Hilton Beijing Wangfujing offers a chic intimate lifestyle experience and is a unique property in the Hilton portfolio. It is situated at one of Beijing's most prestigious locations – Wangfujing Street and perfectly suited to its premium location in close proximity to the major cultural and commercial centers of Beijing and a short walk from many major tourist and shopping attractions. Hilton Beijing Wangfujing combines personalized service with a bold, inspirational settings and bespoke amenities.
The owners of Hilton Beijing Wangfujing have invested considerably in architecture and design to achieve the intimate feeling and out of respect to China's burgeoning art scene, Hilton Beijing Wangfujing has made national art a core aspect of the hotel's aesthetics with the work of nationally renowned artists on display throughout the hotel.
Our hotel is a fine example of Hilton's new direction for Food & Beverage which is focused on personalizing the dining experience for guests. The restaurants include Vasco's, one of few Macanese restaurants in Beijing. Vasco's has a resident water sommelier who will advise clients on clarity, taste and brightness and on pairing water with certain dishes.
Another of the restaurants is Chynna, offering regional Chinese classics combined with modern cooking techniques. Chynna has a Tea Master, responsible for introducing diners to the history and natural remedial wonders of tea. Also on hand will be an appointed nutritionist, who offers advice on menu options that meet guests' lifestyle needs.
The hotel's deluxe guest rooms combine style and function and are amongst the largest in the city, starting at a comfortable 50 square meters and featuring sophisticated technology. All guest rooms offer Crabtree & Evelyn La Source bath amenities, marble top vanities; separate two-jet body massage, "rain tile" showers, glass enclosed WC facilities, a deep-soak Victorian-style bathtub and a spacious walk in closet that allow breathing room for fine garments.
The guest rooms incorporate highly sophisticated in-room entertainment such as iPod docking stations, 42 inch flat screen LCD televisions and DVD players. In addition the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing is pleased to be the only hotel in Beijing to offer Hilton's VGA plug-in cable that connects the in-room TV and the guest's laptop. By simply plugging-in their own laptop – the television screen can be split so guests can watch TV while checking e-mail or researching on the Internet, watch their own movies or even plug-in their digital cameras and preview photos.
The property's spa introduces a whole new level of well-being to Beijing, offering a holistic approach to rejuvenation and relaxation with 9 treatment rooms – focusing on treatments and services that honour local traditions in healing and incorporate indigenous natural elements.