Managing The Grande Dame Of The Far East

Rainy Chan, general manager of The Peninsula Hong Kong, has been with The Peninsula Hotels since September 1994, including senior management appointments at the company's properties in Hong Kong, Chicago, New York, and Bangkok.

You have worked with the Peninsula group in many capacities and in many cities, Hong Kong, New York, Bangkok, and Chicago. Has there been a common theme that has run through these posts? And what changes have you seen?

I started at The Peninsula Hong Kong in 1994 as the front office manager. By the time I left in 2000, I was the executive assistant manager – Rooms Division. I then went to The Peninsula New York and it was there that I entered into a very senior management level position. I believe the common theme of our hotel group is that the staff takes pride in being a member of The Pen. In each Pen property, the sense of family and service philosophy is deeply rooted.

We have seen changes in the expectations of the younger generation of staff. They now see their jobs as not merely a job. They seek learning and development opportunities both professionally and personally. Simply on-the-job training is just not enough. Over the years, we have broadened our training program to include lifestyle as well as personal development related topics which are well received and proved to be quite successful.

The Peninsula has a very long history in Hong Kong. How do you differentiate your hotel from the newer luxury hotels that have opened in the region?

The Peninsula Hong Kong has long been hailed as one of the finest hotels in the world. Created 80 years ago in 1928, the legendary "Grande Dame of the Far East" continues to set hotel standards worldwide, offering a blend of the best of Eastern and Western hospitality in an atmosphere of unmatched classical grandeur and timeless elegance.

I think the main thing that differentiates us from the others is our commitment to our guests and to brand excellence. This dedication comes from the top, from our chairman, Sir Michael Kadoorie. Our staff takes pride in being part of the company and hence the service we provide our guests is genuine and has a great sense of family in it. The personal connection between the staff and our guests is paramount. This, together with exceptional hotel products, award-winning facilities and an uncompromising attention to detail, has placed us where we are today.

We are committed to constantly upgrading our service and facilities. Within the past two years, we have launched our new Spa — The Peninsula Spa by ESPA, we have also acquired a new fleet of 14 Rolls-Royce Extended Wheelbase Phantom limousines. And with the hotel celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, we have introduced a host of exciting programmes.

Hong Kong was the host for the equestrian events for the 2008 Olympics. What impact did this have on your business; and what preparations did you make?

The overall Olympic business has been very positive for our hotel. We have not only benefited from the equestrian events in Hong Kong, we also received a number of bookings (both groups and individual travelers) for pre- and post-visits to and from Beijing.

We did our utmost to assist our guests who attended the equestrian events. We provided our guests with daily activity reports of the equestrian games, and transportation support — as well as caps and binoculars.

In New York you helped create the group's first Female Traveler Program. Could you tell us about that?

The Female Traveler Program targets female frequent business travelers, who usually stay in each city for one to two days, travel light and have a very tight schedule packed with business meetings and functions.

We introduced this program to provide hassle-free and prompt solutions to their "intimate" needs during their short period of stay. We worked closely with Bergdorf Goodman, the Department Store located on 5th Avenue, just few blocks away from The Peninsula New York. Whether it was to find the perfect evening gown for a charity dinner or a dress for a business cocktail, we assigned a personal shopper to assist guests with their shopping and to provide a delivery service. We also offered "on loan" items such as accessories and shoes to complete their outfit. On top of that, we have gone the extra mile by helping guests prepare personalized thank you cards for sending to business acquaintances or new friends they made during their trip.

When I moved to Bangkok, I took this concept one step further by creating a more elaborated version of "Female" traveler program, which included mothers and daughters, group of girlfriends, etc. that are more leisure driven.

The Peninsula places great emphasis on the quality of its people. How do you go about developing and retaining your staff?

As a brand, we have established a strong image as a devoted and committed employer. Our chairman's vision for long-term business development is shared in our objective for staff development. We nurture and encourage staff loyalty and that is why we have the longest serving staff in Hong Kong. Two of our staff had just celebrated their 50th Anniversary with the hotel. Training is also our priority. We incorporated personal development topics into our training program, staff could really feel that they are being cared for beyond and above just an employee.

Our training ranges from grooming to language skills, and from refining service standards to health and safety training, and more. To prepare our staff for further advancement, we have tailor made different programmes for each staff level, from our "train the trainer" programme to cross exposures as well as management development courses with major universities.

Of the three major categories of hotel business, leisure travelers, business travelers and MICE, where does the Peninsula place its focus?

78% of our guests are from the leisure segment and the remaining are business and MICE related. We are very fortunate that the hotel's all-encompassing facilities cater to both leisure and business travelers.

The Peninsula Hong Kong focuses on enhancing guests' experience in Hong Kong during their stay. We offer a wide variety of culture and lifestyle programmes for leisure guests such as the Culinary Journey (a dining odyssey around The Peninsula where guests travel the hotel sampling courses at various restaurants); The Peninsula Academy programs (for guests seeking a learning vacation); The Peninsula's Cultural Program, which is focused on feng shui, and more. As for corporate guests, we have comprehensive in-room business amenities for guests' business needs, including silent fax machine with personalized fax number, wired and wireless high speed broadband internet access, etc.

What corporate social responsibility programs does the Peninsula undertake?

The Peninsula has always been closely connected with the people of Hong Kong, and we are delighted to maintain and grow our relationship.

Charity and community work are of great importance to us.

Oxfam – Trailwalk
In the past few years, the hotel Trail Walk Team has successively raised the most money amongst those in the industry, for Oxfam. Our team had to complete 100km of a trail within 48hours. Our group CEO, Peter Borer, in particular, is a key player to support and participate in the walk.

Make-A-Wish Foundation
Every year in December, the hotel organises a Christmas party for the children of M-A-W Foundation. Their parents and siblings are also invited. These children have serious illnesses and are unfortunately sometimes at the final stages of their lives. The hotel hopes to provide another opportunity for them have some fun and excitement.

Home of Love
Serving the homeless, the hotel has been donating pastries and clothing to Home of Love, which is the Hong Kong's division of the Missionaries of Charity, created by Mother Theresa.

The hotel has been cutting down consumption of natural resources wherever possible, without affecting our guests' experience. Glass, paper, plastic, aluminum cans are all segregated and disposed in the proper channels.

2008 and beyond
11th December 2008 is the 80th birthday of the hotel. This year, we have stepped up our efforts in charity and community involvement.

A committee was formed to raise money for our three chosen charities (Make-A-Wish Foundation, Mary Rose School and St James' Settlement Funeral Navigation Services).

In addition, a second committee is responsible for increasing employee awareness of those people in need, and to arouse staff interest in charity work. So far this year, our staff members have arranged 11 activities and the beneficiaries have received 167 hours of voluntary work.

What Web and email marketing programs do you have?

After obtaining permission from our guests and clients to communicate with them via email, we send regular e-newsletters which include special offers, the latest news and more. And we will soon launch a completely new website which will be very user-friendly, dynamic, interactive and also equipped with a much more sophisticated booking engine.

Given just thirty seconds in an elevator, how would you describe the experience of being a guest in The Peninsula Hong Kong?

It is really difficult to describe a hotel that is 80 years old in such a short elevator journey. But I would say that guests at The Peninsula could enjoy an incredibly luxurious, elegant and at the same time, natural and comfortable environment. In terms of staff, the service that guests will experience is sincere and genuinely caring. This explains why we take pride in being The Peninsula Hong Kong!