Geoffrey Howe, an Australian citizen, brings 20 years academic and professional experience in the hospitality industry to his role of general manager of the Millennium Wuxi hotel.
What aspects of Wuxi city impress you?
There are many aspects of Wuxi that are impressive. Its location at the heart of the Yangtze Delta, and its proximity to Shanghai and Nanjing have ensured that the city has developed quickly. The development has been well planned, however, with minimal impact in terms of local culture and infrastructure.
The people of Wuxi are rightly proud of their distinctive local culture and they are very open and friendly in sharing their traditions with newcomers such as myself. The city itself is easy to get around and has an abundance of naturally beautiful scenery especially around the famous Tai Hu. The local Wuxi cuisine is also a highlight ensuring many people visit Wuxi just to try local delicacies such as Yang Shan peaches, Wuxi style spare ribs, and the famous "Three Whites" from Tai Hu: whitebait, white fish, and white shrimp.
All of this and so much more combine to make Wuxi a very enjoyable place, to live and work or just to visit.
Given the location of the Millennium Wuxi, what do you expect the percentage composition of your guests to be?
With our location in the bustling New District and our proximity to so many corporate enterprises, we anticipate that the corporate market segment will be our largest at approximately 65%. Another 25% we expect will come from the MICE segment and the remaining 10% will be leisure and FIT travel.
How do you differentiate your hotel from others in the same marketplace? What is your strategic plan for achieving your target RevPAR?
There are a number of factors that will differentiate our hotel from others. First of all is our hardware. The hotel itself has a distinctive Japanese element to its design both exterior with its 12,000 square meters of landscaped gardens and throughout its interior which has been crafted with simple elegance as the main design theme thus creating a unique atmosphere for our guests.
The second element will be our product offerings to our guests. Millennium Wuxi will plan and implement an ever-changing selection of promotions and events to ensure that guests and visitors to the hotel can enjoy a new experience each time they visit the hotel. Examples of this are the recent successful launches of our Seafood Extravaganza nights and our signature M Brunch on Sundays.
The third element is our most important, and that is our staff and the service they provide. Our staff undergo regular training including standard service training and additional training such as cultural sensitivity training so that they are equipped to cater to the needs of all of our guests, both local and foreign.
What is your management philosophy? In your opinion what makes a hotel a good hotel?
In my opinion it is small details that make the difference to guests. Guests appreciate genuinely warm service: on arrival, throughout their stay and the follow up they receive after they depart. Every staff contact can make the difference as to whether a guest has a wonderful stay or one that is average.
Other small details such as atmosphere which can be created through music playing in public areas, inviting smells such as freshly baked bread on the breakfast buffet, and choice such as having a range of different types of eggs — all of these elements combine to make guests feel welcome and differentiate a hotel as special.
How will you train your staff to cater for the business travelers from different regions to the new corporate areas in Wuxi (for example Japanese, South Korean, American, and European)?
As I mentioned earlier, our staff are receiving ongoing cultural training in order that they will be equipped to cater to the specific requirements of all guests of the hotel. This training includes language training, cultural differences, and procedural training to ensure that guests are well looked after at all times.
How will you apply your previous working experience in Shanghai to the management of the Millennium Wuxi?
I think all hoteliers will agree that individual markets have their own specific traits and particular idiosyncrasies. My experiences in Beijing, Shanghai, and Australia have equipped me to be aware of this and to try and identify these particular traits in the Wuxi market. Together with my management team and other stakeholders in the property we will work together to develop and implement the hotel's strategy to cater to these traits in the market and ensure a unique and memorable guest experience.
What difficulties do you expect to encounter as a result of the global financial crisis?
Unlike some of the major markets in China, Wuxi seems to have been fairly resilient throughout the financial crisis. There has admittedly been some impact with less travel and many companies adopting a cautious approach, however a great deal of the travel into Wuxi is purpose driven such as quality assurance checks, regular maintenance visits, etc. This type of travel has seen the Wuxi market weathering the crisis a little better than other markets.
Nevertheless we shall continue to carefully monitor the market and ensure that we are continually in touch with our clients and responsive to their needs.
How does Millennium Wuxi hotel ensure that the quality of service is the same as in other Millennium properties around the world?
Millennium has provided a great deal of support in the establishment of this hotel. Our training regime and the standards and procedures we utilize are similar to, if not the same as, our sister properties and this ensures a consistent standard of service for guests of Millennium hotels.
At present, many large hotels are focusing on business development in the MICE sector; what special expansion plans does Millennium Wuxi hotel have for targeting the MICE market?
MICE clientele and agents are now branching out of the major centers and more and more are holding their events in second tier cities such as Wuxi. Our task is to not only market our hotel, but also Wuxi as a potential destination for these clients.
Millennium Wuxi has created a number of special MICE packages to appeal to organizers to enable them to tailor their events to their requirements and incorporate some of the unique aspects of Wuxi into their events, which will ensure that their attendees have a unique and enjoyable experience during their time in Wuxi.