Paul M Cunningham, the general manager of the Westin Hefei Baohe, started his hotel career at Claridges Hotel in London. He subsequently gained wide-ranging experience through a variety of senior management positions with leading hotel chains in the UK and Asia, of which more than ten years have been with Starwood, including postings at The St. Regis Beijing and W Seoul Walkerhill.
What are your thoughts on the development opportunities in the Hefei hotel market?
Hefei is currently in short supply of upscale international five-star hotels. The city is undergoing rapid economic and social development, with new industries and improved communication systems. The infrastructure of the city is also developing at a rapid pace, with new roads and trains connecting the city to new destinations at much faster speeds. The Hefei Economic and Technology Development Zone and the Hefei Hi-tech Industry Development Zone both offer great opportunities to the city and new hotels because of foreign investment coming in and investors are interested when they see the development of the city supported by all the new infrastructure. Currently the hotels in Hefei are enjoying healthy occupancy. I think the new and upscale hotels will do well in the city because corporate travelers are getting more demanding and their expectations are increasing and they will look to stay in newer hotels with more up-to-date facilities and amenities.
What is the market positioning of the Westin Hefei Baohe?
The Westin Hefei Baohe's target market is high-end business travelers and we position ourselves as an international five-star corporate and leisure hotel. We provide a renewal experience for our guests and we do our best to ensure that guests depart feeling better than when they arrived, irrespective of whether they stay with us for business or leisure.
What are the distinguishing features of your hotel?
The Westin Hefei Baohe has 310 guestrooms, including 22 suites that overlook the landmark Baohe Park and a 336-square-meter Presidential Suite. It is the 10th Westin Hotel to open in China and is situated in a most ideal location – within the business centre of the city and also in close proximity to all the conveniences of the city – the Wanda Plaza and other restaurants and entertainment centers.
Our rooms are spacious and elegant and offer the utmost in comfort and style, with city or park views. To help guests keep in shape, the hotel has two Westin Workout Rooms that offer a cross trainer or upright exercise bike and dumb-bells in the room. Our signature products are our Westin' s signature Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Shower. We also offer a choice of wireless or cabled high-speed Internet access, iPod docking station, and connectivity panel.
Our distinctive restaurants also offer our guests a delightful culinary experience, whether it is authentic Cantonese and local Anhui dishes in Zen5es, or an international buffet or a la carte at Seasonal Tastes. Our western restaurant, the only one of its kind in Hefei, is a grill which offers world-class steaks, seafood and a wine and cigar bar. We offer wines from all over the world and we have one of the best wine collection on offer.
Daily Treats offers a wide range of pastries and cakes. Guests can unwind further in the Lobby Lounge with a cocktail or a cup of our Jing tea. The Westin Hefei Baohe is definitely poised to be the latest rendezvous for every gourmet.
For meeting planners, the hotel offers more than 2,300 square meters of meeting and function space to suit every event. The Westin Grand Ballroom can be divided into three parts and all seven multi-functional meeting rooms are equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual facilities. The hotel offers both wireless and connected high speed internet access in all meeting and function rooms.
What do you expect the percentage composition of your guests to be?
Corporate guests will take up over half of the hotel occupancy and MICE guests are also very important to our hotel. Leisure guests will probably be staying over the weekend when they visit Hefei from the surrounding cities.
What challenges will you face as a general manger?
In Hefei, the most challenging aspect will be coordinating and putting together a group of professional hoteliers from different backgrounds and experience to form a team and to embrace the Starwood culture. Some junior staff have never worked in an international five-star hotel and it takes a bit of time to train on how to deliver a unique five-star experience for the guests.
Many hotels are focusing on business development in the MICE sector, what special expansion plans does your hotel have for targeting the MICE market?
MICE will always be an important market segment for all hotels because it generally contributes more revenue compared to other segments. Like most new hotels, our hotel has been designed with accommodating MICE groups in mind. Besides our 1,380-square-meter Grand Ballroom with an 8.5 meter ceiling, we have five meeting and boardrooms with natural lighting. We also have a dedicated team of events and convention staff who are professionally trained to handle all sorts of events and functions. We will be creating concepts new to Hefei, from themed coffee breaks to clutter free meetings.
What are the hotel's advantages for MICE in terms of hardware? What are three key reasons for MICE bookers choose your product and services?
Besides having a dedicated and professional team to assist meeting organizers ensure that every function is a success, the hotel is also equipped with the latest and newest audio visual equipment. This will be an important factor for a meeting organizer to consider when choosing a hotel. We have a total of 2,300 square meters of function space, consisting of a 1,380-square-meter Westin Grand Ballroom which can be divided into three independent function rooms and an additional seven multi-function rooms. The hotel also has a superb location – on the junction of Wuhu road and Ma' anshan road, nine kilometers from Hefei Luogang International Airport, two kilometers from the government office and only a 20 minute drive from Hefei Economic Development and Hi-Tech Development zone. All the above factors will attract meeting organizers to choose The Westin Hefei Baohe as their next meeting venue.
As a senior professional manager in the hospitality industry, what is your management philosophy?
My belief is that service makes the difference every time. In Westin, our core value is personal, instinctive, and renewal, we hope to motivate all of our associates to deliver personal, instinctive service to our guests and provide guests with a renewal staying experience. As for the guests, they would like to be treated respectfully and exceptionally; for meeting organizers, they would like to offer all meeting attendees an outstanding meeting experience. So we treat every guest or meeting organizer as a unique person and always anticipate their needs so they can feel and experience the charm of the Westin brand.
If MICE guests choose to stay in Hefei for three days, what aspects of Hefei city would you recommend the see?
Hefei is set amidst some beautiful, natural scenery including one of China's five largest freshwater lakes: Chao Lake. Some of the top highlights found in and around this lake are: Laoshan Island, Zhongmiao Temple, soothing hot springs, great national forests, and intriguing water-eroded caves. Animal lovers can admire some 2,000 animals including giant pandas, Indian elephants, Siberian tigers, leopards and red-crowned cranes at the Hefei Wildlife Park. For a glimpse into Hefei's rich past visit: Bao Gong Park, Hefei's prettiest park and home of Lord Bao's Tomb, one of China's most iconic figures; Leisure Fort Park, Hefei's largest park and the location the historic Battle of Hefei; or the lovely former residence of the military commander, Li Hongzhang, located on the pedestrian street, Shangye Buxing Jie.
For some exhilarating local entertainment, you simply must watch a Lu Opera opera performance while you are here. Vivid and colorful, it offers a true taste of local culture. Do try some of the local delicacies, too: Luzhou roast duck, Lord Bao fish, Caocao chicken, Li Hongzhang hodgepodge cuisine, honggao (baked cake), mabing (sesame cakes), baiqie (white sesame slices), and cunjin (sesame biscuits). They are all delicious.