In opening a hotel these days, it is important to get the timing of the pre-publicity right and in today’s last-minute world, Matthias Roeke believes you’ve got to strike it just right – too early and you lose interest; too late and well, it’s too late.
The trick is to talk about it and have something to show for it almost immediately. Take Apple, says the general manager of the newly-opened China World Summit Wing in Beijing. They don’t talk about any product until it’s in the stores.
“Today’s customers have short attention spans and if you start talking about something six months before it is available, people lose interest,” said Roeke. “The way people book these days is so last minute.”
The challenge with his hotel opening was that it had nine opening dates and so timing the pre-publicity was even more difficult. But once he knew it was going to be sometime in August – the hotel opened on August 16 and received its operating licence on August 9 – it started inviting top Chinese bloggers to the hotel and engaged on social networks such as RenRen. Its corporate headquarters in Hong Kong took care of Facebook engagement given that Facebook is not available in China.
The day before it opened, on a Sunday, Roeke sent 2,000 emails to local Beijingers to inform them of the hotel opening and to take advantage of the promotional offer of RMB 1988. “The response was instant.”
As the tallest hotel tower in the world, its views of the city were unrivalled but Roeke didn’t want to sell the obvious, nor did he talk too much about the hotel in pre-publicity materials.
“We did not try to sell the luxury and the physical – we wanted to be low profile and approachable so people wouldn’t be scared off. So we talked about the people – how we hired staff, the art, the food and how we use local produce.”
It focused on personalities such as Charlie, the bartender from the famous Schumann’s American Bar in Munich who would be mixing cocktails at the Atmosphere Bar on the top floor.
It told stories of how it hired its staff and the interview process it put them through. Roeke personally interviewed every single candidate and went through 13,000 interviews.
In the first round of interviews, candidates were given a ring puzzle to figure out. “If the person gave up, we didn’t take them – it showed they had no will to succeed.”
In the last round of 3,500 interviews, he put people in “completely silly situations”. “We would put them in situations and created a lot of havoc in five minutes to see how they dealt with it. The ones that had a natural reaction, these were the ones we hired.”
In total, the hotel hired 600 staff out of the 13,000 interviews he conducted. Their average age – 28 years old.
You do feel the youth, energy and confidence of the staff when you stay in the hotel. All the frontline staff I encountered spoke excellent English and demonstrated confidence in how they dealt with situations.
At the time of check-out, when it was discovered a mistake had been made on my limousine transfer time, the remedial measures they took to address it were excellent.
To talk about the art at the hotel, it launched an art competition with 300 local artists who were asked to paint pictures with 330 insights – 330m being the height of the hotel.
There are a couple of things Roeke’s trying to do differently in this hotel.
In the resident’s lounge, a total of 500 books adorn the shelves – John Grisham and Stephen Ki
ng seem to be favourites – and when you sit in the lounge, no one will come to ask if you need anything.
“I wanted a space where people could just come and sit as though in their home without being bothered, but if they wanted a drink or food, then all they have to do is ask,” said Roeke.
In the room, the minibar is free and it’s a very well-stocked minibar to boot. That, and a constant array of chocolates and goodies everyday ensure you never get to go hungry while in the room.
“I wanted to test it and it turned out as I predicted, very few people take everything,” he said.
During the first week, when it had lots of local guests, the minibars were emptied “because they can go home in a car but the business traveller is not going to take bottles and food in his suitcase”.
On average, the takeout has been RMB90, he said. The selling price of a mini bar, if you consume everything, is 300RMB, he added.
In the room too is a room journal in which guests can leave messages behind for future guests. Quite a nice touch, I thought. Gives the room a personality.
In the bathroom is an embedded television in the bathroom mirror. You wouldn’t know it’s there unless someone points it out to you. I like that – technology that is invisible.
Since it opened, Roeke said the hotel’s been beating its competitive set in RevPAR and is running the highest average rate in town.
“We are not trying to make bad profit out of little things; we are in the room business and we want to make our profit on rooms.”