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COVER STORY: Service to Tackle the Needs of Now, Dialogue with Ross Grinter, General Manager at Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel
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Service to Tackle the Needs of Now

Dialogue with Ross Grinter, General Manager at Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel

By Annie Ly

Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel meets new blood as Ross Grinter, a longer term player in the Starwood Hotels family, takes on the role of General Manager at the hotel based in the heart of TEDA. With ten years of experience in China working in Beijing at Sheraton Grand Beijing Dongcheng Hotel and the historic Great Wall Sheraton - considered an institution in China for bring the first international hotel in the country, as well as the first Sheraton Hotel in China- Mr. Grinter knows a thing or two about how to lead strong teams and perform efficient operations to best serve Sheraton customers. Having only taken on the role in May, this month we sought the insights of Mr. Grinter on the differences between the Tianjin and Beijing markets and his impressions of the fast paced development of the city as viewed from a pair of fresh eyes.

BT 201606 050 Cover story 01You have worked under the Sheraton brand for many years. What does Sheraton specifically offer for its customers?

For Sheraton, the number one offer is high quality service. For hardware, everything is of a five star, international standard but our guests can enjoy that at many locations so we place key emphasis on service. At Sheraton, we really believe in trying to "make travel effortless" for our guests. Whether you're staying one night, one week or one month - no matter how short or long that period is, Sheraton seeks to make time staying with us easier.

Our associates actively get to know our guests to find out what they like and don't like and demonstrate that with personalised gestures. Sheraton are very strong at formulating a profile of our guests over the accumulation of various stays to find out their preferences so they don't have to keep asking. We really believe in personalising each experience so we get to know our guests and create a 'home away from home' for them.

We're also blessed to have a very rich and attractive loyalty program through SPG. Guests can enjoy many benefits such as suite upgrades. For platinum guests, they can take advantage of 'Your 24', a self check-in service which allows our high category guests to check in at whatever time they want. We also have a very similar food and beverage loyalty program such as the 'Eat, drink and more' scheme which allows members to take advantage of attractive deals and discounts on food and beverage.

What are some of the differences between the Beijing and Tianjin market you have experienced so far? How do you cater to these differences?

There is a strong food and beverage market in this city. The residents of Binhai, Tianjin really enjoy this. To serve this, we have three very strong restaurants which serve three different concepts. At our Feast Restaurant, we serve buffet style western and Chinese food. This June, we'll be offering a barbeque menu serving delicious range of meats. Alongside this, guests will have the opportunity to enter a lucky draw to win prizes at the end of the month.

At our Yue Restaurant, we focus on Cantonese style Chinese food with a kitchen full of chefs from Guangdong to cook authentic cuisine. This June, Yue will be offering a 'daily seafood market' with a varying menu. All seafood will be sourced freshly from what is offered on that particular day. Guests will be invited to choose from a range of seafood and our chefs will cook a special meal, personalised to the guests' preferences. One this thing that I have found which differentiates the customer market in Tianjin from Beijing is that Tianjiners prefer more private dining spaces. At Yue Restaurant, we offer 9 private dining rooms which range in size which are highly popular with our guests.

To add an international blend, we have our Italian restaurant Bene. In this part of Tianjin, there is a big long-stay guest component because of the project based commerce which happens here. The Italian restaurant really offers a 'home away from home' feeling to serve our international long-stay guests. There is a real relaxed feeling there with a large communal dining table, flat screen TVs and pool table in order to create a social space for long-stay customers to socialise and feel comfortable.

BT 201606 050 Cover story hl01What is the best way to build long term customer loyalty?

Making personal connections with the customer is what creates loyalty. Ensuring our customers know we are thinking of them, we want to know them more and that we want to delight them with small personal touches to remind them that we know them. In Sheraton, we talk about 'Actions speak louder'. Amongst our associates we encourage them to take action. Don't wait for guests to ask you or your manager to tell you what to do. If you know something about a particular guest, take the initiative and go ahead and do it because actions speak louder. Guests feel those small gestures and that builds loyalty.

BT 201606 050 Cover story 02Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel seeks to deliver "innovative, enriching and memorable experiences" for its guests. What is the key to being innovative in your approach?

I like to lead through empowerment. I prefer to leave as much in the hands of the team and associates because they are the ones with the closest contacts with the guests. In giving the team the authority and power to take the initiative with our guests, they become innovative in providing top service to our customers.

Sheraton is also a big brand with over 150 hotels across China. We are always sharing ideas amongst the broader brand, as well as internally amongst our teams across Tianjin and at this Binhai location. There's always an exchange of ideas which is a huge advantage of being part of such a large global brand under Starwood. We are able to share innovative best practice.

You come from a financial management background. In what ways has this route into the hospitality industry impacted your management style as a General Manager?

My finance background has really helped with my business management and decision making skills. It has been great preparation for me to come into a General Manager role where you need to make many lots of decisions every day. Having a logical finance background helps you to think of the strategic elements to decision making.

Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel is based in TEDA, one of the fastest growing economic zones in mainland China. What are your thoughts about Tianjin and what its future holds as a city?

In the last four to five years, Tianjin has seen a lot of fast development. In the surrounding area, there is still a lot of ongoing development so the future for TEDA and Binhai is very bright. For the hotel, it means we are in a good position to grow as the local development continues.

BT 201606 050 Cover story hl02What are your thoughts on the current development of the hospitality industry in the TEDA area?

In the broader Tianjin market, it is very competitive with new entrants entering the TEDA market and plans for more hotels to come into play in the next few years. Although competition is not easy, it is healthy as it drives innovation and drives improvement.

How do you keep on top of this competitive market?

We need to ensure our products are fresh and are always offering something new and giving reason for our customers to return to us, time and time again. I draw inspiration from my team who are closer to the local market. We also keep on top of social media to allow us to review what is happening in the market and finding out how to adapt to the situation in our own market.

For example, recently we launched some weekend family packages. The offer tied in guest rooms with local attractions such as Ocean Park, a children's theme park and the aircraft carrier park. For the last labour holiday weekend in May, we had a full house swarming with families. It's really about finding out what might be attractive to the local market and how we can adapt our service to that.

For corporate guests, one area we also focus on is meeting spaces. This summer, we will be looking at how to tie in hotel facilities with local attractions to target companies who want to do team building weekend getaways. It's perfect for those looking to balance meetings and work life with some leisure activities, so we will be launching some interesting meeting packages over the summer months.

BT 201606 050 Cover story 04How do you go about attracting the best talent to serve at the hotel?

One of the main challenges in the hospitality industry is recruiting and maintaining the best talent in the industry. From a talent acquisition point of view, it's very competitive. China is developing as a nation which means graduates have more choices available to them than they did ten to fifteen years ago. How can we attract them to join the hospitality industry? We spend a lot of time in the early stages developing relationships with universities and colleges and then using schemes such as Starwood careers. Here we can show good examples of how Starwood associates have started in one area and moved through different departments to end up in senior positions.

There is a lot of room for movement and growth under the Starwood brand. With hotels in over 75 countries and 9 different hotel brands, we encourage development of strong foundation skills and allow for movement across cities, countries and brands. The expansion of Sheraton over the last five years has been great. There are more Sheraton Hotels in Chinese cities which means our locally based associates can stay within their home cities. This is a big advantage of Sheraton and we can offer these types of opportunities.

What are other challenges you face as a General Manager and how do you overcome them?

From a general perspective, finding how to differentiate your hotel in a competitive market, attracting the best talent and giving guests reasons to choose your establishment as the number one choice are all challenges.

As for personal challenges, overcoming the language barrier is certainly one of them. But, this can be overcome by really relying on your team and empowering them to deliver on the service promise. In fact, the team here at Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel just won an award for 'Outstanding Team of the Year' for all Starwood brands. It recognised the ability of our team to work well and efficiently to safeguard the safety of our guests, wider community and other associates during the difficult times of last year during the explosions. It is very gratifying to inherit such a strong team here.

BT 201606 050 Cover story 03How do you envisage the future of the Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel? What are your future ambitions for the hotel?

As you can see from the various projects around, this area is continuing to develop, so in the medium term we must continue to develop our products and services to keep up with that change so that we are well positioned to take advantage of the growth of the city as it comes online. This hotel is now six years old so it is relatively new but we must keep pace and ensure that we are providing services that tackle the needs of now. This is part of our long term plans for the hotel.

Are there any key trends, innovations or challenges you see on the horizon for the hospitality industry?

Social media has become such an important part of the face of the hotel. Successful businesses, not just hotels, are ones that will handle this type of interaction well. With the WeChat phenomenon, it is a large part of what we do now. The way we communicate and promote ourselves must consider different social media selling channels that weren't there ten years ago.

Along with that, guest expectations have changed. Everyone wants to use their smart phones to manage their bookings and arrangements, as well as for back and forth communication. Guest expect quick instantaneous responses and this is a challenge that we must learn how to deal with well. We are currently dedicating full time resources to this element.

Looking forward, we are piloting keyless check in programs across selected hotels around the world whereby guests receive a message they can swipe their smart phones over door locks. These kinds of innovations will take its time to take hold but we understand that customers want things faster and easier. This will lead to innovations in check-in processes.

This will in turn pose challenges for the way we stay connected to our customers. Check-in processes are key opportunities for staff to have face-to-face contact with our customers. So as technology moves us in one direction, we still want to retain that personal element of interaction as it is a large part of what makes Sheraton Hotels so strong.


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