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COVER STORY: Leading the charge for The Sport of Kings and Hospitality for the Elite, Interview with Domenico Palumbo, General Manager of Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club
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Leading the charge for The Sport of Kings and

Hospitality for the Elite

Interview with Domenico Palumbo,

General Manager of Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club

By Annie Ly

CS 97A1663 v2Hailing from a tiny fishing port on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy, Domenico Palumbo has spent the last 18 years working in the hospitality industry of Mainland China, where he now stands tall as the proud General Manager of the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, a unique luxury establishment not only in Tianjin, but in China.

With great insight into the emerging popularity of the "sport of kings" and the elite hospitality sector, this month we sought the experiences of Mr Palumbo to enlighten our faithful readers on all things opulent and decadent at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club.

cover 03You have been General Manager at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club for over two years. Can you tell us more about your previous experience and how you ended up in this position?

I arrived in China back in 1998 on a 1-year hotel management training program; once I completed that, the same hotel GM hired me as Front Office Manager. Two years later, I switched to private club management which gave me the fantastic opportunity to be involved with some of the best sport, business and residential clubs in China, from Guangzhou to Shanghai, from Chengdu to Beijing and then here in Tianjin.

cover 04Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club is home to China's largest polo facilities. It is integral to the popularity of the sport in China. What are your thoughts on the popularity of Polo in China right now?

Traditionally, the culture of polo and horses originated in China, where the game was an imperial sport during the Tang Dynasty. It was thought to enter China via Central Asia or Iran. Therefore, polo is a game that historically connects with Chinese people. China is especially important as a market for the "sport of kings" as it aligns itself with a new world order.

I think the Chinese are going to be the most influential superpower and polo represents the best passport they can have because wherever they go, they will always feel welcome. The horse is an international language. It doesn't matter if you speak Arabic, Russian, or Mandarin. If you understand the horse, you have a bridging point with anyone, anywhere in the world.

The Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club offers high end, luxury facilities and experiences for visitors and customers. Can you tell us more about your typical clients, customer base and who you seek to attract to the Club?

Our target market consists of private entrepreneurs who first of all enjoy as well as can afford the lifestyle. There are a growing number of businessmen and their children who are starting to take the sport seriously in China by joining polo clubs like ours in Tianjin. Having become members, they will not only have the opportunity to learn and improve their horse riding and polo skills, but also meet and mingle with like-minded individuals.

cover 02What are the main attractions and services offered to customers at the Club?

The Club is home to China's largest polo facilities, featuring two international-sized polo fields, one indoor arena, stabling for over 200 horses, and a 167-room luxurious club hotel featuring a selection of stylish restaurants and lounges as well as state-of-the-art spa and fitness facilities. Meanwhile, designed as a lifestyle hub, the Club offers a range of services for both business and pleasure.

As a luxury resort destination, we have spent a great deal of time developing ways for our members to experience real luxury. From the sophisticated design, as well as choosing of branded amenities in the rooms, to the personalised butler services, we are creating a truly royal experience for anyone passing through our doors.

Ultimately, the fundamental part of our job is that people matter the most, so we must become masters at making people feel great - to build and maintain lasting relationships, to always make people feel better about themselves, and to become the kind of people everyone wants to be around.

You also offer membership packages. Why should people consider becoming a member?

Metropolitan Polo Club membership connects members and their families to an elite global network of like-minded professionals, opening doors both on and off the polo field. Besides the luxury services and facilities offered at our venue in Tianjin, club members have access to a distinguished fraternity of club affiliates worldwide and enjoy the benefits of global camaraderie at international events and activities. Most importantly, we spend considerable energy researching hobbies, likes and dislikes of our members to ensure that they feel like "part of the family" instead of joining small groups occupied by strangers.

cover 05What are your thoughts on the luxury, elite hotel market in Tianjin or China more broadly?

At a time when luxury establishments are being shattered under an official crackdown on opulence and corruption all over China, I believe we still have an edge on other luxury venues because we are offering something unique. The elites in the 80s played tennis, the elites in the 90s played golf. Why play golf, when you can play polo?

There is a fast growing niche of polo aficionados. I think now the truly inspirational sport for those people who want to demonstrate themselves as totems in their community is polo because it is relatively unusual, it is new, but more importantly, it is Chinese.

It is undeniable that the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club is a unique establishment in Tianjin and China as a whole. What steps do you take to uphold your reputation as a place for elegant, elite and prestigious events and services?

With its motto "Go Beyond", our Group always aspires to surpass its current achievements and accomplish what others consider impossible. By entrenching creativity and embracing innovative ideas, our goal is to consistently raise the standard bar of our service offerings as well as challenge our team to scale new heights.

The Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2017 is about to take place at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club for its sixth year running. What are you looking forward to most about this year's great event?

As the Club is dedicated to further promotion of this royal sport to polo lovers of all ages, several tournaments are currently being held every year to showcase top-level polo matches featuring world-class polo patrons and players. Sanctioned and organized by the Federation of International Polo (FIP), our forthcoming event is the Club's annual signature tournament – the Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup, the most prestigious snow polo tournament in Asia fetching the highest prize money.

Six of the world's premier polo nations, representing six continents, will come together for the sixth year running at the splendid frozen surface of the South Field from 17th to 22nd January 2017. This year, we are going to witness a fierce battle for Team Hong Kong China to defend their crown against Team England. The comeback of the strong rivals Team Argentina and Team USA are both variables in the games, making it hard to predict the result. Then, there are Australia and South Africa creating potential for upsets and excellent games.

cover 07
The 117 Goldin Finance Tower will be one of World's most iconic structural buildings. What do you think this construction of the tower will bring for the Polo Club, as well as to the Tianjin hospitality industry?

As one of the tallest buildings in the world, Goldin Finance 117 is at or near many height records. Its 579-meter-high observation deck is the third tallest in the world among all buildings completed or under construction and when completed it will hold the record for highest hotel rooms in the world at 560 meters. Additionally, an indoor swimming pool located on floor 115 will be the world's highest at 564 meters. That will certainly boost competition and present some extra challenges for the local hospitality industry.

On the other hand, as the centerpiece of the Goldin Metropolitan project, the eye-catching skyscraper will bring in new tenants for its office space, new residents for our luxury residences and, as a consequence, new club members!

What do you see for the future of the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club?

The 2016 season was a successful one at the club as more tournaments than ever before were successfully organised, drawing a large number of polo fans to the club as well as educating newcomers about the sport and its lifestyle. Polo is still a very young sport in China. You can count the number of polo clubs on one hand, and there are fewer than fifty active polo players. But the future is looking certain. Polo is more than just a game and we should not forget the horse. After all, the horse is every polo player's most important partner. It is not an investment, it loses value quickly and gets injured, so it has to be looked after properly. And we have to teach that to our future members and polo players.

You have experience in the hospitality industry having worked in cities all over China. How does the sector differ from city to city?

According to my personal experience, I believe any services offered have to adapt to the needs of different consumers living in different cities. China is a huge country and therefore an adaptation of standards and economics is vital for profitability in our sector and, consequently, for the development pace in China. In general, there is not a "one size fits all" solution in hospitality and definitely not in China!

cover 06What is the future for the luxury hospitality industry in China or Tianjin? What trends or new developments do you see arising in this sector?

Since the first generation of luxury hotels, the hospitality industry in China has changed significantly and remains in a state of evolution. We have seen this sector adapt to a maturing market, increases in competition, advances in technology and significant changes in China's economy. The concept of luxury is moving from 'having' to 'being', leading Chinese consumers to shift their spending and aspirations from buying luxury goods towards experiential travel. As the shift from possessions to pleasure gains momentum, we are starting to see more demand for venues specifically geared to offer unique and memorable activities and that's exactly where we can (and will) play a bigger role providing the kind of lifestyle our members are looking for.

You are a founding member of Chaine des Rotisseurs - Bailliage de Tianjin, an international association of gastronomic excellence. What benefits has being a member brought to your role as a General Manager of such an elite establishment?

Besides the fun of attending events and meeting people of similar interest from all over the world, my Chaine membership provides me the opportunity to learn what the discerning consumer is looking for in our services and products. Professionally, I have always found the preparation and presentation of a "Chaine" dinner to be an invitation to stimulate the desire of everyone involved to excel. It challenges the skills and expertise of both the culinary as well as the service brigades to be creative and to put on an exceptional performance.

Joining the Chaine and meeting with fellow members face to face has certainly provided me with an insight that I did not have before. By the way, I am pleased to announce that the Bailliage de Tianjin of the Chaine des Rotisseurs will be officially established next year with an Induction Ceremony and Gala Dinner to be held at the Metropolitan Polo Club on 11th March 2017.

Any final comments?

Looking forward to seeing you, Business Tianjin avid readers, your family and friends at our South Field Clubhouse during the Snow Polo Week in mid January to enjoy the experience of a lifetime!


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