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DIALOGUE: Sheraton a Good Time
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Interview with Mark Francis, General Manager, Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel

alt25 October 2010 witnessed the opening of the first Sheraton hotel in the heart of the Binhai New Area of Tianjin. Just an hour by bullet train from Beijing (South Station), and 38 kilometres from the Tianjin Binhai Airport, Sheraton Tianjin Binhai Hotel welcomes conventions, business travelers, and families to the heart of TEDA on the Bohai Bay. After just over a year of operation, Mark Francis, General Manager, sat down with Business Tianjin to discuss his experiences in the hospitality industry and of running the Sheraton.

How did the hospitality industry become your career interest?
I was born in this industry. My earliest memories are eating pecan pie in the kitchen of our family restaurant. I grew up with cooks, waitresses, and lounge singers. I tried a few things after graduating high school. I was wondering what to do when my father gave me his advice, which was to attend school for Hotel management. Once done with that, I began working as a sous chef. I was always a pretty decent cook, so this came naturally. I eventually went to New Zealand for a job, for what I thought would be six months, before returning home. My mother is a bit disappointed because that was 1988.

What specifically brought you to your current position?
I had a General Manager ask me to organize interviews for the Food and Beverage Director at a hotel a long time ago. After conducting them, I told him I didn’t want to hire any of them for different reasons. I suggested that I take the position, at which point he said “I was just waiting for you to say that!” It taught me a valuable lesson about taking initiative. Since then, I have been a “suit” working in management.

I went from Canada to New Zealand, then to Australia working as an Assistant General Manager at a centrally located hotel in Sydney with a consistent ninety-two percent occupancy rate. That was a hectic, exciting learning experience. Next, I went to Hong Kong for a short spell and was soon sent to turnaround a mega resort in the Bahamas which was eventually re-branded as a Westin-Sheraton. I was finally brought back to Asia by the parent company, Starwood Inc., going to the Langham Towers in Melbourne, Australia, then to the Langham Beijing.

Describe the elements of this Hotel which separates it from the local competition.
It has heart. I quickly get a sense of hotels, all providing the nice pool, spa, and rooms. The difference here is the warm greetings, smiles, assistance, and intelligent physical design. This is the first complete branded new Sheraton in China. It’s very modern, functional, and comfortable. It offers an interesting environment, the rooms have a luxurious home-like feel, but the people, the personnel, they won me over. There is an evident “can-do” attitude at work here. Plus, we have all the amenities our patrons have come to expect.

As General Manager, what changes are you planning to make?

My normal plan of action is observe, get a feel for the team, and give management the ability to make changes. We are achieving our guest satisfaction scores, which is paramount in importance. Basically, I want to encourage perpetual improving, adapting, and altperfecting. We hold regular meetings in which I do the listening. It’s like a reverse owner’s conference to assess their perspective on business, customer service, and systems development.

In your opinion, what distinguishes top hotels in Tianjin from other places in the world?

All top branded hotels follow their own performance standards criteria. What happens here is measured the same way as the Great Wall Sheraton in Beijing. We all have that in common, keeping “on brand”, a kind of buzz word in this industry.

Of course, location makes a big difference. Aside from those on the beach, every hotel in China will feature a construction crane in the view from the window. The experience will vary according to place.

Give us your perspective on living in the New Binhai District.
I appreciate the fact that I can walk home. When people here complain about the traffic, I have to smile. It’s nothing in comparison to Beijing’s. TEDA has a smart grid, making it easy to get around. As a family we’re settling in. Yesterday, one of my sons came home from school exclaiming “Hey dad, I made a new friend today!”

Why should people stay at your hotel?

We have the warmest staff in the Binhai Area and try to create a home away from home for guests from all over the world. We have the most comfortable beds and best 5-star restaurants in Binhai with a choice of Bene, our Italian restaurant, or Yue, our Chinese restaurant. All of these put together make the perfect Sheraton experience for guests and we hope people will come to visit us soon.

 

By Tad Miller

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