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COVER STORY: Exemplary Hospitality - An Interview with Antonio Teijeiro
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The Renaissance Tianjin Lakeview Hotel is located on Binshui Xi Dao, close to the Waterpark, and is made up of the hotel and the adjacent Marriott Executive Apartments. One of the top hotels in Tianjin, the Renaissance Lakeview has been a firm Tianjin favourite for years. Today the Resident Manager of the Renaissance Lakeview, Antonio Teijeiro, talks to Business Tianjin, about working with Marriott and the complexities of being an international hotelier.   
 

Could you tell us about your background and how you got started in the hospitality industry?

I studied law, and I am a licensed lawyer, but after graduating I became disillusioned with the way law is practiced. I travelled around a lot, and I eventually found myself working in Portugal for a Spanish company as an Export Sales Manager, and I was living the good life. However, I wasn’t satisfied with my job and I started to think about what mattered to me. Whilst I was analysing my behaviour I recalled my youth spent in my Spanish hometown, which is right next to Portugal and it is a popular place for tourists. I often helped people by giving them directions, and a couple of times personally showing them the way in my car. This really showed me what I wanted to do: help people. I enjoy helping and being around people. When you come across a difficult customer and manage to turn them around then this is the best feeling.
 

I quit my job and did a course in Majorca, where I met a manager of a 3 star hotel. Most of our clients were young and British, coming to Majorca for fun. It was a really tough job; I worked five days a week, three days as a receptionist and two days as a night auditor. At the time I was trying to get a managerial position but in the hospitality industry you usually have to start from the bottom. Hotels have the advantage in that you simply work with people, either your customers or colleagues. And one thing about working with people is that they are unpredictable, so each time I woke up in the morning I never know what the rest of the day will have in store for me. The pace is extremely fast, especially in Asia which I would say is much faster than Europe.
 

What is your approach to managing large scale hotels?

The smallest hotel I have ever worked in was in Portugal, which only had 70 rooms. I enjoy big hotels because of the large scale operation and the subsequent level of planning that is involved. If you make a mistake in a small scale hotel, then it is a lot easier to rectify. In a larger hotel you need to delegate, and you have to have people you can trust, while in a small sized venue you can almost run things by yourself. When I was in the Marriot Lisbon we were the only large hotel in the city. Once we had over 320 check-ins and we had only 1 hour to prepare for their arrival, and dealing with the logistics of managing 300 people cramming into my lobby was a lot of fun for me.
   

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How is the pre-opening experience different from hotel management? Does the job simply finish when the first guest arrives?

The real life experience is that pre-opening teams do not last a long time as there is a lot of stress involved and after an opening event another team may take over for a set amount of time. Pre-opening is fun in that not many people have that kind of experience. You normally go to a hotel and it is already open, but with a pre-opening you suddenly understand how kitchens are designed, and tested. The pre-opening process also allows you to be more creative. For example, in the hotel I pre-opened, instead of having a trolley for the house-keepers, we took a typical Louis Vuitton trunk and set it up vertically, and added wheels so that staff could use that as their trolley.
 

A lot of hotel brands like Marriott have guidelines for pre-opening a hotel, so we basically follow those standards. But at the same time you have the Sales and Marketing team getting bookings for the opening day. One week after the inauguration ceremony we had people coming every day, so they would fill the hotel, stay one night and then leave.
 

What challenges does China present in terms of the hotel industry, and how does it differ to experiences you have had in other countries?
 

The pace is extremely fast, which is a major difference between Europe and Asia. The workload in Europe can be 9-5, where as in Asia, be it China or Dubai, the pace is a lot quicker. Also, working in a hotel that is not in your country, and in a cultural environment you are not familiar with is a big challenge, which I love. I think it is a new frontier, there is a certain sense that China is the new frontier of the world.  
 

What is your experience of timeshare rooms, and do they significantly affect the day to day operations of a hotel?

We don’t do any timeshare at this hotel, but at my second Marriott hotel in Majorca, we did a timeshare, which means that you buy the time on a room, or a villa, and the contract is that you own this room for 99 years, but only for a set amount of time, e.g. for one week at the beginning of August. That was fun because the people in a timeshare know the place and they just want the keys and their privacy. However, I am not aware of any time share programmes at Marriott hotels in China.
 

What position in the hospitality industry did you find to be the most challenging?

To be honest, when I have a challenge I am really interested in it and it really appeals to me. The first big challenge was moving from the reception desk to housekeeping. The second one is moving from Spain to Dubai. If I don’t have a challenge I wont be able to thrive and grow.
 

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At Marriott how do you deal with employee retention and training?

One of the biggest challenges in China is employee retention. It’s very difficult to tell an associate to stay. When another hotel offers them a big salary increase, they directly go for the money rather than thinking: Who is going to offer me a career? Sometimes they sacrifice long term goals for short term profit. Our retention is based on the fact that we want to build careers. We have great training plans, we look for leaders and we set up a growth plan for those leaders. Every year we have a discussion with our boss in which an employee’s performance is evaluated. You have one mid-year evaluation, and one end of year evaluation. So we try to make people understand the fact that they need a career. We have training programs for supervisors and managers, especially in this hotel, HR provides constant training for specific roles and training for future career goals. 
 

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What steps do you and Marriott take to adapting a hotel to a different culture?

We have tools in place to help staff adapt to different cultures. We have a lot of online learning tools and resources. There is one in particular that I like called the Cultural Wizard. Basically you ask questions about China and the software provides you with an overall picture of the country. Also, to be honest the value of Marriott lies in the fact that if I go to a Marriott in Mumbai or Tokyo, it’s usually the same service and standards. But we do have other brands like the Renaissance, where one of our core values is to be indigenous. When you go in our ambassadors will be able to tell you about places that are not ‘tourist’ spots, so you can enjoy more of the local culture. We also try as much as possible to employ staff from the local area.  
 

You have been working for Marriott for over 10 years. Can you tell us about working with Marriott and some of Marriott’s future plans for China?

China is Marriott’s largest market after the USA. We plan to have 120 hotels in China by 2015. China and India both have the potential for huge growth. In India, we are adapting one of our brands to the local culture Fairfield Inn. And I wouldn’t be surprised if China got its own brand of specially adapted hotels. So we put a lot of importance on the Chinese market and we indicate to other hotels outside of China how they can better accommodate Chinese tourists, for example, by removing the 4th floor.
 

What did receiving the Best of Tianjin Awards mean for you and the Renaissance Lake View Hotel?

It was an absolute honour, especially in-front of so many people! I think it’s a great initiative; Tianjin needs this kind of meeting where the leaders of the financial sector of the city get together and discuss the future of Tianjin. So that was a great initiative and receiving the prize was fantastic.

  

By Matthew Baum

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