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COVER STORY: Good Living at the Westin
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altWhen it comes to places of excellenent, elite hospitality in Tianjin, the Westin Hotel definitely tops most people’s list. As one of the leading venues which represent the Starwood brand in the city, the Westin Tianjin is the perfect place to stay the night or to simply just visit in order to enjoy the finest food, drinks and facilities. The Westin’s recently appointed general manager, Mr. Ugur Lee Kanbur, spoke to our editorial team about how his hotel maintains its hard earned position as the best hotel in town.
 
It is a pleasure to speak to you about both your role as the GM and the Westin Hotel Tianjin more generally. Can you start by giving our readers a brief insight into your professional background?
Sure, and it is a great pleasure to welcome you to our hotel today! I am originally from Istanbul, Turkey, but I moved to Australia where I studied accounting as my major. After a while I decided that the course didn’t really suit me. I wanted to do something more exciting and more fulfilling for the kind of person I am. 
 
My first stint in the hospitality sector was with Hilton where I worked in the bars, restaurants and nightclubs for about 9 years. After that I travelled around Asia working in different hotels, in places such as Shenzhen, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Mumbai and then to Wuhan which was the first time I took on the GM role. I have spent a lot of my career working in the food and beverage side of hospitality, as well the rooms side of things, so I would say that I know quite a lot about all aspects of the industry.
 
Give us an idea of the ins and outs of running the hotel. Surely it’s quite a challenging role?
There are challenges of course, but it really isn’t too difficult if you have the right attitude and approach to the job. I would say that my personal background helps me a lot. Anybody who has ever been to Turkey will know that we place a lot of value upon being happy, and we also want to make other people happy; you could say that hospitality is in our blood!
 
It is largely a matter of knowing how to take care of people. Firstly you need to know how to take care of yourself. For instance, by learning what you like and what makes you happy. If you can make yourself happy, you can easily make other people around you happy; in Starwood we call that GPS - global personalisation at Starwood. I really believe that if you don’t get out of bed with the right attitude every morning then this will have a negative impact on you and your teams. You need to choose your attitude when you wake up, and through doing this you can inspire other people to do the same. 
 
The other important philosophy I have, which I always tell my team, is: ‘Don’t work hard, work smart’! That way we can get more done and we enjoy our jobs more.
 
altWhat appeals to you most about the Chinese hospitality sector and which cities in particular have you enjoyed working in?
I really like opening hotels, and up to now that has been one of the great things about working in China. In fact, our company is opening a hotel nearly every two weeks on average! I was part of the team which opened the first ever Westin hotel in China the Westin Shanghai. The country is growing tremendously and luxury hospitality is one industry which has thrived over the last few years.
 
I really like Tianjin because it is like being in all the other a big cities; only much greater value for money. Dining out here is great and in terms of culture and architecture especially, there is a wonderful combination of old and new. It is a great place for me and my family to live. 
 
I would probably say that my favourite place overall was Shenzhen. I love the city because it has a great culmination of different Chinese cultures and it has great access to Hong Kong and Macau. It is also very easy to travel from there to the rest of Asia and the world. 
 
You have worked for Westin and other Starwood brands for some time now. How does it feel to be part of such an elite company within the sector and how does the Westin brand stay ahead of its competitors?
Other hotels, even those within the Starwood family, have slightly different focuses and approaches to their service. I am really attracted to the Westin brand because it promotes wellness as its key mantra. Being well and living a good life is what the Westin experience is all about. This is very much my focus on a personal level. I want people to get the most out of life and really be able to relax and recharge between working!
 
Our core values are ‘personal, instinctive, renewal’. People come to our hotel and enhance their sense of wellness. As a team we create a unique experience which allows our guests to feel physically and psychological renewed after staying here. In our lobby, for example, we make subtle changes to the lighting, use White Tea Scent throughout the day and candles in the evening, to give guests the feeling of being in a spa type setting. Moreover, our rooms have the most Heavenly showers, baths and Heavenly beds you will get in any hotel, anywhere in the world. 
 
We also have our ‘super foods’ program, which includes a range of foods that contain antioxidants and phytonutrients, with exceptional nutritional properties, promoting food synergy and wellness. The entire service package we offer revolves around the key theme of wellness, and this sets us apart from the rest of the market.
 
The Westin offers some great schemes and services for families. Please can you tell us about that?
That’s certainly right. We recently launched our ‘Westin Weekends’ whereby you can come and stay on Friday, Saturdays or Sundays and have breakfast late, check out late, and enjoy a range of great activities to help you and your partner recharge after a hard week of work. We also have our ‘Lazy Sundays’. On Sundays you can get up in time to have a late brunch then basically eat, drink, have massages or do whatever you want to relax by being lazy for the rest of the day, including afternoon tea. On Lazy Sundays we also open a special kid’s area between the hours of 11:30am- 6:00pm. Children can play in there with the toys, colouring books and other activities we provide. Whilst knowing that they are in a safe environment, you and your wife/husband can enjoy doing your own thing, e.g. enjoying a spa treatment at a 25% discount at our Heavenly Spa; just mention "LAZY" to get the discount.
 
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Your hotel is also well known for its excellent fitness facilities. Can you tell us about that?
Absolutely. We have the Westin Workout, which is our fitness studio. It has a great range of excellent, high tech equipment and offers guests and members a superb setting to work on their fitness objectives. We offer a range of classes for yoga; coming soon are kickboxing, dancing and other popular fitness activities. There is a specially designed area whereby people can do their run on the treadmill and look out the window at the bustling Nanjing Lu etc, as opposed to looking at a wall and getting bored.
 
Our pool is listed as one of the best in the city. It is very spacious and has a lot of natural light. We also have rooms which have their own fitness equipment so that people can guests can do exercise in private; these are our Westin Workout rooms.
 
What are some of the things your company is doing to fulfil its obligations in terms of CSR (Corporate and Social Responsibility)?
It is certainly very important that all companies do what they can to help the local community and the regional environment. We are all responsible for taking care of ourselves and other people around us. Companies and individuals have an important role to play in taking care of both the general ‘person on the street’ and the next generation of children. Our company sponsors events and works with different charities and NGOs to help, for example, children with disabilities and neurological handicaps, Unicef. Our Programs encompass assisting students with disabilities to learn various life skills. We also recently held our Children’s Day in which we invited some deaf and dumb children from one of these institutions to come to the hotel and experience dining here, making cookies and decorating them, etc.
 
The other aspects are things such as utilising energy and water saving technologies. We follow strict quotas in these areas and so far we are exceeding our targets in relation to energy saving.
 
Lastly, what do you have lined up in the near future as the GM of the Westin Hotel Tianjin?
We are currently number one in Tianjin when it comes to rooms, revenue and overall ranking. I have only been here for 3 months so far, so there is still plenty of work for me to do in terms of introducing new services, promotions and other projects. We have recently launched a number of very exciting Food and Beverage programmes and there are many more to come over the next few months.
 
One area that I am going to focus a lot of my efforts on is food and beverage. We need to make some slight adjustments and do more work in areas such as marketing in order to become Tianjin’s most top dining and entertainment hub. I look forward to 'Wining and Dining' at The Westin with my fellow Tianjiners - See you here soon!
 

by Josh Cooper 
 
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