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DIALOGUE: Living the High Life at Somerset International Building Tianjin
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altSomerset International Building Tianjin, managed by The Ascott Limited, a member of CapitaLand, is one of Tianjin’s most iconic centres of commerce and accommodation, and was named a “Five-star Commercial Building” by the government of the Heping District earlier this year. Only five buildings have enjoyed this inaugural honour. This is absolutely great news, especially for a complex building with a 20-year history.

Since Ascott purchased the development in 2010, a series of important upgrading projects have been put into place and some new projects are being scheduled now. The newly completed Mechanical Car Park built on Xinhua Road, is right next to the complex. It is a masterpiece, the first of its kind in Tianjin!We recently had the opportunity to experience it. From the outside, it appears to be a 10-storey high building with a large area in the front, this apparently allowing ample maneuverability of a vehicle. Start your parking by swiping yourcard at the barrier, then drive into the waiting area according to the indication. There are entrances to three garages at the front and three garage exits at the back. A computer allocates cars to different garages, efficiently shortening any queuing time.

It was time to drive into the parking building. You wait about a minute for the garage gate to open. Drive in, stop properly on the platform, turn off the engine and put on the hand brake. Thensaw the real deal from the inside. To our amazement, it is really just like the one in the movie Mission Impossible 4! All the cars can be lifted to allocated floors. Now you simply step out and swipe your card to confirm identity. Viola, you are done! The operator kindly showed us on the monitor how a car on the platform was being lifted and slot into a lot. Every driver in Tianjin should pay a visit to this new cool mechanical parking to see for themselves and experience the convenience!

Mr. Daniel Wee is the Singaporean Deputy City Manager for the 3 Somerset Serviced Residences in Tianjin. He has been with Ascott China for a few years now, moving from Shanghai to Tianjin. He spoke to us about life in the serviced residences and the new changes coming to one of the most prominent buildings in Tianjin, the Somerset International Building.  

First of all, congratulations for winning the “Best Serviced Residence Operator” at the Best of Tianjin Award earlier this year. How did this award affect you and your properties?

Thank you! We deeply appreciate your recognition and it is an honour to receive the award. It is an acknowledgement of everyone's efforts and that we are on the right path. There is a branding when we receive this award... it is the brand of 'Trust'. We are operating 3 branded Somerset serviced residences in Tianjin managed by The Ascott Limited, a member of CapitaLand. Two of which have built a reputation of more than 10 years of being in the market. For business travellers and tourists alike, they have found a second home with us. So winning this award encourages our confidence in our businesses here and wins the trust of being a leader in this industry.

As a Singaporean in a Singaporean company, you must understand the brand and its related concepts more deeply. How does the Ascott brand stand out from the competition?

Singapore is a small and relatively young country with significant position in the world. Same as the country, 29-year-old Ascott is fast developing, especially in China. Many new residences are signed or opened every year. We now have properties in over 80 cities, across 20 countries all over the world. No doubt we are the world’s largest serviced residence owner-operator. Managing so many properties, we have more ability to make decisions, perfect our service, and set up service/operational standards. Our staff too, will have the opportunity to grow together with the company and accumulate more experience to become professionals in this industry. With these two powerful weapons, Ascott is setting the trend and always exceeds expectations.

Singapore doesn’t have any natural resources except human resource. So when it comes to representing Singapore, we are at our best in the service sector. So there is pride of course, that Ascott is a Singaporean company and that we have established our name internationally as a leader. To live up to the high standards we have set ourselves, we will constantly upgrade and learn along the way. Our culture is simply to exceed expectations. This pushes us to discover and expand further.

Could you tell us about the recently launched concept: “Ascott Lifestyle”?

In this new world, businesses are moving so fast and everyone is travelling everywhere, moving to new environments. It can be a very dramatic change for guests and their families adapting to new surroundings. The 'Ascott Lifestyle' has been created to minimise inconveniences and to maintain our residents’ lifestyles so that they feel the upmost comfort during adjustments. Residents of different nationalities are offered personalised services and thoughtful attention for them to enjoy carefree home living and comfort with peace of mind. We are always advocating our local community living environment by providing opportunities for residents to meet one another. Also, Ascott is focusing on the idea of defining global green living. The idea is to encourage residents to cook in our kitchens with healthy ingredients and have fun with home-cooking,to exercise in the gym and to encourage energy conservation together with us.

How does Ascott interact with residents’ lives outside of their apartments?

Our three residences in Tianjin are located in either prime districts or within the vicinity of convenience living. We have different facilities and programs to complement each other. This not only adds more value for our residents, it also creates a bigger community of friendships. Our Residents Activities, which bring together residents from all three properties, are always attended by staff as well. After residents spend more time with us during a relaxed vacation they feel more personal to us. These outings have gone down really well! Many foreigners have also come to know China much better.

How do you update and maintain your residences?

With new projects entering the market, managing a historical landmark can be an ideal thing. Our reputation distinguishes us from others. Little works have been done on the exterior because we want to maintain the iconic familiarity. But facilities are constantly improving: new technologies, systems, equipment and appliances. Renovations are currently on-going to create a 36th floor city view comprising a brand new lounge and gym due to complete by end of the year. Our breakfast lounge, incidentally newly launched in January 2013, is upgrading again simply because it has gained encouraging compliments from residents and guests. Similarly, our newly completed mechanical car park recently commenced operations already. 

Maintaining good and long relationships with residents and tenants alike, it is prudent that we upgrade to service them better. ‘Word of mouth’ is the best advertisement!

Why build a Mechanical Parking Building?

The complex project being old, that is why we are vigilant in our improvements. The advantage is that we have a mature service system and experienced staff. On the other hand, with so many new projects are entering the market, offices or serviced residences, we must go a step further in order to maintain the leading position.

Located in the CBD, the heart of the city, we have the pleasure of providing 180 more parking lots for the public. This is a big relief for those who risk illegal parking we used to see everyday! This technology is first in Tianjin, yet it rings in revenue, why not?!

The space could be used for other things, right? Like more offices or residences?

Yes, that could have been more profiteering. But we ultimately decided on this novelty technology in the hope of providing a thoughtful service. Ascott is always aiming to exceed your expectations and yet be a leader!

How does it benefit your residents?

We started selling the parking space not too long ago. It has been delightful to see people accepting and liking this new product. Actually, such a modern parking building is not a completely new thing in metropolises like Shanghai and Beijing. More of our residents and clients can enjoy the convenience of the new parking building.

Is the Parking Building only opened for people in the Somerset International Building? Or it will be opened to public?

Yes it is opened to the public as well. There are so many office buildings and institutions around this area, finding parking is often a problem. I think it will be great to help avoid those illegal parking tickets and often road obstruction. It is a facility to service internal use and the public.


How is life at the serviced apartments different from life at a normal hotel?

As we mentioned about the lifestyle, we are focusing on “living” more than “staying”. You find yourself living like you would at home in a serviced residence. Our service staff members are trained to know and understand your preferences and habits. It is a friendly community living environment with familiar neighbours rather than strangers everyday, making you feel safe and comfortable. Our spacious living areas and kitchens in every apartment are obviously a lot better than a typical hotel room.

Last year we launched an “Ascott Host” program especially for our long-stay and selected short-stay loyal guests. With this program, guests receive individual attention from their designated ‘Host’, who will do their utmost to help settling into a new environment as easily and as soon as possible. Communication starts even before the guest arrives. The Host will email information regarding the residence’s facilities, amenities such as supermarkets, hospitals, schools, or other matters of concern. We want to ensure all relevant local services & information is available for our guests to minimise any worries. This communication stays avid as long as assistance is required, and the Host has a contact number for the guest to call immediately if needed. The program is scheduled to be extended to all customers in the future.

We are also aware of the language barrier which may happen at the most inopportune time. That is why we have iPads, preinstalled with translation software, situated at different departments if the need arises. We make your concerns our priority. Once you live here, you’re going to love it!

What environmentally friendly initiatives do you implement at the serviced apartments?

Ascott is implementing the “Go Green” concept worldwide. Every year we participate in Earth Hour and also encourage our residents to do likewise. Energy conservation tips are placed in every apartment to remind residents to save water and electricity. Garbage sorting is also implemented in every residence. Printing is done on recycled paper. So many things to go with the Go Green concept. 

Business Tianjin speaks to Mr. Daniel Wee, Deputy City Manager, Tianjin, Ascott China
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