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Dialogue: Making foreign guests feel at home in Tianjin. Interview with Anthony Ow
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Making foreign guests feel at home in Tianjin

Interview with Anthony Ow,

City Manager of Tianjin and Vice President of Corporate Operations China,

The Ascott Limited


by Jon Martin


WBT201510_060_Dialogue__001-_97A4312Due to their great level of service as well as growing market demand from foreign professionals, serviced residences have become very popular in Tianjin. We had the opportunity to interview the Tianjin Area Manager of the most experienced serviced apartment management company in the city, and talk with him about what he thinks makes The Ascott group stand out from the competition.


Mr. Anthony Ow is the Vice President of Corporate Operations in China and City Manager of Tianjin for The Ascott Limited.  Having previously worked in a variety of places including Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, India and Indonesia, he just arrived in Tianjin in August and is responsible for all of The Ascott’s properties in Tianjin.


The Ascott Limited operates three Somerset serviced apartment locations in Tianjin, in Heping and Hexi districts.  They cater mainly to international residents looking for a place to call home while they are working here in the city.  Next year, they will be opening their premium serviced apartments, Ascott in the TEDA Binhai Development Area.


We sat down with Anthony to talk with him about Ascott’s plans for Tianjin and his outlook on the hospitality industry in the city.


You just arrived in Tianjin in August.  Can you tell us about your previous experience and how you ended up here?


I’ve been with Ascott for 9 years, and I spent 4 years in the Middle East opening properties in Bahrain, Qatar, and Dubai.  We now have 6-7 properties lined up to open in the Middle East.  At one point, I had 21 different nationalities working for me.  After that I worked in India in Bangalore and Chennai before being sent to Surabaya, Indonesia for 2 years.  Now, here I am in Tianjin.


Our company gives us options and tells us when there is an opening somewhere, allowing us to apply.  Sometimes they will encourage us to apply for a certain position if they feel we are well suited for it.


You previously worked in several other countries. How does the hospitality industry in China and Tianjin differ from those areas?


I think it’s the same because all of our guests are international guests. Whether you have, for example, Japanese guests in Tianjin, Indonesia, or the Middle East, their requirements are all basically the same.  The service standard is still there.  They require the basic services that are given to them. We have to always honour what we agreed upon.  It doesn’t matter if they are Japanese, Korean, European or from any other area, we need to understand their culture and requirements. That is why Ascott is all over the world, virtually everywhere except for the African continent.


What are some of the specific requirements your customers have when choosing a residence in Tianjin? Do these requirements differ from your customers in other locations?


I think what’s important for the guest is number one, privacy. Number two is location. Because what they want is convenience. The services around the area are important such as schools, restaurants, etc.  Privacy is important in that they want the privacy to feel at home and do what they want.

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After we have fulfilled these requirements, most guests’ requirements are basically the same regardless of location or nationality. In this region, when the weather is bad, guests generally want an in room air purifier as well, which we provide in every room.


As serviced apartments in Tianjin go, what makes your three Somerset locations in Tianjin special and allows you to stand out?


Our guests want a good location, high quality service, and want to feel at home.  This is the most important thing.  We make our guests feel at home and feel comfortable.  It’s different from a big hotel with several hundred guests.  We know the names of our guests and remember what they like and don’t like.


We had one guest at our Singapore location that stayed for 25 years.  He could have bought a house with the money he spent, but he wanted to stay.  It’s about the people and service.


What steps do you take to maintain quality and consistency at all of your properties in Tianjin?


I think most important are spot checks at our properties.  Listening to what the guests want, talking to them every day at breakfast, and making sure to put their suggestions and requests into practice. You have to make it happen.  I always have to look for ways to improve our service and make our standards higher.


How do you go about choosing the locations for new properties?


We are open to different locations. Of course, as I mentioned, it is important that we get the location that is right for our guests for what they want.  We are willing to work with everybody.


We always do a feasibility study and financial report and see how the location would work out.  If both the potential property owner and management company are happy, then we move forward.


If a customer is looking at choosing a serviced apartment in Tianjin, what advice can you give them on what they should look for?

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I think the best advice is stay in Somerset and we provide the rest for you.


We provide all the services and everything in your room including pots and pans and glasses.  You can move in with just your luggage and settle down.  The guest services will introduce you to Tianjin, even take you to the market and around the city.  You will instantly feel at home.


What are The Ascott Limited’s current plans for expansion in Tianjin?


At the moment, by next year we should be opening our premium brand property, Ascott Limited in the TEDA region.  Despite the explosion, we are still on track to open on time.  Everything is going smoothly.  Our offices will start to operate from next week onwards and will open very soon.


If we have other opportunities to expand, we are open to it. Why not? We still believe in China and believe in Tianjin.  China is the largest market in the world.  With Airbus and Toyota here, we have lots of opportunities.


With the slowdown in the economy in China over the last few years and the recent stock market declines, what is the outlook in China for the hospitality industry and serviced apartments?


I think it will still be great.  The company still feels strongly that China is the place to be.  Wherever there is business and FDI, people need to stay somewhere.


People coming for projects or to work for two or three years need somewhere to stay.  Serviced residences are here to stay in China. Nobody can stay in a hotel for more than a week.  Their rooms are small.  Our rooms are big and comfortable.


With an international team and a diverse group of customers, how do you manage cultural differences?


I think understanding them is one of the main issues.  Once you understand them, you can understand all of the guests.  For me, it is much easier because I have been through this experience of getting to know them many times.


If you understand them and what they want and think, it makes it much easier to work with them. So, understanding is most important.


Having lived abroad for several years, what are the things you miss most from your home country of Singapore?


Family. For the past 9 years I’ve been working all over the world.  My family is at home.  My boys are big and I have one daughter, our little monster, who is 10 years old.  So it is very difficult for them to travel with me.  One boy is in the army and my daughter is in school. I miss them and get to go back very often.  I think they will come visit in October or November.


After a long day, it’s wonderful to sit in front of the computer and talk on Skype with my family at home.  There’s nothing better. I can go without Chicken Rice or Laksa for a couple months, no problem.  But, my family I really miss.


Do you have any suggestions for new expatriates arriving in Tianjin for the first time? How to get settled in and live and work in a new place?


Explore and be adventurous.  Tianjin is very safe and clean.  Go out and walk around or go jogging along the river.


We are near the Wudadao area and it is a great part of the city to visit for the day. When I first came here, I went jogging every day along the Hai River.  It’s very nice. If you stay with us at Somerset, we’re happy to get you settled in to Tianjin.


Thank you for the interview.  Would you like to add anything else?


One advantage of our company is that we bring along a lot of weight with the CapitaLand brand name.  It is a large company with several large properties here in Tianjin, including several towers and shopping malls.


We are international and look forward to welcoming our international guests and making them feel at home.


 

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