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COVER STORY: Going Above and Beyond Guest Expectations, Exclusive interview with Hugo Montanari, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin
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Going Above and Beyond Guest Expectations

Exclusive interview with Hugo Montanari

General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin

By Nadia N.

2100574011Hugo Montanari is an elegant and mature hotelier who has joined The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin, after having gained experience of strong hotel leadership in several continents. Having a rich pedigree in international hotel management, Hugo Montanari has enriched the iconic The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin with his 12 years of operational excellence. Business Tianjin spoke exclusively with Mr. Montanari about his principles, ideas, future plans and, of course, Tianjin.

You have been managing top profile hotels in different countries. After this tremendous experience, what brought you to mainland China?

Firstly, what's brought me to China is curiosity. I have been quite fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work in different countries and with people of different backgrounds, therefore China appealed from that perspective as well. I was born in Italy but have been working and living in Bangladesh, India, Papua New Guinea, Dubai, USA, Switzerland and many other countries. However, all in all, I have spent most of my life in Asia. When I received an invitation to work in China, I agreed, and my first hotel - The Ritz Carlton, Yalong Bay - was located in Sanya, Hainan. It was an amazing experience living in the new environment, exploring Chinese culture, meeting people from diverse backgrounds while managing the resort. The next step of my experience in China has been Tianjin, where I greatly enjoy my life and work.

1260506540 1Having experienced living and working in several continents, what are some crucial aspects of integrating in new culture in terms of hotel management?

In my view, there are three main aspects. When coming into a new culture that is other to yours, respect is vital. Differences in culture bring along differences in food, language, habits, ways of thinking and taking decisions. As a result while managing the hotel, you need to be respectful and tactful. Another key skill is the ability to adapt: to surroundings, to the way people think and act, new ideas and suggestions. Occasionally, I am truly fascinated by the new "out of the box" ideas that my colleagues come up with and this is due to the absolutely different perspective that they have. Lastly, patience is another significant aspect of being a hotelier in China. Patience and seeking to understand my team while having language barrier and different ideas, is a key to successful performance in the hotel.

The hotel industry is still growing and rapidly developing in China. How do you maintain your staff and build up your team in such a fast-changing environment?

First of all, I build it up as a family and out of mutual respect. Taking the position of General Manager of the hotel, I still consider myself as being a part of the team, and of course, we are there to take care of our guests, to satisfy them and answer their expectations. To achieve this goal, I need to take care of my team. With the fast-changing hotel industry in China and variety of opportunities there are, it is necessary to share the same values and maintain family-like environment among the team. People will definitely stay if they see clear goals and understand the way of personal development. That's why I have frequent development conversations during which we discuss plans about what we can do for them in the future. You must stick by your word. The result is all members of the team realise their opportunities through confidence and knowledge. Overall, we were very pleased: the staff turnover has reduced to less than 13% this year.

The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin is certainly one of the most famous and glamorous hotels in China and the world. What are the main factors in your opinion that influence customers to choose The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin?

It is definitely a combination of several factors. To start with, we have a wonderful building -- one of the most beautiful ones in the city. We thank our ownership group for that -- they have invested heavily in this project and even brought in a French designer. When arriving at the hotel, everyone experiences this "wow" factor. However, it is only a first impression.

Most importantly, we have our three-step service. At the first stage, we always warmly greet our guests by their name and provide them with a warm welcome. The second step is anticipation and fulfillment. Our team goes above and beyond to provide our guests with practically anything they require. For instance, picking up documents from the business district, bringing left luggage from the airport and so on -- everything will be done without delay on special request. And as for the third step, we always give every guest a fond farewell using their name as well.

It's this kind of top quality service that increases our memorability and establishes loyalty amongst our customers. The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin is a luxurious hotel with corresponding prices and our guests are expectedly looking for value for money. Their expectations go way beyond the beautiful decor and facade. If the guest is willing to pay more to stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin we need to satisfy even their unexpressed wishes and expectations.

758340545The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin not only has great rooms, but also features several recreation and dining facilities that are well-known among locals and expatriates alike. What tools do you use to manage them and maintain top level service?

First, we have Flair - the bar and restaurant - featuring a wide collection of spirits and drinks and serving South-East Asian cuisine. Secondly, we have two restaurants - Zest and Tian Tai Xuan. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for our guests as well as Sunday family brunches are served in Zest. Our Chinese restaurant, Tian Tai Xuan, serves a mix of Cantonese cuisine and Tianjinese local food.

As for organising and managing different departments, The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin has a guidance team, each member of which is specialised in a role: Chef, Food and Beverage Director, Director of Rooms, HR Director, Engineer, Sales and Marketing Director. Each of them is a leader of their own teams, taking care of their own divisions. As a General Manager, I also spend a lot of time in each department mentioning the details that make a difference. To ensure best quality service, we have a clear training plan for each of our ladies and gentlemen when they join on board to help them understand the relation between people and processes.

What are the most significant specialties and services that The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin offers to guests?

As The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin welcomes a lot of families on weekends, the hotel offers a variety of specialties for children. Firstly, when you check in you are going to find a tent in your room for your little son or daughter - The Ritz-Kids Safari - where they can play (they are also given a torch) and even sleep with their teddy bears. Kids are also given a special passport giving them the opportunity to play treasure hunt around the hotel. We find it's very important to make sure that kids can have a great time at The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin. Secondly, it is the unique feeling of coming into the castle-like building of The Ritz-Carlton. It is combined with the residential feel - each guest gets this warm feeling of being at home while sitting at the lobby, entering the Club Lounge or staying at their room rather than feeling like they're just in a hotel.

1498850320 2What do you think needs to be done to develop Tianjin and its lively hospitality industry?

As for The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin it is located in the city centre and can be easily accessed from main city's most important locations - airport, railway station, Wudadao and so on. In my view, having worked in actual resort The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya, I would describe The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin as an urban resort. A lot of guests are already coming to enjoy their time. However, it is important to bring up Tianjin not only as a business destination, but also a touristic one. Neighbouring Beijing, Tianjin has large number of historical places and attractions. It is truly a great place to visit for both Chinese and international guests. This is where Tianjin hotels are required to continue to market it in order to both drive up the rate and attract more tourists in Tianjin.

Tell us more about upcoming events and new services that The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin will have in future.

In terms of events, we have a strong focus on food. For the moment, our executive chef is practicing a very special ritual: making eight courses for eight people. He does it in a small location in the hotel, while cooking amazing dishes created by himself and sharing stories about his life and experiences. We had great success with this ritual in October and we are planning on holding it again in November and December. Also this year we are planning on holding a spectacular Christmas celebration. Alongside all the festivities, we are going to have a giant gingerbread city, made by our pastry chef. As for services, we are looking into creating a number of special experiences for our guests - concerning food, rooms and special offers.

The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin has expanded and opened The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company's second residences in its China portfolio, The Ritz-Carlton Executive Residences, Tianjin. Tell us more about these projects.

On September 28th we had the grand opening of The Ritz-Carlton Executive Residences and we believe this is something new in terms of exclusivity for Tianjin. Residences are made to maintain and to ensure total privacy of our guests. They also feature great number of facilities - library, meeting room, breakfast room, movie room, gym, sauna and so on. Even if The Ritz-Carlton Hotel and The Ritz-Carlton Residence share the same decor and design, the latter has its own service team and doubles most of the hotel facilities. The Residences also feature bigger living space (90 to 300 sqm), air purification units, high quality appliances and absolute privacy. It gives a very comfortable, exclusive, yet elegant feeling.

1080081819 1
We know that you are a family-orientated man. Can you tell us more about how you and your family spend time in Tianjin?

I have two children, and along with my wife, we are enjoying living in Tianjin. In fact, it is to my children that I owe the idea of focusing on families and kids in The Ritz-Carlton, Tianjin and bringing more ideas concerning them. As for my family, all of us spend a lot of time travelling around the world. Both of my children were born in different countries so as children of the "third generation", they adapt to local culture, food and language pretty quickly. They are very lucky to have amazing opportunities to play with children from different countries. As for my wife and me, we enjoy doing sports. This is a way for me to unwind and get more fresh ideas. Also, we enjoy exploring new things, such as food, restaurants and places. I firmly believe that before assuming that you dislike something, you need to give it a try first. It also goes for traveling - Guilin, Xi'an, Kunming, etc. - such a wonderful country has a lot to offer.

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