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COVER STORY: Helping Guests Feel "At Home", A Chat with Jens Corder, General Manager, Shangri-La Hotel Tianjin
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Helping Guests Feel "At Home"

A Chat with Jens Corder

General Manager, Shangri-La Hotel Tianjin

By Eric Reid

BT 201705 COVER STORY 01 97A3710 400x400Shangri-La Hotel Tianjin is situated on the east bank of Haihe River in downtown Tianjin. With 304 guest rooms, 79 apartments and over 5000 sq. meters of banqueting space, it is one of the largest and most visible hotels in the city.

Hong Kong based Shangri-La chain of hotels is China's "Backyard Brand" with 58 of its 95 properties located in the mainland. The Shangri-La Hotel, Tianjin opened to much acclaim in August, 2014, and has since won numerous awards for its hospitality services.

Genral Manager of Shangri-La Hotel, Tianjin, Jens Corder, has been with Shangri-La chain for over 20 years and has previously worked at their properties in Singapore, India, Hong Kong and Mainland China. Jens recently joined BT for a brief conversation to celebrate his 1st year anniversary as GM.

BT 201705 COVER STORY 04 cs 97A3728 400x600Congratulations on your one-year anniversary! How has your opinion of Tianjin changed in the last year? How would you say you've settled into life here?

When I first flew into Tianjin one year ago I remember being awed at the expanse of the city. The infrastructure and atmosphere of the downtown also amazed me. I love Tianjin's mix of historic charm and modern development. I often go walking around the French Concession in the old antique market streets and just recently I enjoyed a live Cross Talk performance in a theatre on Ancient Culture Street.

When I first arrived, I was slightly worried about the location of the hotel being on the east side of the river, but I've found that it is actually perfect. Its proximity to the train station and airport, convenient connectivity with the Riverview Place Mall, along with the breath-taking views of Haihe River visible from every guestroom render it the ideal hotel location in downtown Tianjin.

You have been with Shangri-La for over 20 years. Could you tell us what it has been like to work for Shangri-La? What makes it a special brand?

I initially did my hospitality training in Australia at a top school in Brisbane and worked in Brisbane and Sydney for some time before moving on to a stint in Helsinki Finland. But at that time the economic environment in those places weren't thriving and Asia really attracted me as a fast-growing place with many opportunities. I was eventually accepted for a position in China World Hotel in Beijing and I haven't looked back since.

Shangri-La prides itself on being a brand that develops its own talent: at the time I started working, the brand was expanding aggressively and there were many opportunities for me to learn and grow. Shangri-La's culture is to look after colleagues while pushing each other and pushing the brand to greater heights. As the brand has expanded across the world, we've evolved into a preeminent 5 star-brand in China. At the same time, Shangri-La still doesn't feel like a massive company; there's a high degree of connection between staff around the world and the feeling of being part of a larger family.

hl 13Could you please introduce the hotel and its facilities to our readers?

The award winning dining outlets at Shangri-La start with Shang Palace, our signature Cantonese restaurant with over 40 years of history. We have 7 local Cantonese chefs employed there to ensure authenticity and quality of food. We also have the Cafe Yun for all day dining with six open theatre kitchens and the Lobby Lounge with live jazz in the evenings. We have a floor dedicated to health and wellness with a pool, a gym overlooking the river and spa. The top-floor Horizon Lounge is our "oasis on top of the city".

BT 201705 COVER STORY 02 cs 97A3694 400x400You've mentioned the theme of "home away from home" as a major selling point of Shangri-La brand. How do you balance the grandeur of a 5-star hotel with the closeness and comfort of a home?

I think Shangri La works hard to focus on human elements of the hotel experience. We aim to achieve a level of natural comfort with the customer, less formal and based on familiarity with the customer and his or her personal preferences. We work very hard to know our customers and anticipate their needs. In our eyes the customer's level of comfort is the highest priority. This level of comfort has little to do with the glitz and glamor of the space and it has everything to do with our staff's genuine human connection with guests.

Another way by which we help guests feel "at home" is through our food offerings: every hotel serves a Caesar salad, club sandwich and bowl of wonton soup. Our idea has been to start offering more home-style dishes on our menus. Simple food with strong flavours is a great way of evoking a sense of home and we're also looking to add some home-style "bowl foods" to our room service menu.

How would you compare the Tianjin hospitality market with other cities in which you've worked? What is the long-term outlook here and how will Shangri-La Tianjin need to adapt?

hl 14I always say that it's very difficult to compare cities; each city has its own native charm, culture, etc. However wherever I've worked over my career what has impressed me the most is how the local population supports the hotel by joining the gym, using the facilities for banquets or weddings and making the place a destination in the city. The local Tianjin community has been outstanding in this regard.

I am very confident about the future of Tianjin's hospitality market. While there are many hotels, the level of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) coming into the city suggests sustained positive growth. We're seeing an increase in cruise ship tourists that elect to stay in Tianjin instead of venturing to Beijing. The Italian-Style Town, Porcelain House, Wudadao area, British concession buildings, etc. provide Tianjin with its own unique charm and life.

BT 201705 COVER STORY 07 天津香格里拉大酒店外景图What major events can we expect at the Shangri-La in 2017?

hl 15Over the next few months we have several new food promotions. In April we will be bringing a Middle-Eastern chef from Shangri-La. Pudong, and then in May we'll be hosting an Indian chef at the hotel. This is partially to cater to our guests from those areas, but also to take advantage of local guests' increasing curiosity and interest in global cuisines. In December of last year we started a promotion at the Shang Palace called "Shang Fu" where people were able to rent out a dining area in the restaurant as a private party space. In the coming months we'll also be looking at bringing Cross Talk to the restaurant as a way of attracting out-of-city guests.

Over three nights in July, we are bringing to Tianjin Two-Michelin-Starred Azur, allowing gourmets the chance to experience Michelin cuisine while dining on the top of Tianjin in our 32 Level Dining Lounge. The event will kick off with a gala opening event, followed by two nights of set dining, and afternoon events in our Lobby Lounge. And as well, options for companies to book corporate lunches.

BT 201705 COVER STORY 03 Cafe YunWhat accomplishments are you most proud of in your first year as GM? What has been the most memorable experience of your time here thus far?

First and foremost, I'm very pleased at our low level of staff turnover. To me this implies that the staff enjoys working at Shangri-La and feels well-treated here. It also ensures that we can maintain a high level of service and familiarity with our customers. I've also been pleased with our ability to grow the business of Shangri-La in all aspects, from catering and events to room bookings. We're also growing our wedding business significantly and hope to become the destination of choice for weddings in the city.

BT 201705 COVER STORY 03 Shang Palace Shangfu Ding RoomThe rise of the so-called "Internet of things" is pushing the development of many industries. How has increased technology and connectivity affected the hospitality industry and how are you making use of these advances?

Possibilities that this sort of technology offers are endless. At the same time we take a cautious approach, making sure that any technology we implement is reliable and secure. We're currently testing and implementing a number of ideas, including facial recognition technology, which would let customers check in automatically as soon as they enter the hotel. We're already using a paperless check-in system, which allows guests to check in and check out on a screen with receipts emailed to them.

We were also one of the first hotel chains to embrace online payment systems such as Wechat Wallet, Alipay, Apple Pay, etc We're currently preparing to implement a VAT i-cloud information sharing system, which would share your Fapiao information instantaneously among all Shangri-La chains globally. Hopefully these technologies will significantly improve guests' overall experience over the next few years.


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