How long has Novotel been involved in China?
As far as I am aware, Accor has been involved in China since 1986 and managed the properties – Novotel Guangzhou, Guilin, Xian, with the current Novotel Beijing, Shanghai and Sofitel Shanghai.
What is your own personal experience of hotels in Asia?
Prior to Beijing, I was in Thailand where I managed two different properties on Koh Samui and Phuket.
How does managing a hotel in China differ?
* We have to live and work with a bureaucratic system (rules and regulations, state policies, social and welfare of the people – such as family planning – are our responsibility).
* There is Party 'A' which consists of local party, and Party 'B' which consists of compatriots, overseas Chinese or foreigners and a legal representative from Party 'A' will be appointed to live and stay in the hotel.
* We have to focus on relationships to get confidence and support from the local authorities, owners, staff etc.
Is there any advice on working in China that you wish someone had given you before you started, that you now feel would have been invaluable?
The key point, not only for China, is to learn about its social system (insurance, payroll, welfare, salary scale, union, retirement) and the way it works. In this way, one can get a feeling for the people and the country directly.
Do you think that China's attitude to the service sector is changing? What difference does this make to your work?
The attitude in the service sector is changing but there is still a lack of management expertise when it comes to technical skills.
Due to the lack of a proper "Hotel Training School", the standard of upcoming service
staff is low and they can only be trainees. In our hotel we have to train them so that they reach an acceptable standard.
How adequate is the support of the tourism industry in China?
The hotel infrastructure is sufficient but the main problem for some cities is the lack of available air seats. With the new reform policy, priorities must be given to the road, highway and train – for example, car rental, though there is now one company in Shanghai.
Lin Zeshang of the Chinese Tourist Board in London said recently that "service is the inherent weakness in China" – to what extent do you agree with this and how much do you think that standards have improved in China over the past ten years?
I do not know about the last ten years, but according to those general managers who have been in China for the last six years, there seems to be a big improvement.
For myself, over the last two years, I have also seen improvements with new joint venture hotels coming on the market with their Standard Opening Procedures as guidelines for their staff. We have the same common interest in the staff training.
To what extent do you think that an improvement on the number of international flights to China would boost tourism figures?
Increase of more international flights annually would certainly bring more tourists, but the prices of these flights should stay competitive with America or other countries in Asia. Being 8-9 hours from Europe, China is no longer a long haul destination.
Which sector do you believe is growing faster in China – the tourism or the business sector?
The business sector in China is booming bigger and faster than tourism because the economy is growing rapidly in Asia and particularly in China. The world economy is looking at the potential of China with its one-third of the world's population.
With the growth of the Special Economic Zones, do you feel that business in Beijing is suffering?
No, Beijing is the capital and people have to come to Beijing for legislation of documents, trade offices, headquarters, entertainment etc.
Generally speaking, an economic zone is a production zone with manufacturers and factories requiring a representative office in Beijing.
Do you have any plans to open hotels in any other areas of China?
Yes, in provinces like Yunnan, Xian, Wuhan and Guangzhou.
Which city do you see attracting the most visitors in the years ahead and why?
Beijing is attracting the visitors and local Chinese because of its historical background and monuments, the variety of tourist spots, wider choice and good quality hotels, renowned Beijing cuisine – "Peking duck"! And Shanghai comes second to Beijing.
Can you give me an idea of your room rates for this year? With competition increasing, to what extent are you being forced to drop your prices?
We never drop or dump our prices as we follow the market very closely, and it is recovering.
In comparison with our surrounding 4 and 5 star hotels who are not our direct competitors, our walk-in rate of US$65 is an attractive price for 1993.
Address: Novotel Beijing, 88 Dengshikou, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100006, China. Tel: +861 38822. Fax: +861 5139088.