Shangri-La Dubai's director of marketing Anny Tan, financial controller Rajeev Garg and health club and spa manager Mike Monsod talk to Hotelier Middle East about working as a team to establish the brand name outside the FarEast.
Director of Marketing
Anny Tan originally came to Dubai five years ago to work on the pre-opening team for Traders Hotel, Shangri-La's second brand.
"While waiting for Traders to open I assisted with the PR for this hotel, so I became very familiar with it," she explains. "Six months after Traders opened, I moved to Shangri-La Dubai.
We want to empower our employees; we encourage them to have confidence in their own opinions and decisions.
Nowadays, Tan is in charge of sales, communications, events, reservations, marketing services and revenue.
"On a day-to-day basis the heads of these departments and myself spend a good part of the morning discussing, strategising and sharing information. Dubai is such a volatile, vibrant city - you don't even know what will happen next," she says.
Although recruitment and staff retention is a challenge, Tan says around 50% of her team have been with her for more than two years. Indeed encouraging staff loyalty seems to be a strong focus at Shangri-La.
"[The group] is a relatively small one; that shows in the way we are a bit more personalised than big chains where you're just another name in a list of email addresses," she says.
Tan's main task at the Dubai property has been a tough one: positioning the brand in the region.
"When we first arrived people weren't too familiar with Shangri-La, so we had to explain what we were all about," she says. "But now, because Shangri-La and Traders are so well positioned, we are able to bring incremental business to our properties in the Far East.
As the first Shangri-La property outside the Far East there was a great deal of emphasis placed on maintaining the brand ethos, Tan explains.
"We work very closely with of corporate office, of course: the brand is very important, and to bring Shangri-La outside the Far East for the first time is a big deal.
"But obviously there are going to be things that work in the Far East that don't work here," she adds. "Being the pioneering team in this region, we worked with our corporate office very closely to communicate the differences in the market and then implement changes where necessary.
We knew that we couldn't lose sight of the brand, but of course for Shangri-La to go global, certain things had to change."
Regarding her fellow executive committee members, Tan believes the team members balance each other out well.
"Our committee members are all from different parts of the world, and all bring different things to the team. We work together very closely, along with our general manager, and the mix works well," Tan says.
"Of course we have differences of opinion from time to time, but...the fact that we have that freedom to speak out and voice our opinions is an important part of the Shangri-La employee concept: we want to empower our employees; we encourage them to have confidence in their own opinions and decisions.
Director of Finance
Rajeev Garg joined Shangri-La five and a half years ago, and says he enjoys working in Dubai.
"Working here is easier in some ways, with this being a tax-free country," he says.
"Back in India tax was a huge thing to tackle on a yearly basis. Over here, it is much simpler!
We knew that we couldn’t lose sight of the brand, but of course for Shangri-La to go global, certain things had to change.
"My role here at Shangri-La Dubai basically entails making budgets, forecasts, monthly profit and loss accounts," Garg continues. "Producing these reports involves all the other departments, so we work with everyone to get a proper financial picture of the property.
The financial department is broken up into various sections, Garg explains: "Purchasing, receiving, income audit - the list goes on!
All staff are trained and involved in development and promotion schemes.
"I'm a prime example of that," Garg says. "I joined this hotel in 2002 as chief accountant. After a year I was promoted to assistant financial controller, then in 2006 I took over as controller.
"This company is quite focused on internal promotions," he adds. "There's a real emphasis on developing and nurturing the talent that we have. And regarding retaining staff, the training element can play a vital role."
However Garg admits retaining workers has proved to be a challenge: "We've seen a lot of turnover, to be honest with you, what with the new openings in Dubai and all across the country.
However that does not deter us from doing the training and empowering our staff to make sure they're doing a good job. We make promises and keep them; we want to see them develop and progress at Shangri-La.
And despite competition for good staff, Garg is upbeat about the future.
"The whole industry is on the up; there is no down-side at all," he says.
"We are not an exception - everyone in Dubai is doing well - but we have done reasonably well. The room rates have seen tremendous growth since we opened, and this is where the profitability is sustained."
However he anticipates financial challenges in the coming year.
"I think in this part of the world managing the cost is becoming a challenge for a lot of us now. And it isn't about cutting corners, it's about someone who pays a handsome rate and must be given a handsome facility.
So it's all about maintaining cost with high inflation, so people will still pay for the product," he explains.
Whatever challenges do come along, Garg says he is extremely content in his position at Shangri-La.
"I see my role as not in the front line, not dealing with guest interaction at all, but my job's to provide the support to others [on the executive committee] so they can do theirs right," he explains.
Mike Monsod came to Dubai three years ago from a Shangri-La resort property in the Philippines.
"Before then I'd worked at other resort properties for seven years in total, so when I got the opportunity to come to Dubai I thought why not - it's a new place, it's a new city and there will be new challenges," he says.
Working here is easier in some ways, with this being a tax-free country. Back in India tax was a huge thing
Monsod admits that there are significant differences between a resort and a city spa.
"In both scenarios you have a percentage of captured market, but the kind of clients you get are different," he explains. "In a resort property they're leisure guests most of the time; they have a chance to browse the treatments, decide which ones they want to try.
Whereas here in the city the challenge is that everyone's on the go - the majority are business clients. So you need to cater your treatments to these different clients and making sure you can reach the market," he says.
Shangri-La's spa brand Chi is based on traditional Chinese concepts and philosophies and medicine.
Monsod explains: "Here in Shangri-La Dubai it's not a Chi spa, but we feature treatments from the Chi range. The reason behind that is because of the structure of the facility, and because we have a strong gym presence. The Chi concept is very spa related, but this is more of a health-club and spa".
Monsod's team comprises 27 fitness instructors, lifeguards, therapists and receptionists.
"The majority of my staff have been here for five years, but of course there are a few leavers and people who transfer," Monsod says.
Getting a replacement can be a challenge, because we have to make sure they have not only the right qualifications but the right attitude. You can train anyone to do a massage, but if they don't have the right attitude then it's just not worth it.
Monsod adds that recruiting staff is a big issue for the spa industry.
"One way we're dealing with the staffing difficulties is by looking at our different properties for staff who might be willing to transfer. We've had two therapists who have joined us from sister properties, so we've managed to keep the talent within and minimise training time," he says.
"To train a therapist up to performing standard takes at least three months, so what I do here is based on what training they already have when they join, we then start training them further on our procedures and standards.
If they're new to the Shangri-La system they have to be brought up to speed one by one on each treatment.
Monsod adds that he works very closely with the property's executive committee. "We are part of a big organisation, so to function effectively we all have to communicate and have good relations with all the divisions. To achieve what we want we have to be able to work with them," he says.
"Of course we all have our priorities and we all have our challenges, but I think it's evidenced by where we are in the market that we are doing very well and that we're functioning well as a team.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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