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Hotel Managers' Top Travel Tips

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© Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

A hotel’s general manager is a source of deep travel expertise.

It almost goes without saying that no one knows a hotel better than its general manager—its de facto CEO. But GMs don’t just know their hotels well. Each of them is also a font of knowledge about hotels in general and can therefore help you make the most of your stay—especially when you’re away on business. Their business is hotels, after all, and much of it involves staying in places that aren’t even their own, on the road for sales and marketing calls, industry conferences, brand meetings and team-building retreats. So we’ve turned to the expert GMs at five of the most exciting new hotels in the world to find out what makes them tick. Among them, they have well over a century of experience in the industry, so we also asked them for some tips and tricks they’ve picked up along the way, pointers that’ll help business travelers get all they can out of their next hotel stay.

Matthew Dixon:
Corinthia Hotel
Doris Greif:
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Pierre Perusset:
Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
Robert Rechtermann:
Conrad, New York
Marco Selva:
St. Regis Bal Harbour

 

Hotel Managers: Matthew Dixon
© Courtesy of Corinthia Hotels

Matthew Dixon

Corinthia Hotel, London

As the British-born Dixon tells it, he owes his career to childhood trips to the barber: “My grandfather took me to have my hair cut at the Savoy, and if I behaved really well, we’d go to one of the restaurants there as a treat afterwards. That stuck with me. After I left school, I went straight to work at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, and I never left.” In actual fact, Dixon’s path took him to Asia and back, and through nearly every hotel job one can have: “Whatever it is, I’ve done it, which is incredibly helpful when it comes to empathizing with your staff and working with them on operational issues.”

He had a chance to learn the dollars and cents—or, as it were, pounds and pence—side of the business from some masters too. Of his time with Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, he says, “Never before had I seen all levels of staff so heavily engaged in an appreciation of how hotels make money and what they have to do to make money.” Later, working for Rocco Forte, he recalls Forte reminding him that “ultimately a hotel is a real estate deal with a management contract hooked to it. That has to be well set in place for a hotel to succeed.”

Now, as GM of Corinthia’s London flagship—a 300-room property that opened in May 2011 with an ESPA spa, two restaurants from Michelin-starred chefs and a clubby bar designed by David Collins—Dixon enjoys working for another titan of the industry, Corinthia Hotels & Resorts founder and chairman Alfred Pisani. “He set the company up 50 years ago, and he’s still the man who has the vision for it,” admires Dixon. “It’s very inspiring to have that connectivity to the vision.”

The Hotel Manager’s Smart Tip

Dixon advises: “When you get to a hotel after a long flight—those are the most draining of energy, no matter how flat your bed—make sure to work out within an hour of arriving. It gets you in a much better frame of mind, whether you are just going to sleep or have to carry on for the rest of the day.”

Hotel Managers: Doris Greif
© Courtesy of Jumeirah Group

Doris Greif

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi

The lone female GM in a city of 130 hotels—10 of them new in the last year—Greif once wanted a job even less frequently held by women: “Growing up in Munich, my dream was to become a car mechanic,” she recalls. “But my father, perhaps in his wisdom, didn’t think that very seemly, so he sent me to Munich’s Hotel School Kermess. I never looked back.”

She’s worked almost exclusively in the Gulf since 2000, largely for Jumeirah in Dubai, where she had her first GM role at the Jumeirah Beach Club. She likens working in the region to being on a world stage, saying, “Every meeting you have is with myriad nationalities.”

Indeed, her current 382-room hotel—which opened in November in Abu Dhabi’s tallest building and is awash in crystal chandeliers and 155 different kinds of stone and marble—boasts staff from almost 60 countries and has pulled guests from more than twice that. “There is a truly international element constantly at work in the Gulf, ensuring things always remain vibrant, on the move and connected to the wider world. I find this extremely stimulating culturally, intellectually and commercially.”

As for being a woman in a predominantly man’s world, Greif acknowledges the occasional challenge but finds at least one distinct benefit: “I think I’m a little more in tune with what other women want and expect when they travel, and given that many travel decisions are made by women these days, that provides some room for advantage.”

The Hotel Manager’s Smart Tip

Greif advises: “Always secure access to a hotel’s club or executive lounge. Not only do they provide privileged services and gourmet delights, they give you a space to relax or work after checkout if you have an awkward late-night flight—and you won’t have to pay for a room for another night. Some, like ours, even have a shower room where you can freshen up before you depart.”

Hotel Managers: Pierre Perusset
© Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

Pierre Perusset

Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

For Perusset, choosing a life in hotels was originally all about the uniform. Growing up in Switzerland, he became enamored of the “immaculately pressed, classically tailored red uniforms” worn by the doormen at Europe’s grandest of grand hotels, and he envisioned wearing one himself someday. Today, as GM of Hong Kong’s new Ritz-Carlton, he may not quite find himself in that outfit, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s surpassed his childhood dreams: His 18-month-old, 312-room property is the highest hotel in the world, occupying the 102nd to 118th floors of HK’s recently completed International Commerce Centre.

But that’s not the only reason his latest Ritz-Carlton post—he’s been with the company since 1999 and is now in his sixth GM role—has him feeling like he’s on top of the world. “We’re at the doorstep of the fastest growing travel and luxury market in the world: China. My staff and I are introducing many of our new guests to Ritz-Carlton for the first time, effectively shaping their views on service and luxury.”

That’s some hefty responsibility, but nothing Perusset isn’t prepared to handle: “Every country and every city I’ve worked in, whether Jakarta, Doha, Osaka or London, brings fabulous new cultural perspectives, but ultimately our mission remains the same. I come to work every day to create memories for guests that will stay with them long after they check out.”

The Hotel Manager’s Smart Tip

Perusset advises: “We’re seeing a growing interest on the part of business travelers to participate in community development, environment and wildlife conservation projects. So when booking their stays, I encourage guests to ask about a hotel’s community initiatives—Ritz-Carlton’s Give Back Getaways program, for example.”

Hotel Managers: Robert Rechtermann
© Courtesy of Conrad New York

Robert Rechtermann

Conrad, New York

“My earliest memories are of going to hotels,” says Rechtermann, who opened this new outlet of Hilton Worldwide’s top luxury brand in March, in Manhattan’s Battery Park City. “I grew up in them.” He’s not exaggerating. The New York–born Rechtermann’s German father came to the U.S. in 1962 and had a 42-year career with Hilton, eventually as a GM himself. “When I was a kid, hotels were the coolest thing in the world to me, so glamorous.”

What he calls his “first unofficial jobs” were all at his father’s hotels, lifeguarding, bellhopping. After graduating from college with a degree in hotel management, he completed Waldorf Astoria’s management training program, then worked his way up in posts at Los Angeles’ Long Beach Hilton and Shutters on the Beach, Boston’s Ritz-Carlton and the Peninsulas in Chicago and New York. He landed his first general manager role at this last spot, overseeing its $35 million renovation. He loved it.

“As a GM you get the short-term satisfaction of making guests happy, but you also get the long-term gratification of putting a great team together and watching them succeed,” says Rechtermann, who lives in Connecticut with his wife and three sons. Hilton lured him back from Peninsula with the opportunity at the 463-suite Conrad, where he’s been since a year before the opening. “Here, I’ve surrounded myself with people from different brands, from Mandarin to Waldorf,” says Rechtermann. “We can read each other’s thoughts when it comes to luxury.”

The Hotel Manager’s Smart Tip

Rechtermann advises: “Especially when you go international, use the concierge. I always ask, ‘What can I do? Send me somewhere tourists don’t go.’ The concierge team can help you understand a town’s nuts and bolts, send you on a quick walking tour with a map. That’s what they’re there for. And if you come back to a place often, then you’re creating a relationship. Between the concierge and the bartender, you’re all set.”

Hotel Managers: Marco Selva
© Courtesy of St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort

Marco Selva

St. Regis Bal Harbour, Miami Beach

From Nicaragua to New York, Miami to the Middle East, Selva’s career has taken him for quite a ride. Born in Nicaragua, he came to New York for school, and eventually studied at Switzerland’s Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne and Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. By then, he’d already started working in top hotels—having discovered a love of luxury while valet parking Bentleys and Ferraris at a high-end restaurant in the New York suburbs. Hotel school introduced him to “how people from all over the world do business,” he says, exposure that served him well as he moved on to manage hotels in the Caribbean and Middle East. From there, he worked for Ritz-Carlton in Miami, opening its hotel in Coconut Grove and earning or maintaining five-diamond AAA ratings for all three of its Miami properties. “Not many GMs have three five-diamond properties,” he says, somehow boastful and bashful at the same time.

Ritz next moved Selva to oversee 20 hotels in Latin America, the Caribbean and the American Southeast, a portfolio that introduced him to the investment and development firm Gencom Group, which hired him as an executive vice president for the company’s luxury hotels. He loved the work, but he missed the day-to-day running of a hotel. That’s when the new St. Regis Bal Harbour—an elegant three-tower beachfront complex of nearly 500 rooms, suites and residences—came calling. The fit couldn’t be better.

“Being a hotel person is about being able to relate to people, to understand and anticipate their needs, not only of the guests but of your staff,” says Selva. “In the luxury segment, you meet amazing people every day. I feel very lucky and very grateful to have a window into a very exclusive world.”

The Hotel Manager’s Smart Tip

Selva advises: “Most guests don’t ask for it, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of business at a hotel, get yourself set up in an office. Very often there are office spaces or meeting rooms that aren’t being used. Someone will be more than happy to provide for a private room next to the business center. At the St. Regis, your butler can even make photocopies. Why struggle at the desk in your suite?”

Andrew Sessa is a travel, food and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Departures, Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit, The New York Times and Town & Country.


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