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A passion for perfection gives Swissotel unique identity

Having spent the last three years in Shanghai as the general manager of Swissotel Grand Shanghai, Julian van den Bogaerde has found China a really magnetic country where the hotel industry is extremely dynamic.

The European native is an international hotelier with a distinguished career in hospitality spanning more than three decades on four continents. He has also been the vice president for Swiss?tel Hotels & Resorts' China operation since March 2009.

He has some strong ideas about what a true luxury hotel is and the major challenges hoteliers are encountering not only in China but also globally. He also shares his own story about how his 30-year professional journey with "people" first kicked off.

Q: As one of the three brands under FRHI, what is the core value of the Swiss?tel brand and where does its strength lie compared to other five-star international hotels?

A: As a brand, Swiss?tel is distinctive in its unique attributes due to its Swiss heritage - the mountains, unspoiled nature and what is known as Swiss hospitality. It is best defined by our culture, which is one where individualized service is imparted with efficiency and charm and reflects the finest traditions of Swiss hospitality -- reliability, efficiency and warmth.

Our key competitive advantage lies in our credo "A Passion for Perfection," be it in terms of the centralized locations of our hotels, contemporary designs, to our caring services planned with the comfort and convenience of business and leisure guests in mind.

Q: As a seasoned hotelier with extensive experience involving a couple of premium hotel brands, what's your personal understanding of luxury? As a general manager, what do you think are the most important elements for a hotel to succeed?

A: While luxury could be considered to be something that is an indulgence rather than a necessity, within the context of hotels, I believe that most guests truly desire and expect to enjoy sumptuous living during their stays. Ultimately, our guests' memories and how we touch their hearts during their stays will amount to much.

A successful hotel has to get all the basics right, great location, well-designed facilities, creative food and beverage concepts and ultimately, warm, caring and reliable service. As a hotelier, I enjoy being with a company that sets out to take a creative approach toward design that is not only based on the successful fusion of Swiss cultural references, but also ties in with individual local styles, to create a real sense of "place." And in this way, we can also reach out to the local community and welcome them to our hotels.

Q: Do you perceive any notable difference in running hotels in different countries? In Shanghai where the five-star hotel market is extremely competitive, what's the major challenge you are encountering at the moment?

A: While the goal is normally the same, how you get there and achieve your goals can differ from country to country. Acknowledging that there may always be differences in the way things are done in a certain country or culture, and understanding and accepting it, and working with it, will most likely bring the best outcomes.

Finding and retaining the right people is a challenge that most hotels face globally. And in Shanghai it is no different, especially with the growth in supply of international-branded hotels stemming mostly from the recent 2010 World Expo Shanghai period. But beyond that, changing aspirations in young people here, especially amongst university graduates, can mean that a career in hotels does not receive as much of their attention or interest compared to other industries, probably due to the perception of demanding hours and shift work. It's a real shame!

As a brand, we are lucky to have in place a stable team of senior management who have been with the company for many years and understand our brand and guiding principles. Over the years, we have developed a system of processes and training programs which will put us in good stead for future growth.

Q: Besides the general manager's position, you also work for the corporate office as the regional vice president for Swiss?tel's China operation. Which role is more attractive to you and why?

A: Both roles present different sets of challenges and sense of accomplishments. Being on the ground at Swiss?tel Grand Shanghai and working with the team of colleagues has provided more insights into Swiss?tel's operations in China. As the second largest economy globally, the hospitality industry in China is extremely dynamic, and I have had the opportunity to work in both roles. It would be impossible to choose between the two but I know I would definitely choose to stay in China!

Q: When and where did you start your hospitality career and what's your first job? What motivated you to choose the hotel business as your career? What do you enjoy most in your job?

A: My hospitality career started back in 1980, in London, UK, when I was fortunate to be accepted as one of only a few graduate trainees in a rather large international company, with diverse interests beyond just hotels.

Initially I pivoted between front office management and food and beverage management, enjoying both disciplines. But finally I elected to pursue a career primarily in food and beverage management. My motivation for choosing the hotel business as my career relates directly to what I enjoy most in my job now, and that's people, people, people ... and the enjoyment and pleasure it gives me seeing happy guests and colleagues.

Q: Anything else you'd like to highlight or share with readers?

A: To reward and recognize the most frequent and loyal guests, Swiss?tel Hotels & Resorts has launched a new exclusive loyalty program: Swiss?tel Circle. Members are accorded preferential treatment and special privileges at all properties of the international hotel chain.

The membership for Swiss?tel Circle is divided into three alpine-inspired tiers: Inizia, Elevà and Zenit. These categories make reference to the brand's Swiss origin and are expressions from Romansh, the fourth official language in Switzerland and language of the craggy eastern Alps - a region where Swiss tourism was born.

Not only are the benefits of Swiss?tel Circle intriguing, but the look and feel of this new loyalty program is interesting through use of Swiss-themed paper-cut circles underlining Swiss?tel's roots and love of detail.

Best deals

Advance Saver: At least seven-day advance purchase rate saves up to 25 percent off the best available rates. Guests also get complimentary access to the swimming pool and fitness center as well as free Internet access.

Swiss?tel Grand Shanghai offers a wide selection of food and drinks at Café Swiss, a revitalizing work-out at the health club, or a place to unwind at Flow lounge & bar. It is valid until December 31.

Rates are subject to 15 percent service charge. Full pre-payment is required and is not refundable. This offer cannot be booked in conjunction with any other promotions or discounts.

favorite dish

In Switzerland, autumn sees the leaves turn many golden shades and the sun lowering in the sky, spreading long shadows across mountains, lakes and pastures. Its cities, towns and villages prepare for the snowy times ahead. With the colder nights, come the thoughts of sharing delicious, warming alpine cuisine and cheese fondue with family and friends around roaring log fires. Alternatively, come to Café Swiss and enjoy a fondue here.

2009 ~ present: Regional vice president of Swiss?tel Hotels & Resorts, China

2008 ~ presentGeneral manager of Swiss?tel Grand Shanghai

2007 ~ 2008: General manager of Swiss?tel Hotels & Resorts, Zurich, Switzerland, including pre-opening; general manager of Swiss?tel Grand Efes, Izmir, Turkey and interim general manager of Swiss?tel Ankara Turkey

2005 ~ 2007: General manager of Swiss?tel Amsterdam, Netherlands

1999: Vice president of Food & Beverage of Raffles International Limited, Singapore


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