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May 27, 2011

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Cycling for a good cause

ROBERT Rippon, general manager of Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake, recently came back from his five-day, 500-kilometer cycling trip from Xi'an to Beijing, an Accor Group fund-raising event for HIV/AIDS impacted children in China.

With 16 other Accor executives from China, Australia and India, Rippon completed the "Le Kids Warrior to Wall" ride from May 6 to May 11. They raised US$125,000, easily surpassing their target.

Rippon has always loved cycling and enjoys the nice environment and atmosphere for cycling in Hangzhou, but the charity ride was his first long-distance road trip. Each day, they cycled about 100 kilometers and the last day included a route along a stretch of the Great Wall and concluded at Tian'anmen Square.

Shortly after he arrived to his post at the Sofitel in Hangzhou, Rippon started training - three hours and 75 kilometers every Saturday and 30 to 40 kilometers every Sunday.

"The hills in Hangzhou are very good for training since the five-day ride also included quite a few mountainous areas," the Australian tells Shanghai Daily.

The ride is an extension of Accor's lasting program "Empowerment Builds the Future," which started in 2009 in collaboration with the Chi Heng Foundation and care for families living with HIV/AIDS.

The corporate social responsibility initiative has established a workshop in Henan Province, an area where many families have at least one relative with HIV/AIDS. They recruited and trained women from these families to produce eco-friendly bags. The bags, with pink stripes, are sold at all Accor hotels in China. The proceeds are used to provide educational opportunities and scholarships for local children, just like the funds raised from the five-day cycling ride.

Henan Province is also where Rippon first worked in China as he became general manager of Hotel Sofitel Zhengzhou in 1998. It was one of only two international hotels in the city at the time.

"People in Zhengzhou were very friendly and welcoming, I liked it very much," he says. "They were less hectic, and they took a little more time to be socially active rather than focusing just on business. I liked it very much."

Since arriving in China, Rippon has spent seven years in Shanghai, during which two significant events took place - the APEC summit in 2001 and World Expo 2010.

Rippon says he was highly impressed by both events, which also kept him pleasantly occupied. As general manager of Sofitel Shanghai Jin Jiang Oriental Pudong, which is near the Expo site, he received five presidents and numerous ministers and celebrities during the six-month event.

"It was fantastic. Prior to Expo, many people were concerned whether it would produce the value that everybody expected, in terms of business. It went far beyond," Rippon says.

As a hotelier, he has witnessed and experienced many funny and sad things, and has also learned to appreciate these small incidents.

"Any hotelier will tell you that they wish they could write a book because there are so many little incidents that happen in hotels," he says.

"The whole collection of small things is just incredible. So I'm always prepared to handle the good and the bad all the time with dignity and grace since we deal with humans on such a vast scale every day."

Having dealt with such grand events, Rippon has now brought his experience and vision to Sofitel Hangzhou West Lake, which features splendid views of the famous lake from most of its rooms.

Rippon's vision includes two important elements.

"First, it is the staff, who are ambassadors of the hotel. Without them, you are nothing," he says. "Secondly, we are very lucky to have the best location in the city and we do take full advantage of it."

He adds it is very important for the staff to understand the brand's French heritage.

January 2010~currentGeneral manager of Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake

December 2009~December 2010General manager of Sofitel Shanghai Jin Jiang Oriental Pudong

January 2007~November 2009General Manager of Sofitel Macau at Ponte

July 2001~January 2007General Manager of Novotel Atlantis Shanghai

Best Deals

The Seasonal Break special package for the summer offers customers three nights for the price of two or four nights for the price of three. Underlooked Perks

Robert Rippon strongly recommends customers choose an executive floor room, which entitles them to the use of the executive lounge. He says many customers who stay on the executive floor don't take full advantage of the lounge's impeccable view of West Lake or its excellent services. Favorite Dish

There are two restaurants in the hotel - Chinese restaurant Yong Jin Ge serves local Hangzhou flavors and the Western restaurant ART6.

Rippon chooses Spicy Chili Beef as his favorite dish at Yong Jin Ge. His seven-year-old son, who just started using chopsticks, also loves it and often calls it the slippery beef.

Rippon is also proud of the selection of French cheese from the Western restaurant, which contains varieties that one can't find outside of the hotel in Hangzhou. It is another highlight of the hotel's French origin.


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