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November 19, 2010

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'First employee' repositions Fairmont Peace Hotel icon

WHEN veteran hotelier Kamal Naamani first visited Shanghai in April 2009 as the new general manager of the iconic Fairmont Peace Hotel, he stared at a construction site that scarcely held a clue to the building's majesty when it opened in 1929.

But that was just nothing unusual to Naamani, a Canadian Lebanese who has extensive experience in restoring heritage hotels during his 17-year career with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. The Fairmont brand very much sees itself as a "custodian" of many restored landmarks worldwide.

In fact, Naamani was well-prepared to embark on yet another conservation journey, this one with the city's legendary Peace Hotel, once called the "Mansion in the East."

"It is always a lot more challenging and exciting for me to restore and reopen an old luxury hotel because people know old hotels and have their own expectations," says Naamani. "The biggest challenge of all is to preserve the heritage while at the same time allow the guests to experience the best."

Restoration and renovation took around three years and cost more than US$64 million by the time the 12-story, 270-room Fairmont Peace Hotel - a luxurious Art Deco masterpiece - reopened on the Bund on July 28.

Among the city's finest, the hotel features two spectacular elements that had been concealed in previous "restorations" - an octagonal glass skylight and an entire mezzanine level. It has renovated the famous Nine Nations Suites, turned the former residence of Sassoon into a Presidential Suite, and added a new sky-lit swimming pool and spa, as well as the Peace Gallery where hotel memorabilia are displayed.

"Every effort has paid off and feedback from the guests is very positive," says Naamani, who would like to call himself the first employee of the hotel. "Basically, the reward from repositioning an icon is, in the end, that the product is so unique and different, and there's just a lot more pride in it."

However, for industry veterans like Naamani, that's not enough to make a great hotel.

"It's all about the people working there. We want our guests to leave with great memories," he says. "We're proud that we have a dedicated team of colleagues and leaders that also help deliver the Fairmont Service Promise and turn moments into memories for our guests!"

To sharpen its edge in the non-stop search for hospitality talents, Naamani says the hotel welcomes Expo workers to join the Fairmont Peace Hotel family.

The spontaneity, ingenuity and strength demonstrated by Expo workers during the six-month event are highly valued qualities at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, which recognizes the impact of each individual contribution and the importance of maintaining a cooperative and supportive work environment. "We need good people in almost every area and we want to help them grow with us," Naamani says.

2009: Appointed as general manager for Fairmont Peace Hotel

2001: Joined the pre-opening team for Fairmont Dubai

2000: Appointed as hotel manager in Bermuda, to re-brand the hotel to Fairmont Southampton and oversee the refurbishment and repositioning of the hotel.

1997: Joined the iconic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and was involved in the restoration and repositioning of hotel.

Atlantic Sea Bass "En Papilotte" in The Cathay Room is baked in parchment with aromatics, with roasted Medjool dates and Champagne sauce. When the parchment is puffed full like a pillow and opened at the table the guests inhales the aromas of the fresh bass steamed with Champagne and fresh basil and dill. The soft sweetness of the caramelized Medjool dates pairs perfectly with the Champagne sauce. The dish serves two. Please call The Cathay Room for reservations, 6138-6881.

Reviving the music of the 1920s, The Jazz Bar is now home to young star Theo Croker. Acclaimed as the future of New Jazz and influenced by a variety of music, Croker has put jazz in Shanghai back on the map. His grandfather Doc Cheatham was Louis Armstrong's trumpet player. Now Croker joins The Jazz Bar to continue the legacy of his family and of the bar. The Old Jazz Band continues to be a fixture at bar, playing daily from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. The Theo Croker Sextet plays from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30pm to 12:30am. Reservations recommended.

To commemorate the birth of the legendary landmark in 1929, the Fairmont Peace Hotel presents a special worldwide offer - 1,929 yuan (US$290) for a Fairmont Room per night. Includes daily breakfast for two in The Cathay Room or in-room dining, welcome cocktails for two in The Jazz Bar, high tea for two in the Jasmine Lounge, complimentary access to the Fitness Center, and complimentary guided hotel tour. This offer requires a minimum stay of two consecutive nights and is valid through March 31, 2011. For reservations, call 6138-6950 or go to Subject to availability.


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