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May 13, 2011

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From wild to West Lake

Situated only a few minutes away from the West Lake, Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale Hangzhou is very different from where Chris Dexter, the hotel's general manager since January 2009, has worked before.

Dexter's early career in the hotel industry was spent in Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Kuwait and Zambia, the varied locations providing him with many exciting tales to tell.

"I have got a lot of animal stories, and you can pick from pythons, crocodiles or hippopotamuses, among many others," the Brit says with laughter.

During his two years in Zambia between 1991 and 1993, Dexter saw a lot of huge and ferocious animals at the hotel, as it was set next to Victoria Fall in an area with rich natural tourist resources.

Dexter still remembers how the hotel's pond frequently attracted wild beasts. Once, the hotel lost more than 20 ducks from the pond in one month, and the mystery was later solved when a 5.5-meter-long python was caught and cut open by the guards one night.

A few months later, a hippopotamus came up the river and into the pond. The hotel had to evacuate all the guests and called in a hunter to shoot the beast.

"The hotels I have worked in are not in places where everyone travels, especially in those early days, and they have given me a broader education of different cultures. It is very important to understand local cultures and values, even if you don't understand the language," Dexter says.

He has spent four years in China, working in Chongqing for one of the first international hotels there from 2001 to 2003, and in Hangzhou since 2009. In his time here, he has learned a lot about Chinese culture.

"Here, it is important to make sure that 'face' respect is given. In some ways, China is evolving so fast and the culture has also been changing fast during that time," he says.

"Adults in their late 40s, 50s and 60s have witnessed and experienced tremendous changes, which also influenced their values. But young people in their 20s have very different viewpoints from their forefathers."

Dexter recalls how the two years spent in Chongqing at the beginning of the century were very different from his past two years in Hangzhou. Taking the post after working for a few years in Thailand, it was his first time in China and everything was new to him.

"It was a very exciting experience that I couldn't have had anywhere else in the world," he recalls.

"For example, we were actually recruiting bell boys who had first-class degrees in English and can recite Shakespeare. That won't happen anywhere else. And that won't happen here today either."

He adds that many of those prestigious employees were spotted by Western businessman at the hotel and offered great jobs later.

When Dexter came back to China to work for Wyndham Grand, he had a clear vision of building the friendliest hotel in Hangzhou at one of the best spots in the city. Many rooms have a lake view and the elegant ballroom opens up to a large terrace facing the mountains near the lake, offering a romantic view in the evenings.

"I take a general view for the operation of the hotel, like a helicopter. I don't like to micromanage people, I would rather macromanage them," he says.

So Dexter has hired people who can work with his vision toward the friendliest hotel. The effects are clear.

At the lobby, before checking in, guests are welcomed by guest ambassadors, a unique service offered by the hotel. The ambassadors are all Westerners who speak fluent Mandarin.

"For me, it is more important to hire someone who has a great and sincere love for the language, the culture and the country, rather than flying hotel management graduates all the way from Europe," Dexter explains.

"I want to have the hotel filled with friendly, people-oriented, infectious and enthusiastic atmosphere."

The success of his vision was proved and highlighted in the first year of operation, when the hotel was noted No. 1 business hotel in Hangzhou on leading travel website TripAdvisor in 2010.

Best Deals

The hotel publishes a free monthly brochure detailing deals and events held at the venue. Each month, it plans special seasonal events and has different types of live bands performing in the cafe to suit a variety of tastes. Underlooked Perks

Dexter urges guests to take advantage of the hotel's health club, which features not only a tropical swimming pool, but also sauna and spa facilities, a billiards room and a table tennis room. Even if guests can't swim, it is nice to enjoy the comfort offered by the club's facilities. Favorite Dish

The hotel's restaurants, both the main cafe with a buffet and the Sawadee Restaurant specializing in Thai cuisine are unlike those found among other hotels in the city. Dexter is especially proud of the wok fried crab with onion in yellow curry sauce. He is always working with Khun Pia, the Thai restaurant manager, and Khun Prawit, the Thai chef, to ensure all dishes are presented in the correct way.

January 2009~currentGeneral manager of Wyndham Grande Plaza Royale Hangzhou

April 2007~December 2008Director of operations of Hilton Leeds, England, UK

August 2003~March 2007Director of operations of Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa, Thailand

July 2001~August 2003Director of operations of Hilton Chongqing

September 1998~July 2001F&B director of The Dusit Thani, Bangkok, Thailand


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