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April 15, 2011

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Running the round hotel

WHEN Rob Spiekerman arrived in Hangzhou two years ago, the InterContinental Hangzhou was still only a circle on the artist's impression, a planned iconic building in the Qianjiang New Town development expected to flourish in the next few years.

The golden globe, representing the sun, now stands opposite the moon (the Grand Theater), and shines with prosperity and richness at the beginning of each day.

"It has been a great and fun challenge to manage such a grand project, with such a large group of staff, 600 of them. But I love to hunt and it is in my nature to enjoy and achieve challenges," Spiekerman, the hotel's general manager and InterContinental's regional manager in Zhejiang Province, tells Shanghai Daily.

The outgoing, hospitable and talkative Dutch manager has had a career full of challenging tasks around the world, with Hangzhou ranking as one of the safest places he has been posted.

When Spiekerman worked in Central and Eastern Europe before coming to Hangzhou, he had led tasks into many countries in the region, some providing very thrilling experiences.

On one occasion he was crossing the border into Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, along with four local armed guards. After the guards all passed the border smoothly, the soldier at the border, who couldn't speak English, shook his head to indicate that Spiekerman must not enter.

Without knowing what had gone wrong, he was put into jail.

It was not until he got help from a businessman who spoke some English and made some phone calls for him that he finally got out of the jail - 18 hours later.

"It is only one among many such experiences in my career. InterContinental always tries to be the first hotel in many areas, which means you have to take some risks at times. Of course, these are carefully calculated risks and I love to hunt," he says with a smile and obvious excitement.

"For example, we were the first international hotel in Brazil and in Georgia, among many other places. We also entered China as early as 1984, and had 100 hotels by 2008. As this moment we have 149 hotels and we are very committed to our growth objectives in China."

Managing more than 600 staff members, Spiekerman is keen on the difference between the demands of hotel guests in Asian and Western countries.

"Asian countries are more service-oriented, and guests have higher and more demands from the staff members, so you often have a larger group of employees," he adds.

And Spiekerman enjoys the experience of working in one of the most flourishing areas in one of the fastest-growing economies, where "hotel business started later, but people learn and catch up very quickly."

His challenge in Hangzhou may be different from those in Central and Eastern Europe in terms of dangers faced, but they are equally exciting in terms of the level of difficulty.

"It is the only completely round hotel in the world, with no poles supporting it, a unique and difficult structure since the very beginning," he says.

And Spiekerman should know, having been involved with the project since the outset.

He is proud of the finished product, a miraculous architectural feat with spectacular views for all rooms, and continues to modify and implement his ideas.

"We have a superior location in Qianjiang New Town, with high accessibility from both domestic and international flights," he says.

The hotel is also opposite the new municipal government building and the Grand Theater. Spiekerman particularly appreciates the public space, filled with greenery, in between the hotel and the theater. He plans to cooperate with the theater to invite artists for outdoor concerts in the space, allowing the general public to enjoy and take advantage of the beautiful spot.

Spiekerman is also highly proud of the hotel's 32 meeting rooms, of different sizes and advanced equipment, making it one of the most fully equipped hotels in the area to accommodate to all kinds of MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events.

April 2009~currentGeneral manager of InterContinental Hangzhou & Holiday Inn Hangzhou; regional manager of IC Zhejiang Province

April 2008~March 2009Director of Operations of Benelux, IC Central and Eastern Europe

January 2006~April 2008Director of Operations of Benelux, IC Central and Eastern Europe; general manager of Crowne Plaza Amsterdam City Center

January 2005~May 2006Director of Operations of Central and Eastern Europe CMH; general manager of HI Vienna South

January 2004~December 2004Director of Operations of Amsterdam; general manager of Crowne Plaza Amsterdam The Americain

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The distinct circular shape of the hotel is an architectural delight worth enjoying. The building is particularly beautiful at night, inside and out, with colorful and specially designed chandeliers hanging inside the hotel and a gloriously shining facade. Underlooked Perks

The hotel is a perfect place for a wide range of MICE events, and Spiekerman also suggests guests bring their families for weekend stays. They can enjoy a concert at the Grand Theater, only a few steps from the hotel, visit the nearby new shopping center or watch children having fun on the large ice-skating rink in the center. A romantic time can also be had walking along the boulevard near the river. Favorite Dish

The hotel has five restaurants: an all-day dining restaurant Fresh, a Mediterranean restaurant Senses, Chinese restaurant Sun & Moon, German restaurant Worchinger and Noodle Factory. It also has two bars.

Fresh's buffet has a rich and fresh selection of seafood, and the scallops are noted for both their quantity and quality.

The barbecue roast pork in Senses is one of the most popular dishes and the chicken soup in the Chinese restaurant is one of Spiekerman's favorites.


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