Being part of shaping the hotel’s futureBy Marge C. Enriquez |Philippine Daily Inquirer
To learn French, he took up a waiter’s job at a tea salon in Lausanne, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. As a management trainee at a luxury five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, he checked in celebrities at the front desk and ran errands for them. While working in the banqueting department of a famous New York Hotel, he helped organize political functions and celebrity weddings.
“It’s important that you start from scratch and work all the way from service, kitchen, and administration up to general manager. That is what shapes you if you have that exposure. I know what my people are facing in the operations and the different challenges here and there,” says Patrick Schaub, the new general manager of Edsa Shangri-la Hotel Manila.
Born in Basel in northern Switzerland, Schaub had lived in Africa and Singapore in childhood. He returned to Switzerland to study in a boarding school and did military service. When he set out to study at Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne which taught its courses in French, he worked at a tea salon to practice the language. He recalls initially having to memorize by rote every single tea on the menu without knowing what kind of tea it was.
From 1994 to 1998, Ecole Hoteliere sent Schaub for internship in various luxury five-star properties in Switzerland. In Geneva, Schaub was a bar supervisor, overseeing everything from stock inventory, cost controls to cleanliness. At the Bellevue Palace in Bern, he was assistant food and beverage manager who also managed the restaurant and the bar. Aside from developing the menu and watching the bottom line, he had to maintain his presence and greet the guests at the outlets.
In Beverly Hills, Schaub enjoyed his duties as guest service representative at this luxury deluxe hotel. One of the perks was greeting VIP’s such as Andrew Lloyd Weber, Sylvester Stallone, Michael J. Fox and Cindy Crawford.
“I didn’t know the supermodel, Claudia Schiffer, was coming. They just gave me a folder and I was told, ‘Please check in this guest. She will be arriving in five minutes.’ I realized I was checking in Claudia Schiffer,” recalls Schaub.
When then couple Bruce Willis and Demi Moore wanted a special sauce, Schaub went to buy it at a famous Chinese restaurant and delivered it to their room.
Sometimes the celebrities were booked in code names for security. Likewise, the hotel was secretly connected to an aesthetic clinic so that the guests could be discreet about their cosmetic procedures.
After graduating in 1999, Schaub went to New York and was hired as assistant banquet manager in time for the opening of The Regent Wall Street. The hotel became a well-known venue for political events (President Bill Clinton shook hands with him) and for celebrity weddings.
These weddings were a class of their own. While most weddings hired band singers, music executive Thomas Daniel Mottola and Mexican singer Thalia (she of the “Marimar” soap opera fame) had the likes of Michael Jackson and other superstars performing in their wedding reception. Schaub had seen VIP’s such as President George Bush, Quentin Tarentino, Mark Antony, Jennifer Lopez and P. Diddy at close range.
“It was a fantastic exposure for a young hotelier. It kept you going because it was not your standard event. It was unique.”
Asked how Schaub handled demanding VIP’s, he replies, “Everywhere it’s pretty similar. Politicians have their protocol. We get a brief about what celebrities like and how they want things set up. The more important they are, the more you speak to the PA (personal assistant). Sometimes it’s better. If something goes wrong, it’s the PA that has the problem.”
While vacationing in Thailand, Schaub thought Asia would be a good option, especially in raising his fraternal twins. In the past ten years, he worked his way up from food and beverage to executive assistant manager in several luxury five-star hotels. Among his accomplishments were rebranding and opening properties and introducing award-winning restaurant concepts. While working, he underwent several training programs for general manager. His last post was general manager of a luxury serviced residence of a heritage brand.
Edsa Shangri-la’s expansion
After 10 years working in Thailand and an MBA from Leicester University, Schaub relocated to the Philippines to continue working in his forte of managing deluxe five-star properties.
Shangri-la’s global growth was an attraction. “I wanted to remain in the luxury segment. It’s a brand developed in Asia that is going West. In the past, brands in the West went East. There’s a lot of opportunity in how this brand is positioned and in its direction. It’s becoming a global brand. It’s not just focused on Singapore and Malaysia. We are opening in London and Istanbul, “says Schaub. “I feel that it fits my career path, having worked in other chains. I’m trying to settle down with a brand and find my home and moving forward with that. Edsa Shangri-la came up. It’s a nice fit for my background– rebranding and big openings.”
Edsa Shangri-la Hotel Manila’s renovation is like rebuilding a ship while it’s at sea. “It’s a hotel with a great culture. We are taking it to the next level. That is personal challenge I want to be a part of,” he says.
“You have to prepare hotel for the future for needs of the customer. They need better Wi-fi. They need different services and have expectations. What does a customer want? How do we interact with the guest? Shangri-la has a good formula for that. I can be a part of shaping the future of Edsa Shangri-la.”
Schaub says the hotel’s renovation comes in phases. Out of Edsa Shangri-la’s 632 rooms, 155 are being refurbished. The complete renovation, which includes the lobby, port cochere and corridors, is targeted next year.
“The front and heart of the house must be in good condition. It is in keeping the property at the brand level that is Shangri-la. And that requires investment.”
At this writing, the hotel occupancy is running 80 percent. The hotel has been getting positive customer feedback and the loyalty percentage is over 40 percent.
Edsa Shangri-la has its fair share of business travellers who have meetings in Ortigas from Tuesdays to Thursdays and families on weekend who avail of the local rates. Despite the stiff competition in Ortigas area, the Edsa Shangri-la’s edge is the resort ambience in the central business district.
Aside from enhancing the guest experience, the hotel is also creating the workplace more convivial for its employees. Renovating the employee restaurant is in the order. “Because the employees are important to us, they deserve to have a good dining experience. We’re also renovating their lockers,” says the GM
One of Schaub’s expertises is tennis which augurs well with the hotel’s new offering, the Perkins Twins Tennis Academy (PTTA). It was named after young Fil-Am champions Jesse and Christian Perkins from California. Accredited by the US Tennis Association, the PTTA offers lessons for guests and the public who want to learn world-class tennis techniques, using state-of-the art equipment and facilities.
“I used to b coach kids and play in competitions. But the Perkins twins are better than me,” says Schaub modestly.
Asked his tennis icon, Schaub cites Roger Federer. “Like me, he’s from Basel.”
Learning the culture
In the past two months, he has had familiarizations with the Shangri-la group by visiting the flagship, Island Shangri-la in Hong Kong, and its sister hotels in Kowloon and Tokyo.
On his impressions of the Philippines, Schaub was surprised at the genuine friendliness. “I thought Thailand was the Land of Smiles, even more so in the Philippines. The people are customer-focused and always wanting to please the guest.
The English levels are excellent. Perfect for the international traveler.”
He admits he’s still adjusting to his new environment. “The first three months are observations, clarification, assessing the property while making decisions that are needed right away. I’m getting to understand how things work because there are reasons why things are done a certain way. I’m taking cultural induction which I was used to in Thailand. I’m getting a brief on the Philippines and how Filipinos work and think. It’s important. I will know what my faux pas are and what I have to do in the cultural context. Out of experience, you wait and see how the culture is. Sometimes there is a lot of nonverbal communication that you might not pick up as a foreigner.”
Schaub’s schedule hasn’t allowed him to see much of Manila except for the sister hotel, Makati Shangri-la. One of his agendas is to check out the restaurant scene.
The hotelier has enjoyed our local cuisine such as menudo, which he describes as “a pork braised for a long time with a tomato reduction,” halo-halo and rice cakes at the hotel’s buffet.
On Sundays, he tries out lifestyle restaurants such as Wildflour and Las Flores in Bonifacio Global City which remind him of the gourmet comfort food restaurants in New York. He also observes the influx of foreign franchises such as IHOP and California Pizza Kitchen.
“The Philippines is international. I don’t see that it will take that for long to adapt here,” he says.