Marathoner finds way to PH to run sleek Conrad
Just keep your eye on the goal.
For Austrian hotelier Harald Feurstein, the expression is not a hackneyed and empty slogan, but a central life philosophy that has allowed him to rack up enviable achievements in both his professional and personal life. The 47-year-old ultramarathoner held on to it, for instance, during the most excruciating parts of the TMBT Ultra Trail Marathon held in Borneo on Aug. 29, 2015. He describes the race, branded “The Most Beautiful Thing”, as the most difficult he has ever participated in as a trail runner.
Feurstein passed through remote villages, crossed ancient hanging bridges over raging rivers, raced through rubber plantations and deep forests. He experienced extreme temperature changes, from chilly mornings to 40-degree temperatures during the day and then rains at night.
He and the other runners navigated rolling hills, long climbs, hard and compact, as well as extremely sticky type of muddy trails covering the full distance of 100 kilometers over rugged terrain with a cumulative altitude gain of approximately 5,600 meters.
Along the way, Feurstein’s GPS watch ran out of power, so he headed out into the jungle of Borneo in the middle of the night without guidance on distance, time or any waypoint aside from the markers along the race’s route.
“I placed myself somewhere in the first third of the field, mindful that I did not want to burn off myself too quickly. I was exhausted and hungry towards the race’s 62.5-km mark or at 15.5 hours, but my stomach had shut down. I could only take a small packet of soup and water and a power nap of 20 minutes before I had to hit the road again,” Feurstein says.
“Eye on the goal, I kept telling myself, as I came closer to the last stretch. I clocked in 27 hours into the race. It is not an elite runner’s speed, but a decent and successful finish. A truly glorious moment and a great achievement,” he adds.
Feurstein prepared for the extremely challenging ultra-marathon with regular runs and by participating in at least 20 races before the actual race in Borneo. These strengthened his stamina, focus, discipline and agility—traits he badly needed to endure the punishing race.
It is these same qualities that Feurstein brings into his professional life, winning for him the privilege of opening the first Conrad in the Philippines.
“A chance to open a Conrad is a privilege in itself and I was very pleased when that was offered to me, the chance to reestablish the brand in the country,” says Feurstein.
The privilege to set up the first Conrad in the country as the group’s employee number one comes with high expectations and pressures, but then again Feurstein is no stranger to extreme pressure.
He does not get physically nor mentally tired easily, thanks in no small part to his passion for running.
Opening a hotel, Feurstein shares, involves an “incredible amount” of coordination, not unlike sourcing the best parts from various sources to build a well-oiled machine that is a Conrad Hotel, a global luxury brand that is part of the Hilton Worldwide group.
The hotelier, who was born and educated in Austria, has been preparing for his role for the past 25 years. His hospitality career has taken him from Europe to Africa and Asia, taking his turn in China, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and twice in the Philippines. His first time took him to Cebu, where he managed the Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa from May 2008 to Jan. 2010.
Feurstein opened the Hilton Hotel in Pattaya and was general manager of Conrad Bangkok before he moved back to the Philippines in March 2015 to take on the challenge to open Conrad Manila.
It has been a frenzy of activity since then.
“What we do is not easily visible from the outside. A lot of people are involved and we manage things like getting the suppliers that we need, forming the teams, putting in place the procedures, training the people, getting the accountants and sales team, down to choosing the knives and forks,” says Feurstein. “It is exciting, building that machine.”
The 347-room Conrad Manila is the first Conrad Hotels and Resorts brand in the Philippines and represents the SM group’s entry into the luxury hotel segment through SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. and its operator, Hilton Worldwide.
“The gratification begins on day one when we open, when we start welcoming guests in the lobby,” says Feurstein.
But the detailed work that comes before the opening of the hotel is a study in endurance, he says, and not very different from preparing for a 50 to 100-kilometer ultramarathon.
He says running a hotel and a marathon involve setting a challenge, a goal and stretching, working and willing himself to achieve it.
“It is about discipline, huge amounts of discipline and endurance, the willingness to stay the course and push the boundaries. To some extent, running ultramarathons translates to the way I work. I also push the boundaries in some way, push for the next result,” says Feurstein.
For Conrad, which is expected to officially open in June, the challenge is to position it as a provider of “inspired” travels, says Feurstein, who has been with the Hilton group of companies for 18 years.
“‘Inspired travels’ is more than just a marketing term. It describes what we are after, that we are more than just a beautiful building, which is a great asset for us. The hope is to provide that inspired feel, hopefully from the time you book a room,” says Feurstein.
Conrad Manila is off to a great start, having been recognized with three awards at the recently concluded Philippines Property Awards 2016, winning: Best in Hotel Development, Best Hotel Architectural Design and Best in Hotel Interior Design.
The Hilton Group came back to the country, he says, with the luxury brand no less, because it feels the time and conditions are right to support a Conrad.
This, despite the entry or expansion moves of other hotel chains that see the same growth opportunities in the Philippines, with its steady growth, young and growing population and dynamic corporate sector.
Feurstein says what the Conrad offers is a reputation for executing service according to the highest expectations, from the service to the offerings of the many restaurants, as well as meeting and convention facilities.
Combined with the facilities of the SM group, which owns the property, and the synergies that will come from the location at the Mall of Asia complex, and the proximity to the Arena and the SMX convention facilities, Feurstein believes Conrad Manila will be a force to reckon with in the country’s burgeoning hospitality sector.
“There are great synergies to be achieved here. And the Manila Bay area as a destination is growing. And the accessibility from the airport is better now and will be better still soon. We have pretty good years ahead of us. We are very, very confident,” says Feurstein.
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