Luxury hotel GM masters juggling act
As corporations, condominiums, hotels and restaurants swell up rapidly in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Australian hotelier John Rice views its changing skyline and vibrant lifestyle with optimism.
“BGC is a 24-hour, 365-day city. You can work, play and sleep here. This is how Shangri-La at the Fort fits here as a lifestyle destination,” says Rice.
While most general managers look after rooms, he oversees the 576-room Shangri-La at the Fort hotel, 97 serviced rooms of Shangri-La Residences, 98 Horizon Homes luxury condominiums, Kerry Sports Manila, and Retail Arcade with its 40 outlets, and One Bonifacio Park.
Since its launch in March, the complex has been 50-percent operational.
Seven of the nine restaurants, run by Shangri-La, have opened their doors. Samba, a Peruvian restaurant, is to open this month; Raging Bull Burgers is scheduled for November and Limitless bar will open next year. The serviced residences and Horizon Homes are in the handover process.
Meanwhile, the 8,000 square-meter Kerry Sports Manila, which boasts of state-of-the-art fitness facilities, has attracted 1,500 memberships, the annual fee of which is P96,000 each.
By yearend, Rice expects the hotel to be fully operational.
He explains that Shangri-La at the Fort is unique as it veers away from the classic Shangri-La model. While most Shangri-La hotels are grand and traditional, this property is unique for its modernity-sleek proportions, strong lines, made more attractive by a glass curtain wall. Its contemporary luxury décor scheme is characterized by customized sculptural crystal chandeliers from the Czech Republic and installations by Filipino designers.
“Traditional hotels are inward looking, in that they focus on what’s in their property. We are outward looking. Our hotel is one of six components in a complex. If people want to sleep somewhere, get an apartment, shop, enjoy a nice meal, drink and socialize, they can come here. That’s what makes us different from the other Shangri-Las,” says Rice.
With six different destinations and a workforce of over a thousand, the general manager’s work may seem daunting. Although Rice does some “juggling” with the divisions, each one follows a management structure.
Then there’s Shangri-La at the Fort’s brand of service. “We want our people to assess every guest that comes into the restaurants, rooms or the shops and to ascertain how they want to be served. Some people like a high degree of service and a lot of engagement. Others want to be left alone. A lot of it is intuition—giving guests immediate service or giving them something that they didn’t announce or say they wanted,” says Rice.
The service is rooted in Shangri-La at the Fort’s culture. At the corporate offices on the basement, the walls are filled with bold graphics of “Vibe” words and “Behaviors.”
“We picked 30 different Vibe words that we felt best epitomized our vision and direction in terms of our overall mood. They ranged from ‘dynamic,’ ‘enthusiastic,’ ‘creative’ to ‘spontaneous’ that conveyed our heart and soul. The Behaviors are 12 simple sentences that determine how we want to treat our colleagues and our guests. The Vibe—which creates the energy, the personality—combined with our Behavior, represents who we are and what we want to be,” he explains.
Among Rice’s favorite slogans is “When you have confidence, you have a lot of fun. When you have fun, you can do amazing things.”
Says Rice, “It manifests from how we prepare our people when they come on board. We start off with a comprehensive orientation session that permeates down into further training when people get into their outlets or departments. In those departments, we created the Shangri-La at The Fort Experience which revolves around personality, taking initiative and allowing the individual’s personality to come out. That gives them a level of confidence. When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun and you can take care of your guests.”
Looking back at his beginnings, Rice recalls he wanted to be in the hospitality business when he had fun with a part-time job.
He grew up in a farming community in Papua, New Guinea. While studying in a boarding school in Australia, he would spend his holidays taking care of the family cattle property. In college, he studied informatics and business in Brisbane. To pay for schooling, he took jobs including pouring beers at a pub.
Enjoying the people service, he realized that he had a different calling. Rice studied hotel administration at Cornell University. He first worked at the iconic Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, cooking breakfast and learning kitchen work, then moved to Halekulani, one of Hawaii’s top hotels, as a cost controller.
In 1995, he joined the Shangri-La group in the Beijing property as the assistant food and beverage manager and was later assigned to other properties in Singapore and Fiji. Rice was promoted to general manager of Edsa Shangri-La hotel in 2004.
With his skill in organizing large-scale projects, Rice was sent back to the Philippines for the preopening of Shangri-La at the Fort.
Among the traits that make him the right man for the job are his diligence and adherence to exacting standards.
“If it comes to standards, and positioning in running a complex like this, you have to be very persistent. Sometimes you have to be pedantic. When it comes to quality, you can’t let go. In this industry, if it is important to you, it’s important to everybody around you. Keep zeroing in on things, and people will understand that it has to be done a certain way. We have to keep evolving.”
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