The Port­man Ritz­Carl­ton Shang­hai may be 17 this year, but it is giv­ing its younger com­peti­tors a run for their money

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai


When Derek Flint, gen­eral man­ager of The Port­man Ritz­Carl­ton in Shang­hai, said that the lux­ury ho­tel he runs has the best lo­ca­tion in town, and per­haps even the coun­try, few would dis­agree. Af­ter all, the 610-room prop­erty and its two ad­join­ing build­ings, which com­prise res­tau­rants, cafes and re­tail op­tions, is sit­u­ated in a sprawl­ing com­plex called the Shang­hai Cen­tre.

Lo­cated along Nan­jing West Road in the heart of Shang­hai, The Port­man Ritz-Carl­ton Shang­hai is also one that is steeped in his­tory, and it is the only ho­tel in the city that can claim to have hosted ev­ery Amer­i­can pres­i­dent dur­ing their of­fi­cial vis­its.

The Shang­hai Cen­tre was de­signed by John Port­man, who in 1980 be­came one of the first Amer­i­can ar­chi­tects to en­ter China, af­ter the coun­try re­opened its door to the world. Port­man was in­vited to de­sign the prop­erty by former Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaoping, who was im­pressed when he pre­vi­ously stayed at one of Port­man’s sig­na­ture projects — the Westin Peachtree Plaza Ho­tel in At­lanta.

Port­man’s project in China was a big deal given the diplo­matic cir­cum­stances at that point in time. It was two years af­ter the sign­ing of the Sino-US Com­mu­niqué and the nor­mal­iza­tion of the re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. That year also marked the be­gin­ning of China’s open­ing up and re­form pol­icy which was im­ple­mented in 1979.

De­signed to re­sem­ble the Chi­nese char­ac­ter shan (moun­tain), which is be­lieved to bring for­tune ac­cord­ing to feng­shui, the cen­ter was fi­nally built af­ter 10 years and an in­vest­ment of $190 mil­lion. The gi­gan­tic com­plex which ri­valed the likes of the Westin Ho­tel in At­lanta was the high­est build­ing in Shang­hai for many years. Till to­day, it re­mains the only land­mark in the city that is named af­ter a per­son and el­derly lo­cals liv­ing in the area still proudly claim that their homes are in the same neigh­bor­hood as the dwellings of former Amer­i­can pres­i­dents.

The prop­erty is also the first for­eign lux­ury ho­tel in China and the first out­let of The Ritz­Carl­ton Com­pany, L L C.

The Port­man Ritz-Carl­ton, Shang­hai cel­e­brates its 17th an­niver­sary this year and Flint took the time to pay trib­ute to their most loyal of staff mem­bers — 250 of the em­ploy­ees have ac­tu­ally been around for at least 20 years — say­ing that

Derek Flint, they are the ho­tel’s most valu­able as­set.

“What truly dis­tin­guishes us in the com­pe­ti­tion is th­ese ladies and gentle­men, with­out whom, the ho­tel would just be a col­lec­tion of walls,” said Flint, a Bri­tish-Amer­i­can who joined the lux­ury brand of US hos­pi­tal­ity group Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional in the 1990’s.

The son of an in­vest­ment banker, Flint started out in the hos­pi­tal­ity industry as a desk clerk at the old Ritz-Carl­ton in New York. From help­ing a gal­axy of celebri­ties check in and out at the once chicest ho­tel in the US, the grad­u­ate of UC Berke­ley’s psy­chol­ogy ma­jor soon re­al­ized “it’s the industry for him” and has since been climb­ing up the ranks.

“No day is ever the same. There are ex­pe­ri­ences that, af­ter 25 years in the industry, con­tinue to amaze me,” said Flint. The ex­pe­ri­ences also in­clude sav­ing peo­ple’s lives, and more than once.

As one of the first play­ers in the industry, the ho­tel has wit­nessed the evo­lu­tion that has taken place over the years. Flint noted that one of the big­gest changes in­clude the guest de­mo­graph­ics — while in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers used to be the ho­tel’s big­gest clients, it is the do­mes­tic trav­el­ers who now form the ma­jor­ity. And apart from a spike in their ar­rivals, Flint said that Chi­nese trav­el­ers are be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated in their de­mands.

“I think in some as­pects, Chi­nese guests are more discerning than our guests from the United States,” said Flint, who at­trib­uted this to the grow­ing num­ber of lux­ury ho­tels in Asia with ser­vice lev­els that are much higher than some of those in the US.

Vy­ing for th­ese guests is a num­ber of other lux­ury brands that have popped up over the years, in­clud­ing Shangri-La, Penin­sula and Four Sea­sons. There used to be panoramic views of city’s western ar­eas from the ho­tel’s club lounge on the 43rd floor, but now the sight is one of keen com­pe­ti­tion, rep­re­sented by the sleek and shiny Shangri-La, lo­cated less than 2 kilo­me­ters away. Flint, how­ever, is un­fazed by the new chal­lenges posed.

“Com­pe­ti­tion brings out the best in us,” said Flint, who con­ceded that oc­cu­pancy rates at The Port­man Ritz­Carl­ton Shang­hai were slightly af­fected since Shangri-La’s open­ing. “Shangri-La ac­tu­ally cre­ates more aware­ness of this area, and I think there is more than enough busi­ness for just two ho­tels.”

gen­eral man­ager of The Port­man Ritz-Carl­ton, Shang­hai


Derek Flint, gen­eral man­ager of The Port­man Ritz-Carl­ton in Shang­hai, says that their em­ploy­ees have been piv­otal in the ho­tel's suc­cess over the years. Gao

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