Paul Cunningham brings world-class experience to The St. Regis Tianjin

Updated: 2012-12-21
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 Paul Cunningham St. Regis Tianjin
The GM Paul Cunningham brings world-class experience to The St. Regis Tianjin
St. Regis Tianjin
The St. Regis Tianjin has already become an iconic part of the city landscape
Why would anyone want to visit Tianjin? A half hour bullet-train ride from Beijing, Tianjin is a relatively stress-free getaway for the busy executive. While the St. Regis Tianjin, only 2-minute drive away from the Tianjin Railway Station, has become a hot choice for the business travelers and tourists from across the world after the Starwood's property has settled down in the city for a year.

Overlooking the picturesque Haihe River, the hotel occupies the top two stories of the 18-story glass-and-steel building. It has already become an iconic part of the city landscape, especially when you see it from being abroad the Haihe River cruise at night. The hotel is seated next to the Tianjin World Financial Center, the tallest skyscraper in Tianjin that is composed by the stunning Tianjin Tower and Tianjin Gate, which stands at 336.9 meters.

Today we had the privilege of sitting down with Paul Cunningham, the General Manager of the boutique hotel to quiz him, among other things, his vision for the St. Regis Tianjin, his management philosophies and leadership style and his impressions of Tianjin and China. A 22-year veteran of the hospitality industry, Mr. Cunningham, originally from the United Kingdom, brings to this role a wealth of experience in various facets of hotel operations. He started his hotel career at Claridges Hotel in London in 1990 and came out to China in 2001. He spent about eight years in Beijing (The Westin Beijing Financial Street Hotel), did some time in Seoul (The W Seoul Walkerhill), and was back to Beijing (The St. Regis Beijing) for the Olympics. Before being appointed as the general manager of the St. Regis Tianjin, he was the chief of the Westin Hefei Baohe Hotel for two years.
What inspires you to devote yourself to working in the hospitality industry?
For me it's all about the people. My inspiration comes from the process of developing the young people in our team. It's great to help them to develop into their roles and guide them through their careers. By helping staff to enhance their skills and fulfill their aspirations I can drive revenues, whilst also improving people's lives. Also of course, I am a businessman, so it is good to make money for the company- which comes from delivering a great service. So my focus and passion is all about delivering the best service possible.

What is your impression of Tianjin? And how does it feel to work in Tianjin, or in the broader sense, work in China?

Tianjin is a great city. It is developing very quickly and has a lot of potential. All the luxury brands are coming here which tells you that it is just on the verge of maturing as a city. It is exciting to be working here.

In terms of working in China, the bureaucratic side of things can be tough but specifically, in terms of the hotel industry, we have a lot of difficulties which stem from the high turnover of associates. It is a transient industry. People are looking for new opportunities and are happy to switch jobs every 6-12 months. It is really hard to retain people in this sector. It is important to keep people and have them becoming loyal to a company or brand because then you get the best out of them. Ten years ago working in a hotel was glamorous. Now it is much less so. It involves longer hours and harder work, so therefore it is more difficult to keep people enticed.
If you were given only 3 words to describe The St. Regis Tianjin, what would they be?
Uncompromising, bespoke, seductive, address.Sorry I've gotten four words.

As a new comer to the city, what does The St. Regis Tianjin have to distinguish itself from its competitors? And why should tourists stay in your hotel and not somewhere else?
Our core services are what give us the edge. Our rooms are very spacious and our superior business facilities give us an advantage. What really distinguishes us, is The St. Regis Butler service. It is all about providing that bespoke, personalised assistance for all your needs and wants at the hotel. That gives us the edge and takes away a lot of hassles. We also have some fantastic food and drink venues, with a riverside view to top it all off. All in all, it is a great mix for a wonderful stay at our hotel.
Tianjin is a competitive and ever-changing market as the city is now home to 36 five-star hotels. How does St Regis Tianjin perform in its first year of operation?
First year of operation is always tough, the hotel is still adjusting and driving awareness of the brand and its location in the market, but we have a great 3rd QTR finishing 2nd in revPar in the city in August and September, a great achievement in the first year. And we have far more local Chinese business travels in our hotels now, with 70% of our guests from mainland China, which in itself represents a change in purchasing trend and power. Its mean people have more disposable income to stay in luxury properties.
How is your hotel's performance in catering to the corporate and social events?
We are always in demand for various kinds of functions. Since we opened last year we have hosted a lot of weddings and parties, but we also increasingly get a lot of businesses wanting to use our venue and services to host important meetings, conferences, product launches, and that sort of thing. We are lucky to have a number of great function rooms at The St. Regis Tianjin. We have a fantastic rooftop ballroom, which offers a great view of the city and is superb for parties, BBQs and other events. My selling strategy is to say to clients; "what kind of event are you looking to host? Is it a 'corporate cocktail', are you trying to impress or are you meeting up with a government official etc"? Even the hotel building itself is iconic and has won many architectural awards, so it adds to the prestige aspect of hosting an event at our hotel.
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