Breaking the bottleneck

Interview with Benny Chung, General Manager of Eaton Luxe, Nanqiao, Shanghai

As a premium member brand in Langham Hospitality Group, what is the market appeal of Nanqiao for Eaton Luxe?

Nanqiao is an up-and-coming township in Fengxian district and in Shanghai as a whole. As Shanghai’s population grows, its downtown areas are getting saturated, so investors are looking outside of the main belt into the peripheral areas such as Nanqiao and Xinzhuang. We feel honored to be here and look at it as planting our flag for the future. We are currently the only international brand hotel in Nanqiao.


In what ways do you think Nanqiao needs to improve in order to stand out in Shanghai’s booming MICE market?

As a suburban town, Nanqiao is 40 km away from downtown Shanghai, but there is no subway connectivity. If the metro /light rail stops here, commuting time between Nanqiao and downtown Shanghai could be cut down from 1.5 hours to 45 minutes, and that would be a great help both in terms of the business and the community. Secondly, Nanqiao needs to find a niche in the MICE market with a “do-it-differently” mindset. That also means that all necessary facilities and infrastructure should be in place, including a proper convention center.


What type of MICE clients is your hotel catering for?

Basically we have two markets. One is the training and development market with many schools and institutions coming to conduct training programs. The other involves corporate meetings and brainstorming sessions. Compared to urban hotels, our clients only need to pay a fraction of the price here.


What has been the biggest challenge your hotel has faced since opening? And how did you get through it?

Labor shortage has been a great challenge. We don’t attract so many talented foreign staff as Nanqiao is remote from the city center. So we focus on recruiting local Nanqiao people and look at how to equip them with multi-skills. For example, we have combined the telephone department and house-keeping department into one, and trained our staff to play dual roles. In doing so, we built a one-stop service and at the same time increase the skill level and salaries of our employees. The other challenging area lies in our room rate. Compared to the rates of city counterparts, our room rate is only half, but we offer better value than what is available in town. So we go about raising our rates by improving our service and quality. It is only through this that our customers see the value.

How important is the sustainability concept for Eaton Nanqiao?

Sustainability is a very big word that does not only apply to energy but also to our business. That means we are able to continue our business in this market in the long term, regardless of the competition. To maintain our signature “can-do” hospitality, we need to focus on staff training and building so that they can provide premium services for our guests.


From your perspective, what changes are in store for Shanghai’s MICE industry in 2014?

The free trade zone that the Shanghai government has managed to establish will attract lots more global companies. I’m sure this will bring more business, particularly in the area of MICE. There will be more meetings, and maybe more international conventions being held here.