Darren Gearing Executive Vice President and General Manager of Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London
Executive Vice President and General Manager, Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London, Darren Gearing talks to Can Faik about the future of the Shangri-la brand…
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts?
Prior to joining Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts in 1990 I worked for Marriott in the USA, UK and then Hong Kong. Prior to this I worked at a small private Hotel in Hove.
What is your position within Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts?
I am the Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London. I am responsible for the group’s properties in Europe, North America, India, Middle East and the Indian Ocean.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
As with every great company a great selection of people will always create a successful property. I enjoy cultivating this and ensuring the right training is given to the right people. Significant resources are allocated annually to ensure employees have the skills and knowledge to be the best in their field. This has earned the group international awards and recognition from guests, prestigious magazines as well as industry partners and made Shangri-La one of the preferred hotel employers, with over 42,000 people serving guests with the philosophy “hospitality from the heart”.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Commercial success and an effective management team go hand in hand, as Shangri-La is principally an owner operator our shareholders are very experienced and adept in encouraging and supporting us to achieve such goals. Additionally, ensuring our brands values are communicated to guests is very important, when new colleagues join the team there is a lot of care taken into communicating what Shangri-La is and how to convey this to our guests. Training is key.
What are Shangri-La’s unique selling points?
These vary depending on the property but throughout all of our hotels our heritage and Asian hospitality play a very strong role. All of our hotels have touch points that guests will notice when visiting a Shangri-La which is the same in each property and plays on our Asian heritage, for example guests are presented with Shangri-La welcome tea in their room upon arrival.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
In 2016 more than ever, the capacity to adapt to new situations and trends is vital in keeping a successful hotel running. This applies internally in regards to training and using new technologies, but it also applies to how we approach being in one of the busiest cities in the world, I constantly try to find out about what is going on in the city in regards to openings, closures and the positioning of key hotelier figures, and we do try to be a ahead of competitors in regard to new services and features in the Hotel.
With 13 new hotels to open over the next three years, will Europe become a bigger focus for the Shangri-La brand?
There are so many fantastic cities in Europe most of which are phenomenally well linked in regards to transport. We would love to have properties throughout Europe, however it is important that we don’t compromise on the building and of course ensure that the location is somewhere that our guests want to visit. Every opportunity is assessed on a case by case basis.
What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline especially after the recent opening of Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius?
The opening of Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa has been a huge success and we are thrilled with the feedback we have received from previous guests, new guests and also the media. The next exciting project is the upcoming opening of Shangri-La Hambantota Hotel & Spa in Sri Lanka set to open on 1st June. It’s a stunning beach resort with 300 rooms and it is the only hotel in Sri Lanka to have its own 18-hole golf course, it’s set on the unspoilt Southern Coastline of the island and is perfectly placed for the leisure market looking to combine beach and day trips to Yala and Bundala National Parks. We have 12 additional openings in the pipeline over the next two and a half years, there are always new destinations on the horizon and we are constantly looking for new growth market to expand into.
How do trends differ – if at all – between hotels in Asia and Europe?
Both Asia and Europe continue to be key growth markets for Shangri-La. Both markets expect first class service, hotels need to keep up with the needs of guests’ evolving digital requirements, whilst at the same time remaining stylish and highly functional in design.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design? Guests want to have a sense of place when they travel, to this end we make sure that our hotels design references both our brand heritage and the hotel’s location. For example, in the redesign of the three Beach Villas at Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius, we featured a number of bespoke, locally produced, pieces such as the exquisite Mauritian lava stone sculptures surrounding the private pools. Another example is our brand embracing and utilising local artisans and their fantastic crafts and artworks at the soon to open resort in Hambantota, Sri Lanka.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Customers are increasingly influenced by their own sophisticated design tastes. All new hotel projects need to have stand-out design elements to raise them above the competition. For Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London a swim in the infinity Skypool, the highest pool in Western Europe, on level 52 is a true first for the city. These kinds of special one-off experiences create a sense of anticipation around the pre-opening and that’s just one design element. The design throughout Shangri-La Hotels is key to the brand recognition and the loyalty from our guests. For example in London the design concept for the hotel is reflective of a contemporary iconic hotel but it stays true to the Asian heritage with noticeable Oriental touches throughout, the public areas have some stunning feature artwork on display which is complemented by the floor-to-ceiling windows which infuse light throughout the hotel from every direction. The guest rooms and suites offer the essence of Chinese art reinterpreted in a modern and abstract way. Featuring a soothing colour scheme and mood lighting, decorative headboards, individual coffee machines, docking stations and other luxury touch points one would expect, and more.
What would be your dream hotel project?
An elevated luxury hotel in New York City
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Traditional Ryoken in Kyoto, Heritage Inn Northern California & a private Pensione in Brunello
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Wine tasting in the Chilean Maipo Valley & an extended tour of Japan including skiing Hokkaido.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
Suggest you ask my wife.