Charlie Dang is one of the key players in the Chinese hospitality industry. He is the Area Managing Director of Northern China for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, as well as the GM of the Westin Beijing Financial Street, which was voted “China’s Leading Conference Hotel” at the World Travel Awards in June.
Amid the buzz on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, Charlie took time out of his hectic schedule to talk to Mary Aziz…Charlie started his hotel career back in 1981. He studied at Cornell University, majoring in Food and Beverage Marketing and Management. His dedication and passion for hotel business saw his rise ascent from a junior trainee to a general manager by the age of 35.
He has also worked as a Restaurant Manager and Food & Beverage Director in five-star hotels, resorts and convention centres around the world including his home country Malaysia, as well as the Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
His distinguished ten years with Starwood Hotels began with a stint in China as General Manager of Sheraton Xian Hotel, followed by a successful opening of Sheraton Dongguan, again as its General Manager, before moving to Beijing to head up the opening of the first Westin hotel in Beijing: The Westin Beijing, Financial Street.
The Westin Beijing, Financial Street is also playing host to the World Travel Awards VIP Lounge throughout the Beijing Olympics. Athletes and industry movers and shakers will be dropping by to catch all the latest sporting action live.
BTN: What’s going on here at the Westin Financial Street during the Games?
CD: It’s really exciting here in the Financial Street hotel, which we opened just two years ago. This newly-developed Financial Street area is a brand new part of the city of Beijing, and every financial institution is currently moving here.
Along with the Intercon and Ritz Carlton, we were one of the first hotels to open here, and currently the biggest. Many athletes and guests of the Olympics are staying here so it’s really exciting and nice to see the west part of Beijing so buzzing. It’s as strong as the east part of Beijing, which traditionally has many of the hotels and a real buzz anyway, so it’s nice to see some balance in the city.
BTN: And what does it mean to the rest of Beijing and indeed China to be hosting the most prestigious event in the world?
CD: Hosting the Olympics, the biggest event in the world in the most populated country in the world is really exciting. The whole country is behind this, billions of people are behind this, and I think everyone is excited to have the Olympics in the city of Beijing. Even us as an international company participating here is really something wonderful.
This is my first Olympics and I feel so excited to be part of the hosting programme. I think it’s good for the country and good for international community to come. The country opening up to the world is really something after all these years.
BTN: The Starwood brand is in the middle of a rapid expansion plan. What is on the horizon for Starwood in China?
CD: We currently have 43 Starwood hotels in China and we expect to have 56 more in the pipe line. Just the other day I heard number 57 had been signed which means we were the first international hotel to open a hotel here in Beijing and we’ve just signed number 100 also in Beijing. We are really excited to see the growth and I think it’s good for the development of everyone who is coming - it means China’s economy is strong, GDP is strong and we expect it to grow continuously.
It is really a fantastic time to look to the future as well, if you look at Beijing we started out with one hotel and now we have six, it’s going to grow more than six.
BTN: The world is experiencing a global economic downturn with business travel being severely affected. How are you managing to combat the trend?
CD: The management team need to focus on the domestic market - there are enough people coming in who have enough money to spend in a five-star hotel. Chinese people like the trend, they like to see new things, they like the international market and they love the lifestyle, so market trend changes and people in China do spend money in a five-star hotel.
So management companies that are smart enough focus on the domestic market. There is sufficient business to be able to capture so Starwood is now focusing on domestic as well as international. The later will come when the global recession recovers but in China alone there is a huge market. So if everyone understands the Chinese market a little bit more better that’s where the big area is.
It’s really nice that Starwood did so well at the World Travel Awards, and this will inevitably help both with our marketing and also providing a benchmark of quality our customers can trust.
BTN: What motivates you personal and what qualities do you think are important to remain at the top?
CD: It’s really interesting to be a general manager - you’ve got to lead a team of people, you’ve got to stay motivated and on top. And I believe in excellence and that nothing is impossible. That’s what motivates me and I believe creating guest experience is the main issue in the hotel business. It’s not about business alone, it’s about the guest experience. That’s what keeps me going, that’s what for me is to satisfy the customer providing the excellence in service. It’s the top!
BTN: And finally what are you looking forward to most about the Olympics?
CD: Ha! Well! To have a great time, to meet all the athletes - you know, all the stars are here are here in town and I hope to be part of the fun. Work when you are running a full house is also fun - spending time out of the office with the customer is the ultimate.
BTN: To find some time to enjoy all your hard work?
CD: That’s right! If you enjoy and you feel that that’s work and that’s fun as well you have a satisfied week and it’s good!