Daniel Aylmer is one of the rising stars of the Chinese hospitality industry. He talks to BTN about his role as General Manager of the brand new, über-luxurious Westin Beijing Chaoyang and what it was like to host George Bush, Jnr and Snr, during the Olympics.
BTN: How is the opening of the Westin Beijing Chaoyang progressing?
DA: Extremely well! Due to the large amount of training and assistance from our sister properties in China, our guests do not realise that we are just four weeks old. We also have great owners, who are extremely supportive and make opening a hotel so simple. We are seeing improvements everyday especially during the Olympic period. We have come a long way since we opened our doors last month.
BTN: What are your ambitions for the hotel?
DA: Our goal is really to be the only choice for the business traveller and MICE organiser when travelling to Beijing. We are ideally located in the heart of Beijing but also only 30 minutes from the airport. There are few better locations here in Beijing and with the innovations of Westin and the team we hope to bring exciting and new ideas to the market.
BTN: How does running a hotel in China differ to managing one in the West? And what attracts you to China?
DA: WOW! Where do I start!?! The pace in China and right now in Beijing is fast and furious. There are numerous hotels, entering the market almost daily and you need to really stay on your toes to keep ahead. Hospitality innovations used to come from the US and Europe but now more and more we see them starting in Asia, so it is a really exciting time to be here.
(Pictured above: Daniel Aylmer with Graeme Cooke, President of World Travel Awards)
BTN: How do you see the global downturn impacting your business? And how do you propose to meet the challenges?
DA: We will see a shift in markets. Whilst there may be a downturn in the US, there is tremendous demand from both the domestic markets as well as the MICE sector. Hotels in general are able to shift their strategies quite rapidly should need be and like all hoteliers currently, we are watching very closely the US and European markets.
BTN: How do you see the hospitality industry evolving over the next five years?
DA: In China, the industry will continue to grow at an unprecedented pace as there is so much more demand and growth potential out there. Of course, we will see softer demand in certain markets more notably those chosen by the US market but Asia in general should remain quite robust.
BTN: What do you see as your biggest areas of growth? And what and where are the new markets for your business?
DA: I personally believe that as with Sydney post Olympics there will be a surge in MICE into Beijing and China. The Games have provided China with a very positive image globally and I am sure that when people return home, they will add to the China buzz.
BTN: Describe the atmosphere in Beijing during the Olympics compared to usual?
DA: Excitement and extremely proud!
BTN: What was it like hosting the Bush family? And did you get to meet them?
DA: They are all humble and genuine people. I met most of them on several occasions and bar the security that they unfortunately must live with, they are just like our other guests.
BTN: What extra security measures had to be made?
DA: There were many additional efforts that were put in place both by the US team, the Chinese security as well as the hotel. Preparation took almost one year to ensure that not only were the US delegation safe but also so were our guests and associates.
BTN: Have you had any other famous guests during the Games?
DA: Yes, many!
(Pictured above: Daniel Aylmer with Hilda Looi, Director of Marketing Communications, Westing Beijing Chaoyang; and from World Travel Awards - Graham Cooke, President; Sion Rapson, Director of Global Business; Chris Frost, Commerical Director; Max Miller, Head of Business Development
BTN: Career highlights to date?
DA: It has been truly an exciting journey with Starwood. They are performance based, so if you are able to keep up with demand and the never ending growth, they are a great company to be with.
I have now been in Asia for the past 12 years. I have had the opportunity to work in Indonesia and some great hotels in China and now have opened one of our flagship properties in Beijing, just before the Olympics.
BTN: What’s the key to running a top hotel?
DA: Details, passion, commitment and a supportive family.
BTN: Sustainability is the key challenge facing businesses - what provisions are you making in your strategy for green development?
DA: We, at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., believe that economic growth and the well-being of society are inextricably tied to the health of the environment. Accordingly, we embrace our responsibility for environmental stewardship and are committed to integrating leading environmental practices and sustainability principles into our core business strategy.
Through collaboration with our hotel owners, franchisees, suppliers and business partners, we will actively work to reduce the environmental impact of our business activities and to continually improve and innovate on practices aimed at: conserving natural resources, minimizing waste and pollution, enhancing indoor environmental quality, establishing and reporting on key environmental performance indicators, and raising environmental awareness among our associates, guests and communities.
We acknowledge that, in many ways, we, like the global community we serve, are only in the early stages of developing and implementing the many changes that will be necessary to achieve these vital goals. Nonetheless, we strongly believe that our efforts to support a healthy environment serve the interests of both current and future generations and constitute the foundation for enduring success.
BTN: What can the hospitality industry collectively do to improve its green credentials?
DA: We must continue to challenge the ways we operate and overall need to spend a higher focus on the sustainability of our world.
Career brief: Daniel Aylmer
British-born Daniel started his hotel career in America in 1995. He also spent a year in Brussels before moving to Asia where he took on the role of Director of Sales and Marketing of The Westin Surabaya, making his debut with Starwood Hotels & Resorts. His next destination in 2000 was China at Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers in the same capacity.
Two years following his remarkable achievements with Starwood, he was promoted to Hotel Manager of Sheraton Sanya Resort. In December 2004, he became the first General Manager at Sheraton Suzhou Hotel & Towers, which held until his recent move to Beijing.
As the General Manager of The Westin Beijing, Chaoyang Mr Aylmer’s goal is to open and operate a leading hotel that is managed and hosted by a team of dedicated and professional individuals.