Hotelier keeps Shangri-La in top shape

PHILIPPINES - Looking at the multitiered gilt chandelier at the lobby of Makati Shangri-La, Belgian hotelier Alain Borgers recalls that it fell on the floor before the hotel's formal opening.

Two decades later, the chandelier, decked with its spotless floral glass lamps, still shimmers. People want to be photographed in front of it.

Asked how it feels to be back again as the Philippine area manager and Makati Shangri-La's general manager, Borgers replies in modesty, "I'm learning to deal with other hotels, but hoping to share something positive."

Leadership

A graduate of Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, Borgers, 57, has been with the hospitality industry for 30 years. Nearly two decades of those years have been dedicated to the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. His first property for the group was the then newly-opened Shangri-La Makati. Borgers, then resident manager, also met his future wife, Carmela Narcisco, who was the floor manager of the Horizon Club.

"She left the hotel industry to be with me," says Borgers. They have two children, Isabela, 19, and Maxim, 9.

Borgers then became general manager at Shangri-La Bali Dynasty in Indonesia then was reassigned to Manila as GM of Edsa Shangri-La. He later became GM of another city hotel, Shangri-La Hotel, Surabaya in Indonesia.

Borgers says he can also share his experiences in running resorts. Under his guidance, Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort, Kota Kinabalu was named Best Resort in Malaysia by the Malaysian Tourism Board,

In 2008, Borgers was tasked to the pre-opening of the Shangri-La Paris property which was one of his most challenging. The hotel was built from a historical monument, the former palace of Napoleon Bonaparte's grandnephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte. Aside from restoring the architecture, the company had to comply with French regulations regarding construction in heritage buildings.

First Shangri-la in Europe

It was equally demanding to bring the Shangri-La philosophy to Europe for the very first time.

"I struggled in the beginning. My working process is more Asian. In Paris, it was tough. Asians have the positive attitude and they'll always try. In France, they will try to find a way not to do it. Service and pleasing somebody are noble jobs in Asia," he says.

Borgers applied the Shangri-La philosophy of hiring staffers with the right mindset. The hotel favoured young people with less experience but could easily be trained the Shangri-La Way.

Every employee carries a leaflet which states its core values, philosophy, mission, vision and guiding principles. The company's core values are actually virtues of humility, respect, selflessness, courtesy, helpfulness and sincerity. These are inculcated in all the Shangri-La properties worldwide.

To distinguish Shangri-La Paris from the other hotels, it focused on serving guests with more warmth and sincerity.

"Shangri-La has a culture of caring for people," explains Borgers.

"The smiles, the flexibility, the positivism and helpfulness made a lot of difference," says Borgers. The Shangri-La employees did much more for the guests than the competition.

Two years after its opening, Shangri-La Paris has been touted as one of the best luxury hotels in Paris not only for its glorious interiors, amenities and Michelin-starred restaurants but also for its genuine hospitality.

Borgers is back in the Philippines for his third posting. It's like second home since his family has been spending their annual vacations here. At home, Borgers is accustomed to eating adobo, pancit, lechon and conchinillo.

More renovations

On his plans for the Philippines, Borgers says, "We have to stay on our toes to make sure we maintain our position-at the top of the pyramid."

The properties are continuously enhanced to be ahead of competition.

Makati Shangri-La recently unveiled its new Isabela ballroom. Borgers reveals that the fine dining restaurant will be transferred to the mezzanine while the bar will be relocated to the ground floor. These two outlets will be connected by a staircase.

The hotel has been enjoying 80 per cent occupancy, most of which are corporate clients such as the American Embassy.

Set to open in 2015, the Shangri-La at The Fort is nearly half-way through its construction. The 61-story building will consist of retail, serviced apartments, the 600-room Shangri-La hotel and luxury condominiums.

Edsa Shangri-La is packaged as part of One Shangri-La Place, the new integrated retail and residential community in Mandaluyong. After the room renovations, it is working on its lobby and health club.

Mactan Shangri-La is bouncing back after the earthquake in the Visayas and is poised to renovate its outlets.

Boracay Shangri-La has established its niche with the right mix of local and international guests. "People in Asia are travelling more and are getting weary of Bali and Phuket. Boracay is an alternative," he says.

Traders, the four-star hotel in Manila, has its share of transit guests and travelers who want to be billeted near the airport.

Consistency

The deluxe properties have been in the best list from the top travel publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Business Traveller while Traders has been getting the thumbs up from Trip Advisor.

He attributes Shangri-La's success partly to the training programme, Shangri-La Care, which transforms employee's enthusiasm into success. It consists of hospitality that comes from core values; delighting guests; taking the initiative at work and getting back to gain loyalty.

"When there's a mistake, the guest is unhappy. It has been proven that if you recover properly, the guest will be more loyal than the regular guest and you can make friends for life," says Borgers.

Shangri-La also keeps a record of all the preferences of the guests. Rooms are arranged according to how the guests like it. Regular patrons of its restaurants are acknowledged by their names.

Don't most hotels have that system?

"Yes, but consistency is another matter," he says.

All told, the hotels get a high percentage of repeat customers. Makati Shangri-La, for example, posts 40 per cent repeat guests.

"Our guests like to come back because of the quality of the service. They know the Shangri-La brand and its standards," says Borgers.