Conversations in Transit.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon ~ thetransitcafe.com
Wednesday, 6th September 2006
Adrien Mueller recently uprooted himself from a corporate job to fly solo as a hotel owner. Not only that the former Shangri-La general manager also switched continents from Asia to Europe. How do the two worlds compare? The Transit Café catches up with him in Chur, Switzerland.
Q: What's it like being a hotel owner versus a manager? Any regrets?

A: Not one second. Sure, the adjustment at first was not easy, there is very little I can delegate but I have an excellent executive team which is motivated and eager to help push for business.

The biggest change is, there is no corporate office to support you so you have got to make the decisions strategically and operationally. While in the past, once in a while, one got worked up with "perceived" interference from HQ, I now realise it is actually very comfortable to have that support.

I am not missing it however, it is fantastic to put in 100% of what you believe and I am lucky to have a partner who leaves everything to me.

The good news is that on a really nice sunny day, when you absolutely don't feel like work, you don't have to. Just recently I went mountain climbing with the director of the tourist board and amazingly enough on the hike, developed a few ideas.

Q: What's it like to be back in "old world" Europe versus "new world" Asia?

A: Shops actually close here. There is no shopping after 18:30 hrs or on Sundays. We forgot one or twice to fill up the fridge at home and to the delight of my boys, had to eat in the hotel because the fridge was empty.

After 14 years in Asia, I had to re-learn the way things are done back home – a bit of a culture shock. On the other hand, a big plus I took from Asia is the hunger for business and the efficiency. Here often one has to wait at least two days to get a reply to an email request or a return call. Well, not in my hotel. My team got used to the "Shangri-La" drill-in : Reply within the same day no matter how long or complicated that offer looks like – the customer is waiting.

Q: What's it like running a hotel in Europe versus in Asia?

A: The single largest component is staff – labour cost. While in Asia we were running from 16% to 28%, we have here an average from 39% to 50%. Last year my hotel was running 49% labour cost. Year to date, we have been able to reduce that to 41.9 % – finding efficiencies and using technology is key. For example, we do all our banking online.

The hospitality aspect of the owner – "The Host" or "The Innkeeper" is very important. In large hotel's in Asia, one can easily hide behind an army of deputies; here the front work makes it or breaks it.

Q: Do you get any guests from Asia?

A: We have a slow but steadily increasing stream of Asian tourists on an FIT basis. Being a small hotel, we position ourselves as a boutique hotel for couples and honeymooners travelling Europe and Switzerland. Recently I cooked personally for a honeymoon couple from India, they requested extra spicy – our cooks cannot cook like that. So I cooked a local speciality, with lots of chillis – and the couple absolutely loved it.

The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection".

She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.

Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460

Yeoh Siew Hoon's other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com. Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at Travel's Busiest Junction
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