A Swedish Gentleman in New York.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon - SHY Ventures
Tuesday, 10th May 2005
Yeoh Siew Hoon meets an old-fashioned hotelier in the heart of America's brashest city.,

I regard myself as a modern girl. Although I wasn't old enough to be needing one when women were burning bras, I believe in equal rights and opportunities for women.

As a single woman, I am used to doing things for myself – other than fix the lightbulbs or do things with a drill, I can pretty much look after myself in the day-to-day rigours of life.

Every now and then though, I long for the old-fashioned touches. A man giving way to me, a man helping to bring down my bags from the overhead compartment, so that the bags won't land on my neighbour's head.

Every now and then too, and having covered the hotel industry for as long as I have, I find myself asking, where have the old-fashioned hoteliers gone to?

You know, the ones who stand around in the lobby, shaking hands of customers, and the ones who walk around the hotel, talking to customers and addressing staff by name, staff who weren't wearing name badges, mind you.

I found myself thinking that when I met Per Hellmann, vice president and general manager of the Millennium Broadway, New York City, recently.

Hellmann, who has been with Millennium Copthorne Hotels since 1994, reminds me of one of the many old-fashioned European hoteliers I used to meet earlier in my career as a travel journalist in Asia.

Hoteliers who rose through the ranks and earned their dues by working in food & beverage or other areas of operations and moving from hotel to hotel … hoteliers who had class and grace, and who brought out the host in hospitality.

Hellmann looks a little bit like Rudi Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City. His accent is indiscernible, containing traces of every place he's worked in.

His credits include the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Park Hotel in Dusseldorf, Germany and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Walking with him round his hotel – like every general manager, he is proud of his baby – I watch as Hellmann bends to pick up bits of litter from the floor, greets every staff member who walked by and says hello to guests he recognizes.

He shows me the Millennium Broadway's newly-renovated rooms and points out proudly the Asian inspiration behind the design – the Chinese partition screen with Chinese cloud motifs on the bed's headboard, Chinese poems woven into the bedspread and Chinese features imprinted on chair cushions and window sheers.

Millennium Broadway is owned by the Hong Leong Group of Singapore, which explains the Asian touches.

He shows me the 101-year-old Hudson Theatre which is undergoing a US$1.2 million restoration exercise. It's one of the most significant restoration projects being undertaken in the Times Square/Broadway district of New York City.

Recent restoration work revealed Tiffany glass mosaics that had been forgotten over the years.

You can tell this is Hellmann's pride and joy. It is a part of New York City's history that should be preserved, he says.

He then escorts me to the Millennium Conference Centre, a facility which every hotel would love to have – 100,000 square feet of dedicated conference space in the heart of one of the world's financial and business cities.

You can tell that this is the part that prints the mint for the Millennium Broadway.

You can also tell that as big as his job is – the Millennium Broadway comprises 750 rooms in two Wings, the Main and Premier, the Conference Centre and the Hudson Theatre – Hellmann is at his best when he is with people.

"I never want to lose touch with that, walking round the hotel, meeting people. That's the best part of what I do," he says.

Throughout the tour, Hellmann's manner is easy and informal, yet elegant.

As we ended our tour, he shook my hand and said, "Please let me know if there is anything else you need."

I wanted to say, it's nice to meet a Swedish gentleman in New York.

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
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