French touch excites hospitality sector in PH

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Adam Laker

When British hotelier Adam Laker came to Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila five years ago, he bravely opened a room at the Spiral restaurant dedicated to cheese.

However, Filipino diners were unaccustomed to the pungency of soft cheeses and were instead partial to hard cheeses.

But over time, the local market came to appreciate the variety and learned that cheese culture was part of the French art de vivre, which echoes the Sofitel brand.

“Seven years ago, the Cheese Room might have failed. People said, ‘Filipinos don’t like cheese. It would never work.’ Sometimes, it’s about doing the right thing at the right time,” says Laker, who wears two hats as area manager of AccorHotel Philippines and Sofitel general manager.

Expansion

Talk about timing. AccorHotels, a French multinational hospitality company, had only one luxury brand, Sofitel, in Pasay City in 2013.

Since then, its portfolio has diversified into different brands in various locations.

“The Philippine economy has been growing. We’re just getting our share, and making sure that we stay dominant in the market,” says Laker.

The businessman’s hotel, Novotel Manila Araneta Center, has become a favorite place for functions in Quezon City. The second Novotel property will soon be up and running in Mactan, Cebu.

A mid-size businessman’s hotel, Mercure Manila, is located in the Ortigas CBD.

In the same district, AccorHotels is managing Joy-Nostalg service apartments.

Laker explains that the two hotels complement each other since Mercury is a full-service hotel for short stays while Joy-Nostalg caters to long-staying guests.

It also reflects the variety of hotels under AccorHotels Philippines.

The MGallery Admiral Bay Manila on Roxas Boulevard, meanwhile, will be a boutique hotel that exudes an Old World charm.

“We try to match the brand to the location,” says Laker.

Last year, AccorHotels purchased the Fairmont Raffles Hotels International Inc., the Canada-based company that handles the premium brands Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel.

It aims to gain more influence in the luxury market with the addition of FRHI’s premium brands and reputation.

While Laker oversees Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure and Joy Nostalg, he considers himself a “support mechanism” to the managing director of Fairmont/Raffles.

“My role is to assist him within the AccorHotel network. I’m like a buddy,” he says.

VIP guests

As Sofitel’s GM, he has been busy with hotel reinvestments through renovations and adding services to attract the market.

The newly renovated Spiral maintains its status as the country’s “mother of all buffets.”

In keeping with the times, the once-famous nightspot Sieta Pecados has been transformed into the state-of-the-art Snaps Sports Bar, which welcomes guests and airline crew who arrive after midnight.

To enhance the luxury concept, Sofitel boosted the health and wellness services from hairdresser Philippe Tordjman, a nail spa, a renovated gym and spa and Vietura Wellness Institute, which specializes in non-invasive aesthetic procedures. As major sources of revenues, the rooms and the banquet facilities have also been spruced up.

Due to these factors, Sofitel has been the hotel of choice of presidents and other VIPs. It also welcomed celebrity guests like Madonna, Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé.

As a resort hotel, the 609-room Sofitel has been attracting a largely leisure market while 30 percent are group businesses.

Some 60 percent of the market is domestic—wedding clientele, holiday makers, meetings and conferences and a strong balikbayan market.

At the helm of the hotel is a 48-year-old hotelier with an impressive resumé.

Laker helped his previous hotels win awards in several categories from best restaurant, best resort or hotel and best general manager from industry and World’s Top New Hotels from Conde Nast, for running a luxury resort in Thailand.

“For me, number one is that the hotel is performing well. Getting recognized with awards is just a bonus,” he says.

Taking risks

Laker values the guest satisfaction awards from independent sites such as TripAdvisor. “When you get votes from the clients, it means you’re looking after the clients, the product and hotel,” he says.

He cites Spiral for getting the Traveler’s Choice of Fine Dining Restaurant Asia from TripAdvisor.

“It’s purely from the guests speaking from their experience. Clients spend their money and give their most honest feedback. You can always put forth a submission into an awards system. But if you get an honest feedback from guests, it’s more rewarding,” he explains.

In 2011, at his previous posting at Sofitel Fiji, the hospitality magazine HM named him Best General Manager For the South Pacific.
Laker explains the award is given by industry peers and his organization.

“They look for how your hotel is performing and how you carry yourself, how you best represent your hotel, your brand and the hospitality industry. To represent the industry means you represent service, quality and the future of hospitality,” he explains.

For Sofitel Manila, the reward for his leadership is the boost in gross operating profit.

“Everybody’s dream is to increase the topline revenue,” he says. “I don’t have a book to do that. You’re basically looking for new businesses, come up with new trends, new styles are new attractions. You can’t keep doing the same thing every day and hope for a better result. You’ve got to innovate and grow with the market, offering what people want even before they want it.”

Aside from innovation, a hotel must always provide a top quality product at a good price to ensure return guests. Regular customers help contribute to the profit.

“It’s always cheaper to maintain a client than to find a new one,” he says.

On his insights as an hotelier, Laker says, “Guests are your source of income. Without being your best, you can’t look after them. Make sure that the staff are happy and well-trained so they can look after the guests. Obviously, you’ve got to listen to the guests’ feedback.”

He adds reinvesting in the hotel and entrepreneurship is vital to being a hotelier.

“Entrepreneurial means you can’t do the same thing tomorrow that you did today. You’ve got to look at new angles and new demands. Don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t be afraid to get things wrong. You can’t get everything correct . That’s impossible. You’ve got to learn from your errors. Take a chance,” he says.

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