Five years ago, Gregor Andréewitch was working at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. He had just received his green card when his boss asked him to go to Tokyo and be general manager of the Conrad Tokyo.
Quick to hit the ground running, Andréewitch says he found the Conrad – which is Hilton Worldwide’s luxury brand – a very interesting and challenging property. During his time in Tokyo, he has seen the hotel industry survive upheavals such as the Lehman shock and the March 11, 2011 disaster.
Born in Vienna, Andréewitch graduated from the Vienna Hotel School in Austria. He joined Hilton Worldwide and was assigned to Hilton Brussels in the accounting department. He followed this with a corporate food and beverage management training program, after which he moved into various management positions with increased responsibilities within Hilton Worldwide, working in Germany, Lesotho, Bahrain, Venezuela, Trinidad, Malaysia, New York, Canada and the UK, before arriving in Tokyo in November 2007.
One of Tokyo’s finest 5-star hotels, the Conrad Tokyo – which opened in 2005 -- boasts some of the largest guestrooms in Tokyo, with panoramic views of the Hamarikyu Gardens, Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge. The hotel has been recognized through a host of awards and accolades including the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2012 which awarded its celebrated China Blue and Gordon Ramsay restaurant one Michelin star.
Japan Today catches up with Andréewitch to hear more about the hotel.
Have you always wanted to be a hotelier?
I wanted to work in a hotel when I was 16-17. I wanted to be in an organization that was global and would give me an opportunity to travel, meet people, learn different languages and cultures. Hotels seemed a natural way to do that.
What was your first hotel job?
I started in the accounting department at Hilton Brussels. That is an unusual way to start a hotel career, but it was really good for me. You learn immediately to work with numbers, it sharpens your analytical skills and gives you an idea about costs and expenses that a hotel incurs on a daily basis. From there, I did a corporate food and beverage management training program.
You have moved around the world a lot. Do you find it difficult to adjust to new countries quickly?
In the hotel industry, you have to hit the ground running. You need to get to know your team, clients, the environment, and the budget expectations for next year that somebody else prepared. You need to know the owners of the building and the culture, so it is always a busy first few months.
So how’s business? What sort of a summer did the Conrad Tokyo have?
We had the best August this year since the hotel opened in 2005. That was because Japan hosted the FIFA Under 20 Women’s World Cup soccer and we were the headquarter hotel for FIFA. October and November will be very busy months, with many board meetings and international conferences. This is despite the strong yen which makes it tough when you are trying to attract incentive groups for meetings and conferences because everywhere else in Asia is cheaper. I believe this could be attributed to our strategic location in Shimbashi and Ginza, as well as the stylish and contemporary banquet and meeting facilities we offer that provide that luxurious experiences guests associate us with.
What is the percentage of foreign vs Japanese visitors?
I always like to say that we run two hotels. It’s a corporate hotel from Monday to Thursday and an urban resort from Friday to Sunday. So with corporate clientele, it is 50% foreign, 50% Japanese guests. On weekends, it is predominantly Japanese.
What would you say are the Conrad’s advantages?
No other hotel can offer the views we do – on one side, a 300-year-old garden, Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge. On the other side, we are five minutes from Ginza. We have great connectivity to train stations and subways. We have three world-class restaurants, two of which are Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay and China Blue, and our Japanese restaurant Kazahana was selected as one of the top 10 hotel restaurants in the world last year, a great spa “Mizuki Spa & Fitness” that is motifed with Water and Moon, and 24-hour gym. In addition, we offer some of the largest guestrooms in Tokyo -- around 50 square meters for our standard rooms. We also have an extensive collection of contemporary Japanese art throughout the hotel.
Are online bookings increasing?
Yes, but not as much as overseas. This is probably because Japanese like to use the e or travel agents I think the next generation will be more comfortable booking online. With that in mind, we are putting more resources into social media for marketing. We have a dedicated Facebook page and we use Twitter.
How is the wedding and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) business?
We have around 165-200 weddings a year. Unlucky days impact the wedding business in this culture. We have a sales department with 30 people. Ten of those take care of the wedding business from initial inquiries to the ceremony and taking care of everything in between. The MICE business is a very lucrative and competitive business and we are doing well in that sector.
Do you hire many staff each year?
We hire 15-20 graduates each year. We are fortunate in that we have a very low turnover here. In Japan, it is a less mobile labor industry than in other countries. Employees tend to be very loyal. Once they identify with a brand, they don’t want to let their clients or teammates down. But of course, if there are good opportunities, they move. We also offer our employees the opportunity to work at Conrad hotels abroad to gain valuable experience.
What is you definition of a good hotelier?
We are in the people business, so you need to be inspiring and motivated. If you have a happy workforce, they will be able to transmit that to the customers who will feel good about it. You need to be passionate about quality and details. You need to love what you doing and you don’t mind the endless working hours that are required in this industry. And a good hotelier is somebody who has a business sense because in the end, you have to get certain returns.
How important is it for a general manager to be in the lobby greeting guests?
I think it’s very important. You want to make sure you welcome certain people – we get heads of state, ambassadors, celebrities, sports stars. Of course, some just want to go to their room after a long flight and don’t care who the GM is. But for other guests, especially repeat clients, it’s a nice touch. For me, it’s like welcoming someone to my home.
Are you a hands-on GM?
I need to be hands on for promotional activities, finance and business development, training and hiring. I am also very hands on with charity events and food and beverages.
Do you live in the hotel?
Yes, I live on premises but that doesn’t mean I work 7 days a week. I have a great team, so I work fairly normal hours. Occasionally, I have work-related evening engagements.
And when you are not working?
I love sports. I have been in five triathlons. I broke my personal best last April in Ishigaki in 2 hours and 50 minutes.
In all your years in the hotel industry, you must have seen some interesting things? Anything weird you can tell us about? I was working at a hotel at London Heathrow. It is a transient hotel; people are in and out for short stays. We had a lady en route from Nigeria to the U.S. She gave me a big bag with a strange smell coming out of it. There were different parts of dissected snakes and alligators inside it. She was taking them to her family in America. I couldn’t understand how she got it through customs. Anyway, she wanted to store it in our fridge, but we couldn’t. I told her she’d never be able to leave Heathrow with that. She was very angry and threatened to sue me. Fortunately, she didn’t.© Japan Today