There is no shortage of luxury hotels in Hong Kong, but very few come close to competing with the Upper House. A relative newcomer, this unique hotel has taken the city by storm with its superb architecture, stunning views and first-rate service. This week Lightfoot Travel speaks to Dean Winter, Area Director of Operations – Hong Kong & China Projects, Swire Hotels. With over two decades of experience in the luxury hotel industry, Dean discusses the power of social media, the crucial importance of hiring good people, and which rooms are the best in the house!
How did you get started in the hotel industry, and where were you before Upper House?
I trained as a chef after leaving school and worked for luxury hotels in London for seven years before moving to Hong Kong and joining Mandarin Oriental, where I had a wonderful 14 years in their various properties across Asia Pacific.
Upper House is consistently rated the #1 hotel in Hong Kong on Trip Advisor. How do you achieve this rating year after year?
We understood early on the importance of Trip Advisor and other social media platforms. Delivering quality product and service is one part of assuring a high ranking. But we also believe that engaging with every reviewer helps to promote user acceptance. We respond to every review differently and in a personal manner, and think this is appreciated by both the reviewer as well as other readers who notice our level of engagement.
What would you say is the biggest challenge in managing a hotel like Upper House?
The people! A brand such as ours, like any other luxury hotel, relies on a team of exceptional individuals to deliver the brand promise every day. Attracting such talent to our industry seems more challenging every year and is something that occupies more and more of our management time.
What has been your most memorable experience at the hotel?
There are many wonderful memories over the last four years, but the one that stands out for me is our 30-day trial period before we opened to the public. We invited numerous people to stay at the hotel and/or eat and drink in Café Gray Deluxe. This allowed the various teams to bond and for mistakes to be made, lessons to be learned, etc. We received incredible feedback which we reviewed every day and acted upon, and the talk around town that food and drinks were free at the hotel led to a crescendo. But just as it started to get out of hand, the trial 30 days were over and we opened for business with a full restaurant and bar and haven’t looked back since. Lots of tears and laughter all at once back then, and I remember it very fondly.
Impeccable service is something that’s always mentioned with Upper House, but something that is so difficult to get right – do you do anything differently with your staff that you think helps bring about such a great result?
How we do this is at the very heart of our DNA and something that I believe distinguishes us; we simply ask the team to be themselves, don’t worry about failing, be funny and memorable. This, combined with rigorous recruitment, means that we have people with us who understand our guests and offer a spontaneous and natural service delivery – one that is not prescribed, rehearsed or copied. We believe today’s discerning travellers appreciate this.
Can you give us a few insider tips for Upper House? – What’s the best room in the hotel in your opinion?
A Studio 70 Harbour View room has the best view from a bathroom that Hong Kong has to offer. These are our smallest rooms at close to 70sqm. Although all our rooms are on high floors and have great views, my tip would be to book #4607 or #4707.
Best dish at Café Gray Deluxe?
The Pasta Fiore, either as an appetizer or larger portion for main course. The tomato sauce is the best I have ever had and never disappoints.
A guest service you offer that clients may not know of?
If you can’t get a taxi in Pacific Place and the hotel car is available, we’ll run you to where you need to be – maybe with the exception of Shenzhen!
What are the three best things about Upper House?
– The employees
– The largest rooms in the city
– Breakfast in Café Gray – with no buffet, this is the most relaxing way to start the day
Aside from the Upper House, what’s your favourite hotel in the world and why?
I trained at Claridge’s in London’s Mayfair from the age of 18 and it has always been a special place for me, although very different from the hotels I work in today. I recently stayed there for the first time with my parents, to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday – it was one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had.
If you weren’t managing Upper House you would be…
A drummer in a band, travelling the world and staying in great hotels!
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