Very early on in his career, Christian Madsen cleverly joined the Hilton family back in Denmark, the world-renowned hotel brand that is, as a stepping stone for getting jobs abroad within its worldwide network.
“Around that time [in Scandinavia] it was only Radisson that was more international but mainly focused within Europe.”
After a good three and a half years, the opportunity came to move – to the Middle East and a resort in Oman, which was then followed by Hilton positions in Dubai and Hua Hin in Thailand. And the most recent move for Christian and his family (now consisting in four) came in 2010 with an irresistible job offer and challenging position as Director of Operations (DOP), at the brand new DoubleTree by Hilton opening up in Kuala Lumpur, the first property for this brand in Southeast-Asia. So off they went to Malaysia after 18 months in Thailand’s famous seaside resort.
“Moving here was very easy but even though they are neighbouring countries there’s a huge difference between Malaysia and Thailand,” the Dane summarizes.
Thankfully settling down was effortless because since the arrival things have been busy for sure: their second son was born while Christian at the same time underwent the pressure it meant and having to devote much of his time, as is required for anyone on high management level when preparing for and actually launching a large new hotel.
Linked to the Hilton brand
Living up to expectations and the great reputation of the already established Hilton property in Kuala Lumpur was also there for the team, plus that quite some years has passed since the last time a large hotel opened in the capital.
“First of all there was huge interest here in Kuala Lumpur and the fact that this was a new brand as well created a lot of curiosity. And having been linked together with the worldwide Hilton family, people had knowledge about that – which is a great advantage to be recognised with a brand already very strong in the market,” explains Christian. “But the main question in the beginning was what the difference between the two brands is and how to differentiate and how we would be perceived here.
The hotel, actually a rebuild, with its 540 rooms turns out to be very nature-oriented in the design, with room interiors dominated by brightness and wood details (fittingly with the ‘Tree’ name) including wall panels. One could say it resembles Scandinavian design – which should be to the liking of guests coming from his home region.
The Dane agrees: “Absolutely, the hotel design itself it is very fresh and contemporary and very pleasing in terms of the wood and the light. I think that appeals a lot to the Scandinavian market as such”
“And our prime location – it’s easy to get around – and our food and beverage facilities in that you can have a restaurant like Makan Kitchen here; anybody coming and experiencing something like that gets a unique experience in the fact that you get so many varieties of cuisine under one roof, and with the kind of interactive kitchens you don’t see back in Copenhagen. The pool area as well with the Italian restaurant around the pool, as Scandinavians love sitting outside while enjoying their dinner and so on – those are absolutely key features to it,” he adds.
Food is a must in Malaysia and the flagship outlet at DoubleTree by Hilton is a truly showcase dining experience in the sense that it represents the Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines, including lesser-known local ones – uniquely themed around the three over-the-counter kitchens and cuisines.
Situated just northeast of Kuala Lumpur City Center and within walking distance of the Petronas Twin Towers the hotel’s location is to great satisfaction for both corporate and leisure clients.
“As for facilities and location it caters to both; it’s easy to go to KLCC for shopping – and it’s easy to get around to the key areas.”
The comfort of home
What distinguishes this hotel from its sister brand begins already upon arrival when each guest is welcomed with a warm signature Chocolate Chip Cookie.
“It’s one of those icons that people remember Double Tree for and mention in their reviews. It’s absolutely unique to our brand and symbolizes the warmth, taking it down to a nice and comfortable welcome with the guest by offering a cookie. You smell it when you arrive, reminding you of the comfort of home,” says Christian, which connects to their efforts in really making guests feel at home.
“We’re not saying we’re a substitute for your family when you are away – but we can make it very comfortable and personal. So we try not to be too rigid or too stiff here. If you travel say up to a hundred days a year you do want to try and connect with the people who are around you as well. Then it’s not going to be enough that you just have a comfy bed to sleep in and food at night – it’s about the small details and the personal service. It’s almost that the service has taken a front row seat in terms of if you feel welcome.”
Such personal welcoming is cultivated through the brand’s Care philosophy.
“There is a very friendly and casual atmosphere. I really try instilling this in our team members, to be themselves, have their personalities. And they are empowered to make decisions and to resolve any issues on the spot and so on.
He says such service is something that guests appreciate, while comfort and good quality amenities and facilities are taken for granted.
The feedback from questionnaires to guests also shows this, with comments about ‘great, friendly staff’ and certain hosts mentioned by name.
“For people to remember somebody else’s name is because you have made an impression. Sometimes they write about great facilities as well etc. but it really comes secondary. That’s the key thing – it doesn’t matter how nice your rooms are if you don’t give a proper service and doesn’t treat your guests in a good way. It doesn’t matter in which hotel you are,” thinks the DOP.
The result so far, looking at the popularity index on the customer review portal dominant, has exceeded their expectations.
“We’re ranking as number 15 on Tripadvisor from eight months [March 2011] of operation so it’s an amazing result for the team.”
The Care programme is core for the hotel’s operations and a key part of how the brand differs from Hilton. There is a Care community based on and developed by the team members, founded on the principle that they go above and beyond expected standards.
“A lot is of course about how we can improve the guest interaction within the hotel as such but also in terms of working with the local community.”
Teaching Kids to CARE is one such part of their CSR efforts where a select group of hotel employees will work together with the community and organize ‘Kidz Famine Camps’ with the aim to educate children on global social issues.
The hotel also joined the Earth Hour and utilized the event to ask guests for any suggestions on how the hotel could be become more sustainable, which gave a lot of feedback. Their green committee is putting plans into place.
“It gives the team members an opportunity not to think of it just as a place to work, that it’s not just hotel operations but how you interact with the community as well: there are a lot of people very committed to these activities and to these events that we do. So it gives great commitment and involvement from the team members.”
Christian has also met with the Danish embassy to look into any events that they could collaborate on, including green meetings. The embassy holds many sustainability events and does a lot within the environment.
The hotelier could then get good advice from his fellow Danes on which partners they link up with and can recommend.
“One needs to find out whom to turn to in terms of waste disposal and so on. And the embassy has a huge amount of knowledge within this. So it was great to meet up with them and looking at opportunities for the future.”