“It’s all about the people”
As Regent Singapore, a Four Seasons Hotel receives both criticism and praise, be it a guest who had an odd issue with a cat brought along for the stay, or someone thanking for all staff being “cheerful and helpful” and the breakfast “opulent and delicious”, Danish General Manager Peter C. Draminsky answers the guest himself – these days often in the public domain at the hotel review portal Tripadvisor.
Peter says he writes to everyone of them, and with a personalised answer.
“I have been doing this my whole career, writing to guests, and I think it’s important for people to hear from the general manager.”
In a reply he writes: “Providing genuine care and comfort to our guests is our highest priority and we are proud to have exceeded your expectations.” Another of his replies says that the guest’s complimentary remarks on the staff and service affirm what Four Seasons believes to be fundamental in their business of providing hospitality. Indeed, getting praise on this point really hits the right note, as it affirms what is at the core of Four Season’s DNA; their greatest asset being their people.
Another frequent comment reads: ‘Finally a hotel where you have that kind of space.’
Being 34 years old this hotel was built in the 1980’s and comes with an exterior reflecting the architecture of that time, but with a classic, timeless luxury interior; lots of marble and also its characterizing atrium.
“You rarely build such atrium hotels anymore, because of waste of space! You could put two hotels here! It’s a huge luxury thing; that’s what gives the luxury feel,” exclaims the GM when we meet in the Regent Club.
“However there is no lack of new luxurious and beautiful hotels coming on the scene these days. 2015 saw 6000 new rooms in Singapore alone and with spectacular new hotel products. But you can’t just copy that and put in a great hotel without getting the right people. It doesn’t work like that; it’s about the culture,” says Peter and explains how Four Seasons succeeds.
“Anyone can build a beautiful hotel, it’s just a question of money and having a nice designer to get a beautiful building. But when I look at the feedback cards I get from guests 99 per cent is not about that tapestry down the hall or that art piece – it’s always about someone doing something. Up here in the Regent Club, for instance, it is amazing what they’re doing and that guest engagement does everything.”
It is the culture they constantly work on and live by, setting the example for one another, says the GM.
“Treat others as you like to be treated yourself, is our golden rule within Four Seasons. And as we treat each other nicely and have that constantly in your mind, imagine how much the employees are behaving in that way! It helps tremendously. And you’re only as good as your last paying customer so it’s a constant balance.”
And this culture means that when something goes wrong it is broadcasted to everybody internally so that even the GM can approach the guest. And that usually impresses the guest that perhaps even a minor thing has reached the attention of the front desk staff – and even the hotel’s general manager: ‘Wow, they went to talk to the GM about it!’
Overall, Peter’s involvement in so many different things, makes his time spent replying to guests on Tripadvisor, and a constant flow of emails from guests, being part of the guest interaction, as he in his own view do not have enough time to interact with guests.
“I call myself a semi booking central, so you have to balance that with being present not only in the lobby etc. But at least I see all the department heads and the managers in the morning. We gather to set the day and the agenda and get us all on the same track. That’s incredibly important. The rest is bonus.”
He was appointed to the hotel in Singapore, his dream destination, in June 2015, and despite an already impressive hospitality career he can be humbly impressed by what Regent Singapore and its team stand for.
“One of the beautiful things about this building is the people; we just had four staff members celebrating their 34-year anniversary! These people are doormen, in housekeeping, and a barman that have been here since day one!”
“Wendy, who makes the breakfast eggs in the club lounge, has just had her 34th anniversary as well, and she’s been doing that since day one. The second day you come up here she will make your eggs without asking, assuming you want the same eggs. Now people love that stuff! And I don’t know how she does it. This hotel is one of the best in Four Seasons to recognise the guests; they are just so good at that.”
“I am astonished that their attitude remains so positive. They are seen around, talking to people, helping them out… wow! Imagine doing that for 34 years and still have that passion for it! ‘I’m a doorman and this is what I do.’ We have a lot of these people that have been working for so many years. They represent the hotel’s history and the proudness. And it carries the culture because at the end of the day one of the big reasons why we let people move around the company is because of our very strong culture working for Four Seasons that they bring through the company and teach new people coming in.”
At the same time the hotel is not really standing still, though there are many established things about this 34-year-old.
“There’s not a day when we are not testing things and making changes; you could say fine-tuning. One of the things we did end of last year is the free 3G smart phones in the rooms that you can take outside. That’s one of those things that people really appreciate; they can call IDD for free to ten countries. We are in the forefront with this and I’m sure other hotels will follow suit.”
Ten different simultaneous projects are not unusual, and an older building requires that things get changed in cycles.
“The walls may be older, but the interior needs to constantly be updated and that’s the demand of the guest. You can get away with a classic feel if it’s maintained. But if it’s not you are in a downhill slope very quickly. There are all kinds of things happening all the time. It’s like owning a classic car, which is beautiful but needs fine-tuning on the inside, and sometimes you have to take bigger pieces and replace them.”
Among the things giving Regent Singapore its great reputation are also its outlets, such as Manhattan bar, which offers New York-inspired dining and craft cocktails, even with a Sunday cocktail brunch! Manhattan is recently ranked #11 in The World’s 50 Best Bars.
Manhattan does a lot for us, giving so much publicity in many ways. It’s just a hotel bar, but the minute you become among the top hotel bars in the world, then there’s suddenly a factor in there. And the passion among these people in the team we have there – every two-three months they come up with a new menu, new drinks and a story behind each ingredient. A tonic is not Schweppes, but a tonic that comes from a certain place… all this stuff! Some say: ‘I just want a gin tonic!’ while others want to have the storytelling and be entertained.”
We should also mention the top-notch Basilico, with its authentic cuisine and passionate Italian gentlemen and chefs – now a Singapore Michelin Guide recommended restaurant too. When Peter first arrived from his previous position in Hangzhou, China, he got tears in his eyes when he got to taste those Italian gourmet tomatoes.
Then there’s the English afternoon tea. The list goes on…
In Four Seasons one can have long stints within the same hotel (in Hong Kong he joined the pre-opening team back in 2005 and stayed until late 2013) and Peter, with his wife being half-Singaporean and with great education, including Danish language, for their two daughters, has no desire to move on.
“We definitely want to stay here as long as possible. So many things in this environment relate to me, and actually I like the heat.”
As for engaging with the Nordic community, he is very active, partly via the Board of DABS and also the Danish Management Society (‘VL’). He is pulling in a lot of Danish business guests to the hotel, where the shipping industry is one obvious big sector.
And I am a bigger Dane than ever in many ways. It’s funny, and I’ve been out since 1989. So it’s been many years overseas, but I read the Danish news every day and am very connected with Danish current affairs. And where ever I go I have lots of Danish friend too.”