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DIALOGUE: Specialist in Luxury Service - Tangla Tianjin’s Top Man
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As part of the prestigious Luxury Collection hotel ensemble, the Tangla Hotel Tianjin is taking the Chinese hospitality industry to new highs. Through its elite service and stunning blend of oriental and international ambience, the Tangla brand is differentiating itself from the countless big name international hotel chains on the market. With the company’s Tianjin hotel serving as its flagship venue, this domestic brand is setting new standards for China’s booming hospitality sector. Hotel General Manager, Fintan O’ Doherty, utilises his unparalleled expertise in high class hospitality to lead one of the city’s most authentic Chinese style luxury venues.  To date he has worked in over 30 hotels, in 15-20 cities and in six different countries; an impressive and extensive range of experience to say the least. Here is what he had to say about his work in Tianjin and the Tangla hotel and brand.
 
First of all, please can you give our readers a brief insight into your personal and professional background?
 
Well, I am originally from Sligo, near the west coast of Ireland, but my career has taken me all over the world. I went to catering college in Dublin and later did my MBA at Durham University in the UK. Throughout my academic career I was building up experience as a chef, waiter and bartender. After a few years of working in various hotels around Ireland and Britain, I got a really good job in the Ukraine. That was a very interesting place to work. I was in charge of the food and beverage for a casino and entertainment complex. Since then I have held a number of posts around Asia, including the Hilton in Chongqing, the Mandarin in Singapore and a very big hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The latter was particularly fascinating and gave me some great experience in hotel management. Eventually I was introduced to the Tangla brand and I have to say that my time with the company has been great. I have achieved so much already, winning a number of prestigious awards, and I absolutely love working with this extraordinary team.
 
What inspires you about working in the hospitality industry and what do you most enjoy about your current role?
 
From a young age I realised that I wanted to be a hotel manager. As a child I visited a lot of hotels and that is perhaps where my passion started. Hotels are incredibly interesting and dynamic places to work. With all of the different departments and activities that are going on at the same time, it is always busy and no two days are ever the same. There is an old saying that ‘if find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’. I firmly believe that. 
 
However, it is not easy being the manager of a luxury hotel. I like to think of my role as being similar to the coach of a football team. You have to make sure people are developing as ‘players’, but it is also extremely important that you get people in different roles communicating with each other. In the position that I am in now, a significant part of what I do is training the younger members of the team and helping them to develop their skills. That is what I love to do, working with people and sharing my experiences within the hospitality sector. It is also exciting to be a part of the evolution of the brand, which is currently expanding across China but eventually aims to bring Chinese hospitality to all major cities on the globe.
 
In Vietnam you gave a series of lectures about ‘the importance of communication in hotels’. Can you give us your thoughts on this topic?
 
Proper communication in the hotel industry is absolutely vital. It is at the centre of everything we do. In terms of service, being aware of communication issues and developing staff members’ abilities to interact with colleagues and customers is essential. As an example of one the issues that come up in Asia generally, people sometimes avoid eye contact and this sort of thing because they are afraid of being impolite. For many of the western guests, however, this kind of behaviour is considered to be a little bit too shy and they feel that a more assertive and inter-personal service is more welcoming. We also discussed the ways that we should talk to guests, meet and greet them etc. First impressions are lasting impressions and therefore it is incredibly important to get it right.
 
So thinking about your experiences in other parts of the world, how does the Chinese hospitality sector compare to elsewhere? 
 
China has a long and fascinating history which has given the country a very distinctive cultural heritage. In terms of my job here in Tianjin, it is very different from my previous roles because Tangla is a Chinese brand; whereas before I have worked for international companies in China. So therefore, the company culture is very authentically Chinese. It is based on Taoist and Buddhist principles and we have several key points, ‘Harmony, Elegance, Excellence, and Serenity’, that guide our interactions with clients and other staff members. In my position I have to respect local customs and make a conscious effort to understand Chinese culture.
 
When working with Chinese people you need to be aware of cultural values such as ‘saving face’. Sometimes certain members of staff are apprehensive about making decisions because they are scared of losing face. It is important for me to put them at ease and use humour and politeness to make them feel relaxed in their work. I work with a relatively young team of Chinese people, who I would say are very driven and keen to learn from western managers like myself. I find that Chinese people, especially in Tianjin, are very easy to interact with. You can really feel the energy in China and whilst there are still challenges to overcome, it is clear that things are going in the right direction.
 
The Chinese hospitality industry is evolving quickly. It is great to be in a city which is so dynamic and has so much potential. It is not an easy business environment because we are always competing with the international brands out there. As more Chinese people are travelling abroad though, I think our potential customer base is becoming more discerning in what they are looking for, particularly in terms of authenticity, services and products. We need to firmly establish ourselves as the number one Chinese luxury brand on the market and cater to the needs of this rapidly evolving clientele.
 
What is unique about the Tangla Tianjin? 
 
We have a number of unique selling points. Of course, being a Chinese company, as part of the HNA Group, gives us something special and a certain degree of authenticity that our competitors cannot attain. Our location in Tianjin gives us an excellent advantage towering above the city’s main shopping and business area. The designs and layouts of our guest rooms are certainly much better than most other places. All of our bedrooms, including the standard rooms, are at least 60 square metres- by far the largest for a Tianjin hotel. They include our signature stand-alone bathtubs which have fantastic views of the city. 
 
Why should clients who are looking for a great place to stay or hold corporate events choose this hotel over other luxury venues in the city?
 
Our core values are ‘Harmony, Elegance, Excellence and Serenity’. Everything we do at the Tangla is guided by these principles. Everything from the service to the décor helps us to give our clients an elite standard of luxury, as well as a comfortable, relaxing environment to stay in.
 
We have a superb range of dining facilities within our hotel, including our SoU restaurant with the most extensive seafood buffet in Tianjin, the China Bleu jazz bar and Café d’or which offers an amazing business breakfast. For events, our ballroom can accommodate over 400 guests and is perfect for weddings, parties and corporate functions. Superb service is the backbone of any luxury hotel. We have an excellent team of dedicated and extremely welcoming individuals, lead by our Tangla Ambassadors, who are always on hand to cater to your individual needs. We understand what Chinese and foreign clients want and we are always striving to deliver a world class service
 
So tell us what does the future holds for the Tangla brand and yourself.
 
We want our brand to be the most recognisable and sought after in China. When Chinese and foreign clients are looking for luxury hotels in major cities all over the world, we want them to think of Tangla. We are going to use this hotel in Tianjin as our flagship venue. This is where we want to perfect our service and business model whilst we are expanding elsewhere. It will be a training ground for new staff and a testing centre for new products and services. One thing that we are trying to do now is to establish some signature features, such as our Tangla Ambassadors and our excellent catering services, which will be part of Tangla hotels across the globe.
 
I will be here for a while. For me the number one priority is this hotel in Tianjin. I have been given some additional responsibilities within the company. I am now the Vice President and I am also responsible for training many of our managers. I feel very comfortable and excited by the prospect of working for the Tangla brand in the future. 
 

By Josh Cooper
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