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COVER STORY: The Astor Hotel-150 Years of Historic Luxury
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The Astor Hotel Tianjin: A Luxury Collection hotel, which is managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, will celebrate its 150th anniversary on 19 July, 2013. The event itself will be in two parts. One event, to be held in the Victorian Lounge, will have a range of different entertainment including sand drawing, a magic show, live music, and a gala dinner. The theme will be ‘Back to 1863: 150 Years of Luxury Experience’. The other part is a jazz show on the river. There will be a world class jazz band performing, as well as a BBQ and a firework show on the Astor Pier.
 
As such a long history can’t be celebrated in just one day, the hotel is putting on all manner of events and promotional offers to satisfy the most history hungry guest. Christian Metzner, the GM of Astor shared  with Business Tianjin about carrying the torch for Astor on this most historic of occasions, and highlighting one of Tianjin's historic gems. 
 
How does it feel to be the GM of the Astor Hotel during its 150th anniversary?
 
I’m very honoured and I’m very proud that Starwood put me in place here at the Astor Hotel to prepare for this memorable event. I think the hotel is a very unique place as it’s the first Luxury Collection Hotel in China, so it sets the tone for the brand here. This huge event is not only important for the hotel, it’s important for Starwood and for the city of Tianjin. The Astor was the first international hotel here, and we have had a lot of famous guests, which still holds true today. A lot of foreigners don’t know that some of the people who have played an important role in Chinese history have stayed at our hotel, and we will release a CCTV documentary to showcase this aspect of our hotel. We will screen the film at the Astor later this year.
 
What has the preparation been like for this event?
 
We have been planning it ever since I arrived in April last year. We started discussing a few ideas about what we were going to do, as it is not actually a one day celebration, but will be a year long. A combination of our fantastic team, great ideas, and ample preparation time mean we're well prepared.
 
altHow will the hotel be celebrating this event throughout the year?
 
We actually have already started some of the promotional offers to celebrate our anniversary. For example, we have the 1863 Suite Legacy Package where we you pay CNY 1863 for the first night, and for the second night the suite costs CNY 150. We also have the 1863 Historic Dining Package whereby if you stay with us you will get 150 RMB to spend anywhere in the hotel. On top of this, we have items which guests can buy like official jewellery marking the event. Another way in which we are promoting the event is by creating a floating museum, which sounds like we are sending our museum down the Hai River. What we are actually doing, however, is sharing several of our hotel museum’s exhibitions, which is the only hotel in China with an official Tianjin museum, with our sister hotels in other cities and countries. We also have a special buffet offer that is CNY 150.
 
There are many historic and famous hotels in the Starwood brand, what makes the Astor different from the rest?
I have been with Starwood for over 11 1/2 years, and have worked with some of their most famous brands such as Four Points, Sheraton and Westin. I think the Luxury Collection is a unique brand because of our core values, which are: Indigenous, Exceptional and Experienced. We differ from other brands which focus on wellbeing, while we focus on providing a place with meaning, that’s connected with the area you are staying in. We represent the place and we represent the city. If you want to learn something about the city itself, rather than stay in a standard four or five star hotel, then you should stay in a Luxury Collection Hotel. I think the Astor Hotel does this amazingly well.
 
We try to offer a mixture of modern convenience with historic undertones, without being too trendy or over the top. So we have a modern wing that still stays within the traditional values of the hotel, but if a guest doesn’t want this, we also have a heritage wing, in a Victorian style, with wooden floors, four poster beds, and big blinds. These are all features that other hotels don’t provide. Luxury is very important in terms of guest service, so we have iPod docks and over-sized TV’s in every room.
 
Ultimately the Astor is providing a memorable experience and aims to tell the world that we are a very historical place that contains a lot of Tianjin’s heritage, and that if you are travelling to Tianjin then you have to stop by. If you don’t you are missing out on a part of Tianjin.
 
Can you tell us about some of the notable people who have stayed at your hotel and how have they left their mark on the venue?
 
Some of the best resources we have from previous teams are the extensive records they left. This includes things like old menus and registration records. They also kept a guest book so we can tell exactly when Herbert Hoover was here in 1900, or what Mei Lan Fang and Dr. Sun Yat Sen ate when they stayed at our hotel. We also encourage current guests to sign our book and leave a comment so that perhaps in 150 years time, the GM will be doing an interview and talking about when you came to our hotel.
 
How did you go about creating menus for guests based on some of your classic recipes?
 
The cooking methods have changed a lot, so what was permissible in 1863 has been modernised for today’s taste buds. Our Head Chef has done an excellent job of going through the archives and updating the recipes, which are displayed in our museum downstairs. Guests can try the Chinese-style recipes in our Chinese restaurant Shui An. We also have some recipes that we use in our western-themed bistro and terrace 1863. We use ones that people with modern palates could also appreciates.
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What aspects of the Astor have stayed the same over the last 150 years? How do you carry on the long tradition you have inherited?
 
Besides being the general manager of the hotel, you have to love and value your duty of nurturing the past, and how you can do this for future generations. As I mentioned earlier, 150 years from now, people may be looking back at our 2013 guest book to see what was happening at the Astor hotel. Recently we had James Cameron come to tour our hotel, and of course we documented that. Maybe his place in history will be that much more important and people will look at this as a resource. Our guest book is the perfect example of us carrying on the tradition of recording our guests’ stay and preserving it for future generations. Last year we had a banquet for 80 ex-Presidents and Prime Ministers, including Germany’s ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. I see it as my duty to preserve these kinds of historic events in our records for future generations to use.
 
How have you managed to combine styles from the different concessions and different time periods?
 
The hotel has three different areas. First there is the historic section which is 150 years old. Where I am sitting now is 100 years old, and the main entrance was only built 30 years ago. You can experience the different epochs by simply walking through the hotel. But we also try to put on as many events and promotions as possible in order to allow to guests to sample our unique cultural heritage. For example, at the moment we are running a series of Sunday brunches where every 1st Sunday of the month we serve a British style brunch, every 2nd Sunday French, every 3rd Sunday German, every 4th Sunday Italian; and if a month has 5 Sundays, we do Russian and Belgian. We also give our seafood buffets various themes. Last month was Belgian, this month is Italian and next month it will be Russian. 
 
How has the clientele of the Astor changed since its opening in 1863?
 
I think our clientele has changed quite a lot. If you think back about 150 years ago, times were a lot different. We were founded in 1863 by a British missionary called John Innocent. He originally built the hotel as a storage space with only four or five rooms attached. It changed very fast as Tianjin was, and still is, a trading city, with a lot of goods flowing through it. So the hotel was for the predominately foreign traders, who bought and sold these goods. After the first 30 years the clientele changed somewhat, with fewer foreigners coming. More recently, over the last 30 or 40 years the guests have been more Chinese from both the mainland and Hong Kong. Then we get to the present day and the guests are a mix of foreigners from Europe and other parts of Asia, as well as local Chinese people.   
 
What does The Astor's receipt of the prestigious Best of Tianjin Award for the Best Luxury Historical Hotel mean for the hotel? 
 
First of all, I think it is a great thing that we have these kinds of awards in Tianjin. I have been in Tianjin for over four years and I have always thought that awards and ceremonies like this are missing. Tianjin is a huge city and we have a large number of great destinations that we should acknowledge and celebrate. We have received a lot of awards from all over China. Last year we won 11 awards, but not one was from within Tianjin. But more importantly, many of the guests who dine and stay at our hotel are from Tianjin, so it is important to us that we get this kind of acknowledgment from within our city. Ultimately I’m very proud and glad to receive this award that not only highlights the Astor’s quality, but also is a symbol of Tianjin’s development. This award is also great for our team as it shows that we are on the right track and it keeps us motivated to always do the best we can. 
 
We would like to invite all of your readers in Tianjin to visit us and experience a part of the city’s history for themselves, and we very much look forward to welcoming you to our hotel to help us celebrate our birthday!

 By Matthew Baum
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