Foreigners in business: Park Hyatt Tokyo

August 31st, 2011By Category: Work Tips

One of the most iconic hotels in Tokyo is the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku. Since it opened in 1994, it has become famous for its Sunday brunch at the New York Grill; it’s a favorite hotel for celebrities and it is in demand for weddings. The hotel was made internationally famous by the 2003 film “Lost in Translation.”

Occupying the top 14 floors of Shinjuku Park Tower, the hotel has 177 rooms including 23 suites, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of Tokyo & Mount Fuji, three restaurants, a lounge, two bars and a deli, while the Club on the Park Spa provides the ultimate in wellness & spa treatments.

Overseeing the Park Hyatt’s operations is General Manager Philippe Roux-Dessarps. Born in France, Roux-Dessarps began his career as a concierge after graduating from the “Golden Keys” School in Paris and taking a position at the desk at the Intercontinental in Paris. After graduating from the Lausanne Hotel School, he worked at Hyatt Regency Tahiti, Hyatt Regency Osaka and Hyatt Regency Guam, before having his first term at Park Hyatt Tokyo as Front Office Manager from 1996 to 1999. After stints in London, Paris and Birmingham, he took up his current assignment in September 2008.

GaijinPot, together with Japan Today editor Chris Betros and InterFm radio personality Kamasami Kong visit Roux-Dessarps to hear more about the hotel business.

Have you always wanted to be a hotelier?

I was 14 when I decided I wanted to be a hotelier. I enjoyed staying in hotels when I went on holidays with my family and I thought working in a hotel would be like a holiday. I still enjoy it very much and haven’t changed my mind since I was 14, except that it isn’t a holiday.

How did the March 11 disaster affect business?

We have gone through different phases since March 11. Like any other hotel, we lost a fair amount of business. But we are in the recovery stage, although I think it will take a few more months. There have been some very interesting trends with domestic business and customers changing the way they behave.

Such as?

For example, the wedding business is booming. The disaster has made many people reassess what is important in their lives and many more want to get married. Another shift is in banquets and restaurants. There are less business dinners, but more business lunches. The weekend brunch at the New York Grill is even busier than last year.

How about your occupancy rate?

Occupancy rate went down about 15% but we are slowly recovering. Before the quake, we had a 50-50 mix of foreign and domestic business. Now it is about 60% Japanese. The foreigners we are missing are the leisure travelers. We were looking at a good cherry blossom season before the earthquake and that didn’t materialize. At this point in summer, we would traditionally have a high leisure tourist percentage, which we are missing Overall, I am hopeful we will be back to pre-earthquake numbers by the end of the year.

You said the wedding business is booming.

We have an average of five wedding proposals a week, just in the New York Grill. We get asked to organize these special moments. Our staff there have seen it all. They’ve seen rings in ice cubes, in cakes, all the flowers before and after the dinner. Unfortunately, there have been some rare occasions when the answer was no, but the yes rate is close to 95%.

There was one case where we were asked by the gentleman to prepare – while the couple were having dinner in the New York Grill – 500 roses to be placed on the floor in the room, making a path to the table where the engagement ring was located. Fortunately, the lady said yes.

How do you market the hotel?

We don’t do much advertising, or if we do, it is in selected wedding magazines. The web is doing great things for us. One trend since the earthquake is that online business has boomed. We are getting a lot more online reservations. As for social media, we have been on Twitter for more than two years and we send out interesting content about what’s happening in the hotel. There will be some developments on Facebook in the next few months.

How is the “Lost in Translation” effect?

We still get a lot of media interest due to that movie. I was flying on a European airline recently and one of the movies available was “Lost in Translation.”

Why should someone choose the Park Hyatt?

For someone who has never been to Tokyo, being in a high-rise hotel gives great views. You can get a grasp of the city. We have experienced employees and the service level is quite high. On the 47th floor, we have a pool and fitness center that is one of the best in the world and has been featured by many media. There is a sauna, spa, 20-meter pool and a fully equipped gym. You’re running on the treadmill, looking at Mount Fuji in front of you. It’s hard to beat that.

What are some things we might not know about the hotel?

We make mobile phones available to all our guests. This is something that has been appreciated by our foreign guests who arrive in Japan and find out that their mobile phone doesn’t work. We can actually arrange for the phone to be sent to them at the airport.

Another thing is power generation. Tokyo Gas runs a facility in the basement of this building in which power is generated by two Rolls Royce engines burning gas to generate electricity. The amount of power supplies some of our building and surrounding buildings.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo is popular with celebrities. Are they difficult to deal with and are fans ever a problem?

I have found celebrities to be generally well-behaved. Sometimes they might make an unusual request. Once we had to take up the whole carpet to allow the celeb to do yoga on the wooden floor. But there has never been any trouble. Fortunately, no one has thrown a TV out the window.

As for fans, the way the building is constructed gives us an advantage. In other walk-in hotels where I have worked, it has been a bit tricky. We respect fans and we set rules for what they can do and where they can go. In Japan, it works very well. In Europe, some fans may not listen and cross the line.

What are some other unusual requests you have received from guests?

One of the strangest requests we had was from an American guest who asked us to ship a vending machine to the U.S. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that for technical reasons. In Japan, we are famous for washlet toilets. In recent years, Toto and other companies have understood that there is a demand in foreign markets for these features, but 10 years ago, it was not the case, and many of our guests asked us to ship toilet seats to various parts of the world. So we did. We have also shipped mattresses because our beds have such a good reputation.

We’ve been asked to deliver running machines to rooms by celebrities so they can work out in their room. A change of minibar items is something we see quite often. But these challenges are fun and part of the job.

As a GM you have probably seen and heard it all during your career.

I’ve seen just about everything except births.

Do you live in the hotel?

No, I don’t. I have children and I think it is good for them to live in a normal environment, so they don’t get used to picking up the phone and ordering whatever they want.

What is a typical day for you?

There is no typical day. It is a very diverse job and each day is different. I might start off with a morning briefing. Then I could be looking at financial reports, doing food tasting in restaurants, checking out new equipment in the gym, greeting guests, meeting clients and so on. You can never get bored.

How important is it for you to be personally greeting guests?

It is a critical part of the job. For many guests, a hotel like the Park Hyatt is a home in some ways, and we have many guests who have been staying with us since we opened in 1994.

Do you get many job applications each year?

We go and look for staff at hotel schools before they come to us. It is always an exciting moment when we get people who are keen to work in hotels. We have a strong Park Hyatt culture and we need to make sure they fit with the culture. So we are looking for people who have a passion, motivation, graciousness and desire to serve guests. We have a core group of people who have been here since the opening and who are part of the culture. This hotel has had a low turnover of staff.

Would you recommend this job as a career path to young people?

Yes, but you need to have the passion. You have to be fully committed because you have to invest a fair amount of time in it. When I look at new hires, I try to find the motivation and eagerness to serve customers. It has to be natural. You can’t teach it.

When you are not working, how do you relax?

I spend time with my family and I recently started training for triathlon. We eat a lot in the hotel business, so I have to exercise.

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GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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