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Paul Tchen – A Minute on the Clock

18 September 2009 by
Paul Tchen – A Minute on the Clock

Paul Tchen is the general manager of the Peninsula Shanghai, a CNY¥3b (£261m) development from the Peninsula Hotels group which is set to open on 18 October on the city's historic Bund. He spoke to Gemma Sharkey

Caterer With just a month to go, what stage is the hotel at?

Paul Tchen We're currently playing hotel among ourselves - the chefs are cooking and the other members of staff are rehearsing and staying in the guest rooms. It's a nice thing to do after spending a long time on a project.

Caterer Given the brand's fame, it's surprising that there are only nine hotels in the company's portfolio. Why so few?

PT We don't think you need to be the biggest, but provide the best quality. Our focus has always been on quality versus volume so we only open a hotel every two to three years. We also full or part-own a lot of the properties, as our chairman believes that one of the company's key assets is its brand reputation.

Caterer Why did the owners choose Shanghai as the ninth location?

PT Our parent company, Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, started in 1866 in Shanghai. We thought it only fitting to open a property there to return our company to its roots.

Caterer Tell us about the new hotel and what makes it stand out from the rest?

PT It's the first building to be redeveloped on the historic Bund in Shanghai. Over the past decade we've seen a lot of new developments, a lot of very modern contemporary hotels but we wanted to bring the glamour back to Shanghai.

Caterer Does the design reflect this?

PT Definitely. We're aiming for this to be Shanghai's first modern-day palace. The interiors pay homage to the rich art deco history of the city's architecture, combined with modern day facilities - 235 bedrooms, three restaurants, two bars, a spa and a shopping arcade.

Caterer What were the main challenges?

PT The design of the building itself, as we had to create something in line with government expectations because of its historic location and the fact that it was a UNESCO site. The government has been very strict and we received a lot more scrutiny than any other development in Shanghai because the most famous and valuable asset of the city is the Bund. In the end, we submitted 30 design submissions. That's a lot of layouts!

Caterer Photographer Annie Leibovitz recently created some iconic images of the Peninsula staff. What do you look for when recruiting?

PT A person's personality - we can teach somebody how to carry a tray but we cannot teach someone to be a nice and kind person.

Caterer Finally, are there any plans to bring the brand to Europe?

PTAbsolutely - we've found a site in Paris where we will open our 10th hotel in 2012 on Avenue Kléber, two streets from the Arc de Triomphe.

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