The opening of the Pan Pacific London hotel in the City presented general manager Anne Golden with the chance to translate the brand's signature service style in Singapore to London, along with being the figurehead for the brand's UK ambition. Janet Harmer meets her.
One month spent soaking up the hospitality culture of Singapore sent Anne Golden into a spin as to how she was going to replicate her experiences once she returned to the UK. As the newly appointed general manager of Pan Pacific London, it was going to be her responsibility to deliver the same heartfelt and sincere service style that she lived and breathed for four weeks in Asia in the new property.
"I was worried on the flight back exactly how I was going to do it," she says. Golden returned just prior to the opening on 1 September of Pan Pacific London, the 237-bedroom hotel in the recently completed 43-storey bronze tower on Bishopsgate Plaza, a stone's throw from Liverpool Street Station in the City of London.
"I broke it down into what comprises the main attributes of this kind of service, and it is basically kindness, passion, incredible attention to detail and humility. The culture in Singapore is very different from the one I had been immersed in at Morgans Hotel Group, where the service was more American and in-your face, which I absolutely love and believe there is a place for. However, Pan Pacific required a service approach that is unobtrusive, humble and soft. The only way I could emulate that was to look for those attributes within the hotel community back in the UK."
I broke it down into what comprises the main attributes of this kind of service, and it is basically kindness, passion, incredible attention to detail and humility
Surprisingly, recruitment of staff with these specific qualities has been easier than Golden initially thought. "Covid has helped us in this respect," she says. "When we were looking for our senior team, it coincided with a lot of people being made redundant and we employed some excellent people who wouldn't have dreamt of leaving the hotels that they were previously working at. In this respect we had a dollop of good luck." Once members of the senior team who are all focused on achieving the Pan Pacific vision were on board, they set about the recruitment of the rest of the staff members. By the time of the opening, a team of more than 200 were in place.
Right place, right time
Golden joined what is Pan Pacific's first outpost in Europe in July 2019, having previously spent six years at the Mondrian London (now Sea Containers London) as the opening general manager and latterly as regional vice-president, operations and development for the brand. She had been made redundant eight months earlier following the acquisition in 2016 of Morgans Hotel Group, operator of the Mondrian London, by US-based hospitality company SBE Entertainment Group. Two years later, Accor bought a 50% stake in SBE. "It was a rationalisation process," says Golden, who enjoyed an eight-month break before joining Pan Pacific, having continually worked throughout her career, since undertaking her first role in hotels as a receptionist at the Strand Palace in 1991.
The opportunity to join Pan Pacific was one she knew she could not miss, even though she had little prior knowledge of the company. "I was interviewed by Andreas Sungaimin [senior vice-president, human capital and development, Pan Pacific] and was attracted by the autonomy and trust that would be placed in whoever got the role as a result of the head office being based in Singapore, with a time difference of eight hours," she says.
"I also liked that the company owned the building and the aspiration it had for the brand here. Andreas spoke about what Rosewood and Corinthia have done for their brands in successfully opening hotels in London. To have such ambitions to elevate the name of Pan Pacific in a similar way is music to a general manager's ear."
As well as being introduced to a new brand, Golden is also now working in a new location: the City of London as opposed to the West End and the South Bank, where she has spent the past 30 years of her career. Despite imagining that Pan Pacific would have been attracted to the area because of its proximity to the corporate and financial sectors that dominate the City, she says that the leisure attractions nearby were an equally important factor.
"Pan Pacific decided to open in this part of London having seen the evolution of the area and how it was set to continue to evolve, particularly in a leisure direction," she says. The hotel is just a 10-minute walk in one direction to the River Thames and a five-minute walk in the opposite direction to Spitalfields and Shoreditch, with a plethora of quirky, independent markets, shops, restaurants and bars on the doorstep in Brick Lane, Petticoat Lane, Leadenhall Market and Columbia Road.
Pan Pacific confirmed its move to London in 2014 when parent company UOL Group announced the £97m acquisition of what was then a development site. Planning permission had been granted in 2011 to property company Heron International to build the 43-storey tower, which was to originally incorporate a Four Seasons hotel with 190 suites and 120 branded residences. However, with Pan Pacific as the newly designated hotel operator, plans for the tower were changed to a 237-bedroom hotel on the first 19 floors, and 160 private residences on floors 20 to 43. Sales of the private residences have been boosted by having the hotel located within the building: as well as offering a wide selection of food and beverage outlets and leisure facilities, the hotel will also provide housekeeping services if requested.
Of course, when UOL Group signed the deal for the London hotel, a global pandemic, which has seen a collapse in overseas visitors, was not a consideration. Corporate business is certainly not expected to return in any meaningful way until later in the autumn, but social functions and bedroom bookings from domestic leisure guests will help the hotel achieve a similar occupancy of around 50% at weekends and 30% on weekdays recorded by hotels in its competitor set throughout the City and Shoreditch.
Time for tea
The design company behind the hotel, Yabu Pushelberg, which coincidentally has also worked on the Londoner hotel, has created an interior that reflects the hotel's Singaporean roots combined with contemporary elements of a traditional British country house. This can particularly be seen in the bedrooms, where a hand-painted mural behind each bed – of which there are five variations – features an amalgamation of British and Asian botanicals, and Chinese lacquer boxes sits beside a statue of a hare, symbolising the National Trust. All rooms provide both Asian and Western tea sets, while the bathrooms feature a full range of Diptique amenities, a first for a UK hotel.
Although the hotel is predominately located in the award-winning high-rise tower, it also flows through into the adjacent 144-year-old Devonshire House, featuring a pâtisserie operated by Pan Pacific and designer shops from third-party operators on the ground floor, with a cocktail bar designed by Tom Dixon above. A second restaurant for the hotel, details of which are yet to be revealed, will open next year.
Unsurprisingly, restaurant and bars in the tower strongly reflect the culinary heritage of Singapore, from the Kopi Tiam afternoon tea served in the Orchid Lounge to the wide-ranging menu found in Straits Kitchen, the hotel's main restaurant named after the Malacca Straits, the strategic stretch of water adjacent to Singapore.
The Kopi Tiam tea, ranging from £68 per person up to £118, including a glass of Champagne, features the likes of chicken curry puff with sesame, soy and ginger marinated salmon bao, and peranakan pineapple tart. Meanwhile, the menu in Straits Kitchen features an eclectic selection of dishes found in Singapore, reflecting the cuisines of those countries which neighbour the island state. Dishes include wok-fried Singaporean chilli crab (£50 for two), Hainanese chicken rice (£22), and native lobster nonya laska (£38).
To ensure the authenticity of such dishes, it was imperative that a source for the correct ingredients were found without resorting to flying them in from south-east Asia, something that flies in the face of the strong sustainability culture practiced by Pan Pacific. As a result, executive chef Lorraine Sinclair has teamed up with a farmer in Norfolk who is growing the likes of Vietnamese coriander, Morning Glory (water spinach), pandan leaves and much more, specifically for the hotel.
The focus on sustainability, as highlighted by the group's Park Royal Collection Pickering property in Singapore being consistently named the World's Leading Green City Hotel at the World Travel Awards, goes hand in hand with an ethos that puts kindness and wellness at the heart of the Singaporean service culture that Golden has worked hard to create in London.
One particular aspect of this is the way that a guest remains a guest until the moment they are waved off in a taxi, even though it may be the evening and check-out will have happened earlier in the day. "Not only will we look after your bags, we will also continue to look after you, whether it be by using the relaxation pods or going for a swim," says Golden.
"With so many incredible hotels already in London, it is important that we have created a point of difference for the city. That is why Pan Pacific has come here and we are now ready to deliver that vision."
About Pan Pacific London
Pan Pacific London, 80 Houndsditch, London EC3A 7AB
020 7118 6888
Owner/operator Pan Pacific Hotels Group, owned by Singapore-based hospitality and property company UOL Group. The company has more than 50 hotels, resorts and serviced suites across three brands (Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts, ParkRoyal Collection and ParkRoyal) in a portfolio located across Asia, Australia, North America and now the UK. A further 31 hotels are under development worldwide. Pan Pacific London has received a raft of design accolades including for Best New Hotel Construction & Design, UK, 2017 in the International Property Awards.
General manager Anne Golden
Executive chef Lorraine Sinclair
Bedrooms 237, including 42 suites
Staff 200-plus on opening, rising to over 300 as occupancy increases
Food and beverage Straits Kitchen (menu inspired by mélange of food served in Singapore), the Orchid Lounge (all-day dining including breakfast and afternoon tea), Ginger Lily (cocktail bar); Tom Dixon-designed bar (opening at the end of the year), second restaurant (opening in 2022, name and concept to be confirmed).
Leisure facilities 18.5m infinity pool overlooking a public plaza and Bishopsgate, gym with TechnoBody digital wall training system, spa with two treatment rooms featuring Venn products from South Korea, relaxation pods, mindfulness studio, sauna and steam rooms.
Meetings and events Ballroom for up to 400-seated guests featuring a VIP room with a live feed to the event, plus nine meeting rooms
Guest profile The domestic leisure market will initially provide the majority of guests, particularly at weekends and for celebratory stays, with the US and Asia eventually becoming significant feeder markets
Room rates From £325 during opening month of September, room only
It was not intentional, but Anne Golden heads up a management team which is almost exclusively made up by women, an unusual situation for a luxury London hotel. "I generally believe in balanced teams as everyone brings something slightly different to a team in terms of outlook and life experience," she says.
"I don't think men or women do any one particular role better than the other; blended teams have a great energy. I didn't set out to recruit a female management team, I simply wanted the best person available for each role."
Golden works alongside Kate Ruddick, director of sales; Clare Gilbertson, director of revenue; Michelle Whittemore, director of marketing communications; and Jennifer Chu, finance director.
Meanwhile, the 30-strong kitchen brigade is headed by executive chef Lorraine Sinclair, who is supported by Cherish Finden as pastry chef. Originally from Glasgow, Sinclair was appointed to the role after spending four years as director of culinary operations for Sheraton Hotels & Resorts in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Her appointment at Pan Pacific London marks her return to the UK after working overseas for more than 20 years, during which time she held eight executive chef positions in locations as far flung as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea.
Finden, a judge on Channel 4's Bake Off: The Professionals, is returning to Pan Pacific having worked at the brand's hotel in her native Singapore in 1991. She later went on to head the pastry kitchen at Raffles Hotel Singapore, the Sheraton Tower Singapore and the Langham London, before her most recent role as creative development chef at Godiva.
One of the only two male members of the management team is Shahnawaz Khan, the director of housekeeping, and the other is Steven Drewery, executive assistant manager.
There is a long way to go before the top jobs within the hospitality, travel and leisure sectors are split equally between men and women. Research carried out by Women in Hospitality Travel and Leisure, for its annual report published in June 2021, found that Covid-19 has slowed progress on diversity and inclusion across the three sectors. While women make up 51.9% of the total workforce, only 25.9% and 26.8% of regional/area manager and operations director roles respectively are female. Despite a high percentage of women coming into these sectors, they frequently move away once they reach middle management to start families and don't return.
Golden says that Pan Pacific Hotels Group actively works toward inclusivity. "Locally at Pan Pacific London, we encourage flexible working where possible, as we believe this makes our team more productive, less stressed and happier. Where working from home isn't practical, we are looking at tailored hours for some roles. In this tough environment for hospitality, we must do all we can to show our teams that we genuinely care about their mental and physical wellbeing."
In this tough environment for hospitality, we must do all we can to show our teams that we genuinely care about their mental and physical wellbeing
An increasing number of women have been appointed to the top jobs in London's luxury hotels in recent years. They include Amanda Hyndman, general manager at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park; Sonja Vodusek, managing director at the Peninsula; Lynn Brutman, general manager at the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane; Catey 2021 award winner Joanne Taylor-Stagg, general manager at the Athenaeum Hotel & Residences; Laura Sharpe, general manager at the Ham Yard hotel; and Eva Mount, general manager at the Guardsman.
Interior photography by Jack Hardy. Food and drink photography: Jodi Hinds. Cherish Finden photo by Bernard ZIEJA.
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