Millennium Hilton's High Staff
Satisfaction Brings Quality Services
- Its "Seven Luck"Casino becomes a boon to the hotel
"The high employee satisfaction rate is very impressive. We are able to service our guests with an experienced staff,"said Eric Swanson, the new general manager of the famed Millennium Seoul Hilton.
Making sure that everything with the internal staff is perfect ensures that the guests can also have a perfect experience when they visit. Swanson said in a recent interview with NewsWorld, "I think that this is a very sound and important way to conduct business in the service industry."
Asked where he places management priority, the seasoned general manager cited raising the satisfaction of the internal staff as being the most important. After that, raising the quality and service level to that of a world-renowned hotel chain, and maximizing revenue. Swanson went on to say, "All management is focused on raising the earnings of the company. We want to make the Millennium Seoul Hilton the number one hotel among top deluxe hotels in Seoul in terms of profitability."
Millennium Seoul Hilton has a history of 23 years.
No surprise that out of its staff of 870, more than 300 staff members are original opening members. Seventy percent of its employees have been working at this hotel for over a decade. There aren't very many hotels with that kind of employee satisfaction. "We have a group of people who work so hard for so long in one place, and the services they provide are world-class,"he said.
A hotel is a place where business travelers and others on personal holidays come to visit. The hotelier said, "Because of this, I think the most ideal hotel experience/culture is to offer a home away from home - a safe and comfortable environment."
In reality, Millennium Seoul Hilton has gained a reputation of offering diverse, excellent cuisine aimed at meeting discerning clientele with the likes of Seasons and Taipan on top of other services.
On July 27, the Millennium Seoul Hilton hosted a Black Box Culinary Challenge where its chefs and chefs from other deluxe hotels competed in a culinary challenge. This was a great showcase for the Millennium Seoul Hilton chefs, who took the grand prize in the competition. "The Millennium Seoul Hilton will continue developing new products and events by utilizing the good system of the Hilton, and the know-how of its team members,"Swanson said.
He said, "I can feel the traditions and self-confidence of this Millennium Seoul Hilton Hotel. I have the great desire to make this hotel the one with the highest earnings of all the deluxe hotels in central Seoul."Swanson said he puts a focus on raising the standard, as well as raising revenue, both of which are key to future success. To this end, he noted that his hotel is employing an aggressive marketing strategy and has recently hired a new director of sales and marketing hailing from India, who the general manger expects will brings a wealth of international marketing experience to the Millennium Seoul Hilton. He said his hotel is trying to capitalize on his expertise in opening channels of distribution.
He stressed the need for a shift in marketing now that 70 percent of the reservations come from corporations overseas, compared to the period between 1996 and 1999 when rooms were mostly occupied by local officials. Regarding building revenues, he said he sees the banquet segment, the weakest point of the hotel, showing growth potential, saying that he plans to renovate banquets next year, especially for weddings.
"We also want to promote our Grand Ballroom. It is our plan to generate as much revenue as possible by maximizing the turnover rate of our Grand Ballroom events,"he said. In the F&B segment, Swanson said, he will focus on high-level social functions such as national days, exclusive dinner shows and weddings.
He described himself as "an incremental guy,"saying that he believed in a piece-by-piece approach for building revenue. For example, the wait staff has a dessert cart which they roll around in the Palm Court. This approach encourages guests to order a piece of cake to go with their coffee, and helps increase sales bit by bit.
The Millennium Seoul Hilton is beautifully nestled at the foot of Mt. Namsan, offering amazing views of the city and the mountain throughout the year. The hotel also has a variety of meeting rooms, ranging from intimate small rooms to the stately Grand Ballroom. Swanson also said, "The addition of the casino on-site distinguishes us."Since the Seven Luck casino opened on May 26, it has only been in operation for 3 months. The casino and the room sales and food & beverage sales associated with the casino have shown a positive change in the sales and market mix. "Both sides (the hotel and the casino) have positive aspects and areas for improvement to them, and by working hard to maintain the positive points and improve the weak areas, we will work hard to bring this casino to the number one position in Korea,"he said. "The casino helped increase room occupancy 10 percent on average in most of the suites and F&B sales have increased as well. The casino and the hotel work in hand and hand and that's a good balance,"Swanson said.
"The Convention Center was converted to the casino, and for the comfort of our Casino VIPs's he said, "The hotel plans to renovate suites this year. Millennium Seoul Hilton has a chief designer from Millennium headquarters in Singapore coming to oversee the project.
Take a look into the hotel's long-standing representative and symbolic events. Millennium Seoul Hilton will kick off the Christmas season with its annual Christmas Tree Lighting and Christmas Train Display opening ceremony on Nov. 25 (Saturday) this year. "If you bring your family and friends, you will truly feel the spirit of Christmas in our hotel lobby,"he said. "In the lobby, there will be a Gingerbread House selling Christmas treats, ornaments, and gifts.
This is a unique and greatly anticipated annual event, where sponsors and the international community can enjoy the spirit of giving and the magic of Christmas. On July 21, our very own Executive Chef Park Hyo-nam was awarded the Order of Agricultural Merit by the French government for his dedication to French cuisine. Executive Chef Park heads up Seasons, our French restaurant where he hosts a Gourmet Circle dinner quarterly, to celebrate the changing of each season. World-class Executive Chef Park, considered to be the face of the hotel, brings history, pride and professionalism to the Millennium Seoul Hilton,"he said.
Seasons'next Gourmet Circle Dinner will take place in September, and then again in December. Genji's Shogun's Table will take place in October. And Taipan's Imperial Feast will take place in December, while Il Ponte will host its next Cena dei Reali dinner in November.
Swanson said he wants such traditional events as the Christmas Train, Oktoberfest and gourmet club functions to be kept intact, saying that they are part of the hotel's established identity and "they will never be touched."
"The global political and economic situation is in a downturn right now due to the soaring prices of crude oil and the ongoing war in the Middle East's he said. "But the Korean service industry has a strong infrastructure to overcome this situation. Furthermore, the Korea Hotel Association has recently submitted a report to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and we hope their efforts will pay off." Asked about the prospects of the local economy, he said he was optimistic that Korea has the growth potential for room occupancy, predicting the average rate of room occupancy in Seoul to be around 70 to 75 percent next year, equal to this year". He forecast that biotechnology and IT services of the city will continue to fuel Korea's growth.
Swanson has strong personal connections to Korea. He expressed the hope to receive permission to stay here for a long time and be able to learn from the management expertise of the Millennium Seoul Hilton. "Korea is like my home country,"he said. "Because of my mother's influence, I'm very accustomed to Korean food and culture. Even though I don't understand all the cultural aspects and there are some cultural differences or misunderstandings, I'm very accustomed to it all. I even have some of the general attitudes of Koreans myself."His mother, born in Pyeongyang, North Korea, immigrated to Seoul in the early 1930s when the Japanese occupied Korea. She attended the Tokyo Women's University and became the first Korean women to obtain a master's degree in the United States. Swanson said he was very exposed to things Korean such as Korean art and food, a big part of the Korean culture. His wife is also of Korean descent.
Inside our hotel, there is a staff cafeteria where we can enjoy food that tastes better than food from any other country. He enjoys eating the Korean food just like any other Korean. He said he eats in the staff cafeteria whenever he can.
Not only the sauna, but he has also visited a huge jjimjilbang, where there was also a ping pong table area, and an internet cafe'(PC Bang).
"This is my second time working in Korea, and I have been to Korea for personal reasons on numerous other occasions,"he said.
"The level of quality in food and service is the best's he said. "Korean hotels are always working hard to deliver value for the money spent to its customers. As well, the owner of this hotel has extraordinary pride and outstanding bravery to make contact with international chain groups.
Swanson continued, "The strongest point of the Korean staff is that they are well organized, like the military. They act quickly and jump into action as soon as directions are issued."He said he believed that foreign staff could really learn from them.
The general manager had already spent 3 years in Korea from 1996-1999 - a stint as Director of Sales & Marketing at the Seoul Ritz Carlton. "Korea is my second home. When I left Korea in 1999, I always knew in my heart that I wanted to return to Korea. It was a great desire of mine to be able to work in Korea again, and I'm glad that those dreams have come true."Unfortunately, being in the hotel industry requires being separated from family time to time. Even though Swanson has been working in the hotel industry for the last 20 years, he says that it is only now that he is getting used it. "I work hard and try to enjoy whatever situation I am put in. I generally have an open mind, so I really enjoy being exposed to different cultures, and I'm able to adapt quickly."He described his job as the General Manager as "a kind of hobby,"saying he feels no burden and enjoys it every day.
Every morning at 6 a.m., he works out in the health club for one hour. He also plays golf from time to time, and enjoys talking with friends and making jokes. He believes that humor helps create a relaxed environment for fostering business relationships. "I think having a good sense of humor is a great business tool, for this reason,"said the general manager, who majored in Health and Human Development at Pennsylvania State University. He also studied hotel management at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For hotel experience, he worked in the Ritz Carlton hotel chain in the United States, Egypt, India, China, etc.
He said, "The first thing about becoming an hotelier is to have a very confident personality and to be sure that you are well-suited to the service industry. You must express positivity and confidence in every aspect of work, respect the opinions of others and always listen courteously to what others have to say. It is important to have the ability to bridge any differences of opinion or understanding, and you should be physically strong to be able to handle the long working hours."
"It was all by chance, really. My older sister worked at a hotel in the United States. She was Front Office Manager and she helped me get a part-time job at the hotel,"he said. "When I started working there, I started to realize all the positive aspects of working in the hotel industry. That was how my life in the hotel industry started."The new general manager said, "I was a very quiet and reserved child. In my teens, I visited a fortune teller who told me that when I turned 18, my character would change from being a pig to being a tiger (in the Chinese Zodiac). Eventually, I started to take on the characteristics of a tiger - becoming more aggressive and passionate. I'm not sure if this was because of what the fortune teller said."In 1978, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and served for 6 years. He entered the hotel industry in 1986 at a Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington D.C. He started off as Director of Engineering. Before coming to the Millennium Seoul Hilton, he was General Manager of The Marco Polo Parkside in Beijing, China.
He said the General Manager is in charge of all aspects of the hotel from managing staff and customer relations and making sure everything runs smoothly. He particularly enjoys conducting business with strong confidence, and acting as a liaison between the owner and the staff and helping the two come to a positive consensus.
The world-recognized Hilton name and the 35th ranking Millennium & Cophthorne and the Millennium brand are both powerful names to be associated with. He said, "It has been 2 and a half years since the hotel name change, and I believe that the synergy of the already established Hilton image, as well as the new Millennium brand will work to make the Millennium Seoul Hilton a powerful hotel." "In order for the Millennium Seoul Hilton to advance,"he said, "the Millennium Seoul Hilton Hotel has implemented 5 Core Values." These are what the new general manager constantly impresses upon the employees of this hotel.
1) Will to Win: To possess a passion for achievement and the will to succeed through agility and speed.
2) Customer & Employee Focus: To be committed to treating external and internal customers with respect, care, and attention.
3) Innovation and Creativity: To be creative in providing better experiences and solutions. To find new and better ways in whatever we do. To take personal initiative to change to make things what they could be, rather than to accept things for what they are.
4) Openness in Communication: To ensure an open door policy and a commitment to open candid communications up and down and across our organization.
5) Teamwork: To work for and with each other so that the team achieves the highest performance possible. To enable personal growth through learning from and teaching others. nw
Eric Swanson, the new general manager of the Millennium Seoul Hilton, stands in front of Genji Garden.
The general view of the famed Millennium Seoul Hilton