Room at the top - Grand Hyatt Tokyo
The Grand Hyatt Tokyo could not have picked a better location when it opened in Tokyo in 2003, than Roppongi Hills. Eleven years later, the five-star hotel remains one of the city’s hottest meeting and dining spots.
The hotel has 387 guestrooms and suites, including the Presidential Suite with a private rooftop outdoor swimming pool within a Japanese garden and occupying the entire 21st floor. It also has seven restaurants and three bars, numerous banquet rooms, as well as an outstanding spa and fitness center. In 2013, Travel & Leisure recognized the hotel in The Word’s Best Hotels in the World 500, and Condé Nast Traveler named it as one of the top 10 hotels in Japan and South Korea for 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards.
Overseeing the hotel is Antonio Álvarez, who took over as general manager last December after serving as GM for four years at the Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. Born in Spain, Álvarez began his hotel career in the food and beverage department of the Barcelona Hilton and followed that up with assignments at Ritz Carlton Hotels in Barcelona, Atlanta and New York. In 2013, he was one of the five nominees in the category “Hotelier of the Year” of the Virtuoso Best of the Best Awards.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros catches up with Álvarez to hear more about the hotel industry..
When you were a young boy, did you always want to work in the hotel industry?
When I was working in my father’s restaurant in Barcelona, I used to watch the maitre d’ and the restaurant staff. I was very impressed by their passion and their interaction with guests. It fascinated me. About 2-3 years later, I started at the Hilton in Barcelona and that was how I started my career as a hotelier.
You have moved around a lot on your hotel career. Do you find it hard to hit the ground running?
When I went to the United States, it was not difficult. Latin America was very easy for me, of course. In Japan, it is a little different. I’ve only been here for five months and am still learning but it hasn’t been that difficult to adapt. It is important for me to understand and learn and show respect to the local culture. I am also interested in languages and I am taking Japanese lessons every week to communicate with Japanese.
Do you find the hotel industry is the same in each country?
Hotels tend to be the same from an operational point of view but obviously we try to adapt to the local culture wherever we go – with restaurants and the way of doing things. Japanese guests have different expectations. For example, because Japanese guests are detail-oriented and value processes, it is important to ensure that proper steps are taken, even if it is a check-in process. Japanese guests enjoy meeting the GM when they arrive but I find that they are not as outspoken about giving feedback compared to guests from other countries.
How important is it for you to be in the lobby greeting guests?
It’s very important. We are in the hospitality industry and guests come first. It’s not good to get caught up in the office all day.
How is the Grand Hyatt Tokyo doing?
The hotel has positioned itself very well and is leading the market with very high occupancy rates. We are in such a great location here at Roppongi Hills. As you know, 2008-2011 was tough for the whole hotel industry. However, we are very optimistic for the next 6-7 years and foresee a lot of activity, investment and more foreign guests, especially in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Did the sales tax hike on April 1 affect business?
We didn’t increase rates or prices in restaurants, so we didn’t see any downturn. People are still going out for lunch and dinner. And in terms of room occupancy, we are almost fully booked each week during this season.
What’s the mix of guests?
On weekdays, we tend to get more international business than Japanese, but on weekends, we have more Japanese leisure guests.
How is the wedding business?
Last year we did 600 weddings and this year we will do almost the same despite the fact we are going to refurbish some of our banquet facilities. The maximum number of weddings we can have is 12 weddings a day.
Is the hotel in demand for the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Conferences)?
Yes, our brand is very strong in that area and we have superb banquet facilities to handle very large numbers of guests.
With such a well-known brand, how do you market the hotel?
It’s a totally different business from 10 years ago. There are so many more ways to market the hotel. Social media have become much more important, but we still do advertising in traditional print media.
Do you get many requests from TV and film companies to shoot in the hotel?
Yes, from time to time, we receive inquiries to film a movie or commercial here. It’s not easy to accommodate such requests because we’d have to shut down our operation and as a hotel, our priority is to serve our guests.
Is the Grand Hyatt popular among new graduates?
Yes, we get a lot of job applications. All the Hyatt brands do. The hotel labor market tends to be less mobile here in Japan compared to other countries. Loyalty is quite high in Japan. We cultivate that loyalty by giving our employees a chance to visit other group hotels both in Japan and abroad, not just for training but also with an eye to developing managers.
What characteristics should a good hotelier have?
Passion and character. You can go to any hotel in the world and there are some great places with superb facilities, but what will always make a difference is the passion of the people who serve the customers. If guests don’t feel that, then they probably won’t come back.
What is a typical day for you?
I show up around 8 or 8:30 a.m. First, I walk around the hotel to see what’s going on and meet with some guests. Then we’ll have a managers’ meeting. I like to work in an environment where my senior managers can make their own decisions. I don’t like to micromanage, though I tend to be more hands on in sales and marketing. This hotel demands a lot and is very big – maybe 50% of my time I’m in my office.
Do you work on weekends?
I try not to, but sometimes VIPs come on weekends and I have to be here to greet them.
How do you like to relax?
I play basketball, and I like to go exploring for new restaurants on weekends.