In conversation with Darren Gearing, Shangri-La Executive Vice President EMEAI

London has become one of the most competitive luxury hospitality markets globally. With this, a very high level of rotation of staff came. How do you address this challenge in ensuring the highest standards of service which the Shangri-la is known for?

As with every great company it’s the selection of people, and then the initial training and orientation that is most important. Training is Shangri-La’s top priority, and significant resources are allocated annually to ensure employees have the skills and knowledge to be the best in their fields. This has earned the group international awards and recognition from guests, prestigious magazines as well as industry partners and made Shangri-La one of the preferred hotel employers, with over 42,000 people serving guests with the philosophy “hospitality from the heart”.

We invest a lot in training, but our employees do not follow a script. The staff at Shangri-La don’t just do what is expected of them. They go the extra mile. We empower our staff to resolve guest issues and give them clear guidelines on how best to approach situations, offering support and guidance from management where required. This gives them more freedom and discretion so they can create engaging experiences for our guests.

You launched your signature suites this Summer and introduced an innovative series of events. What other initiatives do you plan for 2015?

Our Cultural Salon evenings continue to be a key focus in the next six months with some very exciting artists such as Sir David Tang, Lady Ravynn Coxen and Hanif Kureishi to name a few. We are also excited to welcome two prominent guest bartenders at GONG (our bar on level 52), commencing with Shingo Gokan, 12th – 18th October 2015, followed by Zdenek Kastenek, 18th – 24th January 2016.

TING, our restaurant on level 35 will see a sought-after guest appearance of two Michelin-star chef Ip Chi Cheung from our sister property Island Shangri-La in Hong Kong. Chef Ip will delight diners with his speciality dishes from 13th – 24th November 2015. We will also launch a chef’s table to further enhance the dining experience.

In 2016, we have some very exciting plans for a pop-up restaurant in August – details to follow.

How has the Paris Shangri-La performed in 2015? Have you seen any negative impact from peer-to-peer services such as AirBnB or a slow down in traffic from Russia and South America?

After the slowdown at the beginning of 2015, business bounced back and now we are exceeding rates and occupancy compared to 2014. We haven’t seen any negative impact from services such as AirBnB. These are very different business models. Arrivals from Russia and South America have slowed, but not to an alarming point.

This year, Turkey as a whole has been impacted by the political turmoil in the country, especially Istanbul. Has this had any effect on Shangri-la Istanbul?

We did have some cancellations and postponement of bookings, but recently occupancies have been very healthy.

Which is the next European outpost for Shangri-la? Are there any particular cities you are targeting?

Generally, we would look at gateway cities in Europe that complement our properties in Paris, London and Istanbul. There is nothing confirmed at this stage.

Regarding expansion, for the right project, is Shangri-la open to establish a JV (i.e. Istanbul) or even a pure management contract?

The group’s development team is always looking for new and exciting opportunities. While Shangri-La has ownership interest the majority of its properties, we have 20 properties that we strictly manage. We are open to managing new projects where it makes financial sense and fits the company’s strategic plan.

Do you consider a second London property in the near future? What is your take on the current new luxury hospitality developments in London? (i.e. possible saturation etc)

There are many luxury brands that have identified London as one of the greatest cities in the world and an important location to have a presence. The city’s vibrancy and its continued capacity to develop and evolve to attract visitors not only from the more traditional regions such as Europe and North America but also Australia, Asia and the GCC is remarkable. We have no commitments at the moment. It depends on the right opportunity presenting itself, and we continue to look at every prospect as potential growth for the brand and portfolio on a case by case basis.

Which innovations in luxury hospitality do you regard as most likely to be around for the long term?

Many of our guests lead busy lives so instant access to technology is very important. We provide paperless and mobile in-room check-in as well as complimentary high speed Wi-Fi in all our rooms, pubic areas and limousines.

Social media interaction is also here to stay. Recent research shows that 80% of the consumers trust peer recommendations and only 20% trust advertising, which means that we must adapt the way in which we engage consumers. We have a dedicated Digital Marketing team at the hotel, which interacts with our guests, providing timely responses to posts and ensuring meaningful exchanges.

One of the fast-growing changes in recent years has, of course, been the rapid adoption of mobile technology. Mobiles are no longer just a booking channel – it’s an entirely new context for adding value to customers. This has had a profound impact on the way in which consumers connect with brands and is clearly an immense opportunity we all must invest in.

Darren Gearing is the General Manager of Shangri-La London at The Shard and Executive Vice President of Shangri-La, covering Europe, Middle East, Africa and India. He has a tenure of over 13 years with the Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts in various management positions.

Darren Gearing, Executive Vice President EMEAI, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts