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Banyan Tree Tianjin Riverside General Manager, Stefan Thumiger



The Banyan Tree originally provided shade and comfort to weary travellers in places as diverse as South East Asia and India. Now the Banyan Tree brand is synonymous with the highest quality hotels in a relaxed, romantic setting. Tianjin Riverside Hotel by Banyan Tree Hotel & Resorts opened this year right next to the Haihe River, and it is one of the first hotels in Tianjin to bring a resort style service to a city setting. Today Tianjin Plus interviews GM Stefan Thumiger about what makes the hotel unique and how he brings his own personal touch to the guests’ experience. 


What attracted to you to the hospitality industry, firstly to work in the kitchen and then to work in management? Was the transition difficult?


We went to a family run hotel when I was young, and I loved it there. Then I had the opportunity to work in a hotel for a couple of weeks and I got hooked on the ambience. I love cooking and the traditional Swiss way of starting in the hospitality industry is to start from the beginning, so you either start as a waiter or as a chef. So I did an apprenticeship as a chef, and then at the hotel management school you have to try each department in a hotel, so you work your way up. So really my passion is hospitality and it has stayed with me since I was young.


Does having worked as a chef give you any unique input into the management process?


I do think it has, yes. It is our team, which are the frontline of hospitality and having been there, you get to know how things work. You see the positives and the negatives, and what works and doesn’t work. I find it very important to look at it from this kind of operational point of view. I would say that to be successful in the hospitality industry you must understand as much as possible the guests point of view. If you can see the hotel from the frontline staffs’, and from the guests’ point of view, you can really understand what needs to happen. To do this I watch my team and work closely with them, and occasionally try some of our services; like eating at the restaurants or spending a night in our hotel.   


How has your experience in different areas of the world contributed to your management style?


I have become a lot more flexible and open minded about the ways I do things. My belief is that hospitality and service is about reaching out and touching someone, and exceeding expectations, irrespective of cultural backgrounds. 


What made you come to work with Banyan Hotels? How is Banyan different from the other hotels you have worked with?


We are a small company and we put experience in the foreground. Many hotel chains adopt a very structured approach to delivering a service, which is absolutely correct. But Banyan Tree is more about providing guests with an experience. It allows you to be very creative, and that is something that has attracted me. As I said, we are a very small group and that means we are much more dynamic and a lot more direct. So we are using our resort experience within a small group of GMs to learn from each other and grow with each other. We have been able to create many new touch points, which are unique to Banyan Tree and reflect our global resorts. We have things like our Sunset ritual where we have our own little drum tower around which we do a candle and torch lighting ceremonies. We are also known for our massages, so when you check in you will also receive a 10 minute shoulder massage.


How will you be implementing your Banyan Tree’s policy of environmental consciousness?


CSR is vital to us as a company, and it is and what we are trying to do is to give back to society. We have very structured programs. First of all we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint. One way we do this is by replacing all individual bottles of shampoo and other liquids with dispensers. We also ask everyone who stays at our hotel to donate some money which goes into a global fund. We are also trying to reach out to the community, and we are trying to work with a local handicapped school, to see how we can give back. Banyan Tree has also developed the ‘Seedlings’ program, where we basically coach teenagers, and support them financially to go to school and then join the workforce. We have also started planting our own vegetables, which will be grown without chemical fertilizers and are locally sourced.   


What is an Urban Resort? Can you talk about the concept of the Urban Resort?


What we have done is taken our resort experience and adapted it to the five city hotels that we currently own. What guests enjoy at our resorts is a relaxed and luxurious lifestyle. We know this, so we said to ourselves “why can’t we do this in a city”? We realized that there was nothing to stop us, so basically we took that expectation of a relaxed and luxurious atmosphere and lifestyle and put it into the city. I want you to walk into my lobby and feel completely comfortable in shorts and flip-flops, but at the same time if you have a wedding anniversary guests can still get all dressed up and have a beautiful, romantic evening together. 


One of Banyan Tress’s strong points is massage. Can you tell us about the services on offer?


They are not massages; they are experiences! Our basic philosophy at Banyan Tree is that we are not providing a service, we are providing an experience, and to reflect this each massage is a small ritual in itself. From the moment you arrive you have your welcome tea, and then when you are seated you get a footbath, after which you choose your preferred type of incense stick that burns throughout your massage. Your treatment is completely personalised, and you create your own environment, including choosing your own music. We also have our own academies. Each therapist, despite their prior experience, is trained in one of our academies for three months. This gives it a very professional Spa experience, we also have our signature which is our Rain Mist treatment, where you have your Spa experience in a steam room with a Vichy Shower (a shower where large quantities of water are poured on the guest, whilst they lie on an adapted massage table). This experience is customized with special oils and other natural ingredients to improve your wellbeing and relax you. We also have a variety of massage styles available: Thai, Hawaiian, Yoga, and Balinese, plus lots more.    


What does the future hold for Banyan Tree Hotel and Resort in China?


Like most hotel chains we are expanding quite dramatically, so in the next few years we are going to open 10 more hotels. At the moment we have around 35 hotels that span the globe from Mexico to the Middle East to China. We also have some projects coming up in India and Europe, but the main growth area will be China. 



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