Monday, September 21, 2009

Hospitality in China

This past week I had the unique opportunity to be a guest speaker at the Les Roches Jin Jiang International Hotel Management College. One of my good friends is a lecturer for the college and knowing my background in hospitality, invited me to come speak. The day was interesting as I made a presentation to five different classes about my various experiences in hospitality. I was honored to accept this invitation as it allowed me to share my experiences of graduating from Florida State University's Dedman School of Hospitality. I gave the students a valuable insight into our program at Florida State and furthered my knowledge of hospitality education by observing one of the China's top hospitality schools.

Shanghai Normal University, located in the Southeast part of Shanghai, oversees the college and has teamed up with Les Roches, a famous Swiss-based hospitality school, and Jin Jiang, China’s largest hotel management company, to run the program. Les Roches has been named one of the top three hospitality schools in the world and currently operates five campuses worldwide. The hospitality program here in Shanghai allows students to complete their two-year associate degree before transferring to Les Roches’ main campus in Switzerland to finish their bachelor’s degree.

Over 95% of the students enrolled in the program are Mainland Chinese with the college opening its doors to foreign students just two years ago. In 2008 a total of 5 foreigners enrolled in the program with this number now increased to 27 in 2009. Students are now coming from all over the world to start their hospitality career in China and during my one-day visit I was able to meet with students from each of the following countries: Germany, Spain, Sweden, Panama, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

One of the biggest attractions for the Mainland Chinese is the opportunity to finish the program in Switzerland. This gives them valuable international experience that will set them apart from their peers in the industry. The first step for all students is to pass the IELTS exam (International English Language Testing System). Upon enrollment in the college, students are separated into five different levels depending on their English proficiency.
Here is a picture of me visiting a classroom, observing students practicing their oral English. Passing the English test depends on how diligent a student works. Some students who apply themselves can pass the test in only a few months, while others take as long as a year before they are able to pass the exam. The students are given the freedom to work as hard as they want but only after passing the IELTS exam are they allowed to officially start their hospitality classes. After passing the IELTS exam, students need another two years to complete their hospitality training. During my visit to the college, I was given a tour of the entire facility and found it to be an ideal learning environment. Students have access to everything they need to successfully learn about the hospitality industry. The campus features three restaurants, a commercial size restaurant kitchen, and several mock hotel rooms, allowing students to learn all the basics in restaurant and hotel management. Here are some pictures from the campus restaurants:

#1 – A modern casual café with outdoor seating providing coffee and small snacks
#2 – The formal dinning room staffed by students in the program
#3 – The main dining room features a buffet lunch everyday. This is where students and faculty eat their lunch everyday.

I felt the strongest advantage of the program is its ability to give students ample “hands on” experience. Students rotate through all departments of the school gaining valuable experience in the Front-of-House (FOH) operations serving as servers and server assistants as well as the Back-of-House (BOH) operations by prepping, cooking, and plating the food for each campus restaurant The school’s Executive Chef Francois Chevallier of France oversees the kitchen operations and together with an Australian Sous Chef educate the students on the culinary aspects of the industry.

#1 – A team of student chefs work together to prepare the food for the day's lunch buffet
#2 – A poster on one of the walls as seen in the hallways of the college
#3 – Student hanging out in the recreation room, playing ping pong with one of their professors

The purpose of my visit was to give students an insight into another sector of the vast hospitality industry by telling them of my experiences of working in China’s rapidly growing golf industry. Similar to our program at Florida State, one of the college’s main attractions is a 95% job placement after graduation. This is critical for a college in an extremely populated country like China.

Overall I had a wonderful experience at the college and really enjoyed spending the day visiting with the faculty and students. All the students were very welcoming and very interested to hear about my experiences coming from a well-known hospitality school in the US. I believe last week’s visit to the school won’t be my last as I’ve been invited back to be a guest lecturer at some time in the future. I’m looking forward to visiting the college again and helping out in any way that I can. I'll finish this post with one final picture. This photo is a picture of a dialogue that was written between two Chinese students in their speech class. After writing this they performed the dialogue in front of the class. I absolutely loved the speech and if you are a native English speaker I think it will bring a smile to your face, enjoy!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Happy Valley Shanghai

After staying busy the past few weeks with work and several side projects, I decided to take a day off and pay a visit to China’s newest theme park Happy Valley Shanghai. With almost 3 years of construction and occupying a space over 10,000,000 square feet Happy Valley Shanghai is China’s largest amusement park and interesting enough located directly behind my place of work, Sheshan Golf Club. Over the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the theme park grow everyday as the park’s main attraction, a large inverted steel roller coaster, can be clearly seen from Sheshan’s 16th hole.

Below is a picture of Sheshan’s 16th Green. This picture was taken on a cold, winter day in January. The object sticking out over the horizon is the beginning of the roller coaster.

Now fast forward seven months and here is the same picture taken on a beautiful sunny day in August, with the completed roller coaster seen clearly in the distance.

Happy Valley features dozens of attractions but for me the highlight of my visit was the interaction with the locals. With virtually no foreigners visiting the park that day, it seemed like I had become one of the newest attractions as everyone wanted to come and speak with the “tall blond-haired American”. Even though I’ve been in China for 2.5 years now I still get a kick out of interacting with the locals. I enjoy speaking Chinese with them and happily take pictures with them, as many Chinese love having their picture taken with a foreigner.

That day the main buzz was Happy Valley’s giant coaster. We referred to the coaster as “jiu shi du”, which directly translated mean “90 degree” in English. The nickname comes from the fact that the coaster features … you guessed it … a 90-degree angle vertical drop from the top. Now many of my friends here in Shanghai questioned my willingness to ride a "Chinese-built" roller coaster in China, due to “safety issues”. But after doing some research I found out that this coaster, was designed by one of America’s top roller coaster engineering companies and is the exact replica of “SheiKra” the newest roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay! Check out the following link:

Overall it was a wonderful day at the park. I went on a Monday and spent the day with some of our caddies from Sheshan Golf Club. We rode rides all day, ate KFC for lunch, and rarely had to wait in line for any of the rides. Some of you may be wondering how China’s largest amusement park was allowed to be built so close to a private golf club. Well this is something everyone at Sheshan is all wondering now. We’ve had some complaints from some of the members about the noise and that the roller coaster is a huge “eyesore” but instead of joining the protests against the park, I decided to join the park. I enjoyed it so much I picked up a membership card for only 388 RMB (about $56), not bad for unlimited access for the following year. We’ll see how Tiger reacts when he comes and plays the course this November. Stayed tuned, but for now here is a breakdown of the six remaining pictures:

#1 - Close Up picture of the "90 Degree" Roller Coaster

#2 - At the top of the "Sky Tower" Ride overlooking "Fireball" China's first wooden roller coaster

#3 - View from the top of the "90 Degree" with Sheshan Mountain in the background

#4 - At the top of the "Sky Tower" Ride overlooking the park's lake and largest water ride

#5 - View of the "Sky Tower" Ride and "Fireball" Wooden Coaster

#6 - Some very interesting themes are located throughout the park

Monday, September 7, 2009

China's Real Estate Part II

Over the past 25 years China has experienced a tremendous amount of change. In the early 1980’s the communist government gave its citizens the right to start their own businesses. This capitalistic initiative was the beginning of the raging Chinese economy that the world has come to know. Over the past two decades, China has produced a multitude of success stories, as many of its citizens have risen to an elite social level and thus defining a new status – the Chinese Upper Class. Although most of the world quietly waits the end of the current financial crisis, China seems to be the one country where luxury brands are still performing well. This week’s edition will continue on the topic of Chinese real estate by giving an inside look into China’s most expensive residential development…Sheshan's Sede Bella project.

Built on a private island bordering the 13th, 14th, and 15th holes of Sheshan Golf Club, Sede Bella features twenty uniquely designed mansions each constructed with one of the following four architectural designs: Tuscan Enchantment, French Romance, Spanish Passion, or Italian Nobility. Accessible only by bridge, Sede Bella is a truly a one of a kind development in China and seeks to provide the ultimate combination of island and golf course living.

The average size of each of these villas is 13,000 square feet and carries an average price tag of $15 million dollars. Although this might seem like an expensive price to pay, it is the top in Chinese real estate and for the elite few who are able to purchase one of these properties, the ultimate symbol of Chinese status and wealth.

So why has the real estate market in China developed into one of the world's fastest growing markets? You may be unaware that for many years, tough visa restrictions have always plagued Mainland Chinese from traveling outside of China. As many Chinese began to accumulate wealth, they needed a place within China to invest their money hence spurring a recent boom in luxury Chinese real estate.

Interesting enough, Sheshan Golf Club, home to the Sede Bella project, is just two months away from hosting Asia’s largest golf tournament, the HSBC Champions. With Tiger Wood’s attendance already confirmed, any idea which Shanghai hotel will be graced by the presence of the World #1? It won’t be the Ritz Carlton or Grand Hyatt. Tiger will be staying in one of the "French Romance" designed mansions during his time in Shanghai, I guess just another perk for being the best golfer in the world.

Here’s a breakdown of the pics, enjoy!

#1 - Scale model of the private island overlooking all 20 mansions

#2 - 150:1 scale model of one of the mansions

#3 - One of the mansion overlooking the golf course, built in the "French Romance" design

#4 - Another look at one of the island's beautiful homes

#5 - Playing golf at Sheshan's Tiger's mansion serves as a good aiming spot for this tee shot!

#6 - One of my favorite designed mansions, this house features some amazing design concepts